Slightly Off the Beaten Path on a Backpackers Budget in La Fortuna Costa Rica
Updated: Apr 14, 2020
If you've ever been to La Fortuna Costa Rica, you know how touristy it is. Practically every
other vehicle that drives by is a tour bus of some sort. It's loaded with souvenir shops full of the same wooden art, postcards, and trinkets. This made it the perfect place to write postcards to loved ones. But, it was hard to find many completely off the beaten path and local experiences, hence the "slightly" in the title. Here's how I managed to travel on the lesser known tourist path in La Fortuna.
Transportation: La Choza Unlimited Shuttle
Our first day at our hostel, we asked the tour desk at our hostel about public transportation options. He told us that there were apparently no public buses, but that he'd be happy to book us a tour. We wanted to be able to explore at our own time and pace, and save a buck, so guided tours were not what we were looking for. We explained this to him and asked about our options. He basically ran us in a circle, making it seem like we had
absolutely no options but to book a tour with him. We said thanks and started to walk away...and he called us back over. He told us he knew about a shuttle bus but we needed to keep it on the hush hush. He gave us directions to a place called the La Choza Inn, and wrote his name down on a paper. He said, tell them I sent you and ask about their unlimited shuttle. He made it seem very sketchy.
At La Choza Inn, it turns out we didn't need his name at all. It wasn't sketchy like he made it out to be. La Choza offers a 3 day unlimited shuttle pass to various places in La Fortuna. Some of the places were the La Fortuna waterfall, free hot springs, lake for kayaking, and the 1968 trails. You could go to as many places as you wanted in one day. It was only $15 per person. It was definitely worth it!
Free Hot Springs
The free hot springs we went to are across the street from the highly expensive Tabacon Hot Springs Resort. Across the street, you'll see a parking lot. If you're facing the lot, turn to your left, and you'll find a path. Follow it down to find the bubbling hot water! There were some tourists, but mostly locals drinking beers and relaxing in the natural pools, and tico kids using it as a natural slip n slide. The rocks were decorated in melted candle wax. We went midday, and it wasn't too crowded. When you first arrive, and the alley like structures of the bridge are on your left, go straight across to the other side. There's a path to your right that will take you to a more secluded area and super bubbly water. It was literally like sitting in a hot tub with the bubbles set to the highest setting. We loved that these hot springs were natural- under a bridge, surrounded by trees, the water natural, hot, and bubbly. I will say it didn't feel like the absolute cleanest in the world- with chip bags and beer cans left here and there. But do I recommend it? Hell yes.
We did also visit the Baldi Hot Springs, which were much more touristy but quite beautiful. We were really glad that we had both experiences and would recommend doing both!
Our first day using the La Choza Shuttle, we asked them to drop us off at the Volcano National Park. For whatever reason, we got dropped off at the 1968 trails. I think it was just a case of slight false advertising? But, the trails were beautiful and not swamped with people. It was also only $12, the volcano views were stunning, and they had a 360 view lookout/cafe. Since we budgeted for more time than we needed, we ended up walking the trail twice before relaxing at the lookout. They even made us yummy vegan frappes!
Sendero Bogarin Trail
This place was truly a hidden gem. I spotted the sign on a walk one day, near Arenal Backpackers Resort. We decided to check it out. We peaked through the gate, and a man
eating his take out casado lunch waved us in. He was warm and friendly, and dedicated to helping us find a sloth! The trail was peaceful and we had it all to ourselves. There's also a spot where you can sit and watch birds. He'll put out bananas for them to eat and tell you all about them. We loved this experience!
Free Rope Swing
We were invited to go here but never actually made it! From what I gather, it's a rope swing in the river close to the La Fortuna Waterfall. You should be able to google some better directions. Explore for yourself and let me know!
Chocolate Farm Tour
We did a chocolate tour with Don Olivo on his family farm! We got to enjoy fresh papaya, fresh sugarcane juice that we pressed ourselves, and the most delicous chocolate I have literally ever eaten in my life. It was fun and informational and felt quite authentic! The tour also included transportation! This is a great way to support local Costa Rican's while traveling!
Below are two videos of our time in La Fortuna featuring all of the above (besides the rope swing we didn't make it to), and more!