Introducing La Fortuna & Around
Even without an active volcano spewing smoke and fireworks overhead, the quiet, rural town of La Fortuna de San Carlos would be a relaxing place to kick back for a few days. The surrounding area is home to cascading waterfalls and luxurious hot springs, though there are seemingly more tour operators in town than insects. Of course, these distractions are all probably good things as you’re going to need lots of patience if you want to see the notoriously shy Volcán Arenal unveil itself from beneath the cloud cover.
Prior to 1968, La Fortuna was a sleepy agricultural town located 6km from the base of Cerro Arenal (Arenal Hill). However, on the morning of July 29, 1968, Arenal erupted violently after nearly 400 years of dormancy, and buried the small villages of Pueblo Nuevo, San Luís and Tabacón (yes, Tabacón Hot Springs is in fact located in the eruption path). Suddenly, like moths to the flame, tourists from around the world started descending on La Fortuna in search of fiery night skies and the inevitable blurry photo.
Despite the influx of tourists who have swollen the economy in recent years, La Fortuna still retains that sabanero vibe and real Tico feel – probably because it’s quite consciously holding on to it. Brilliant flowers, not fences, still guard the edges of family-run hotels and restaurants throughout the town, and the nearby jungle still echoes with the cries of howler monkeys and the occasional rumble from the looming volcano.
But things have changed in recent years, and it would be naive to say that overdevelopment hasn’t taken its toll on the once-humble town of La Fortuna. These days, arriving visitors descend from their buses into a gauntlet of touts and hawkers, and the small-town charm that makes La Fortuna so pleasant is rapidly disappearing. Tour operators, in search of the almighty dollar, have set up shop in virtually every storefront in town, and tourists have responded with distrust, even when intentions are honorable. Even worse is the recent string of McResorts that popped up on the road heading west from La Fortuna to Arenal. However, in a fitting twist of irony, the lava has recently switched directions, and forced high-paying customers to endure a bumpy bus ride each evening to the southwestern side of the volcano.
La Fortuna serves as the principal gateway for visiting Volcán Arenal, and it’s one of the top destinations for travelers in Costa Rica. The town is well connected by public transport to San José, and travelers are increasingly arriving from or heading to Monteverde via the scenic and unusual Jeep-Boat-Jeep transfer. If you have your own transport, however, consider staying at the Arenal Observatory Lodge or in the small town of El Castillo as you’ll be rewarded with less crowds and better views of the lava flows.
Last updated: Feb 17, 2009
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