Introducing La Fortuna & Around
You'll be forgiven if your first impression of La Fortuna is somewhat lacking, what with all the tourists and uninspired cinder block architecture. But with time its charms will be revealed. Here, horses graze in unimproved lots, spiny iguanas scramble through brush, sloth eyes peer from the riverside canopy, and sunny, eternal spring mornings carry just a kiss of humidity on their breath. Then there's that massive volcano looming on clear days. Yes, the influx of tourism has altered the face, fame and fortunes of this former one-horse town, and it’s true that tour operators have set up shop on every block, but despite all the noise, the longer you linger, the more you'll see that La Fortuna has managed to retain an underlying, small-town sabanero (cowboy) feel.
Prior to 1968, La Fortuna was a sleepy agricultural town, 6km from the base of Cerro Arenal. 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. 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 of creeping lava.
Since then, La Fortuna has served as the principal gateway for visiting Volcán Arenal, and it’s still one of the top destinations for travelers in Costa Rica. However, be warned that the great mountain has stopped spewing its molten discharge, and there are no longer lava photo ops. But the mountain is still glorious, and the town is well connected by public transport to San José. Many travelers arrive from or head out to Monteverde via the scenic and unusual jeep-boat-jeep transfer, which is somehow jeep-less. If you have your own transport, consider staying at the Arenal Observatory Lodge or in the small town of El Castillo, as you’ll be rewarded with fewer crowds and a more rustic vibe.