Best Parks in La Fortuna de San Carlos

While La Fortuna de San Carlos might be a small town, it still has much to offer. It is near a volcano, which means there is a lot of wildlife and hiking trails through lush vegetation. You can visit several locations to see wildlife and the physical effects of volcanic activity.

When we made a trip to La Fortuna de San Carlos, we intended to stay for a whole week. My husband and I knew we had to come up with different places to go so as not to bore the kids. Fortunately, we found out that La Fortuna has several wildlife centres. 

Key Takeaways From This Article

With the nearest beach to La Fortuna three hours away, you’ll be better off looking for other exciting activities. Fortunately, there are several geographical wonders in the northern highlands. Here are a few key takeaways about the best parks in La Fortuna de San Carlos. 

  • La Fortuna has two volcanoes: Arenal and Chato. 
  • Caño Negro is the third-largest wetland globally. 
  • The Danaus Ecology Park and Butterfly Garden have over 600 plant species. 
  • Howler, spider, capuchin, and squirrel monkeys are the most common in Costa Rican parks. 

Where is La Fortuna de San Carlos?

La Fortuna is east of the Nicoya Peninsula and northwest of San José. It’s a San Carlos Santon, Alajuela Province district. La Fortuna is a leisurely small town with amazing volcanic views, 20 minutes away from the Arenal volcano. There are many different ecosystems and a lot of wildlife.

You can use the Liberia International Airport or the San José Airport, which is the same distance from La Fortuna de San Carlos. You can rent a car from any airport or use a shuttle, public bus, or private transfer. The drive will take three hours so that you will enjoy the scenic views more. 

Because the tourist attractions and the parks are far apart, renting a rental car is the best option, especially if travelling with kids. Alternatively, you can book a tour with any company in La Fortuna. 

The Best National Parks in La Fortuna You Should Visit.

Because of two volcanoes and a tropical forest, I highlighted various national parks in La Fortuna. 

Arenal Volcano National Park

Opening Hours: 8 AM to 4 PM daily. 

Charges: adult non-resident ($15), non-resident child ($5).

The park is located at the base of the Arenal volcano. Arenal Park, known for its wildlife and hot springs due to an active volcano, is a must-visit. But don’t worry! Its last eruption was in 2010, and it was mild. It is 16km from La Fortuna, and you can use a taxi, shuttle, or rental car to get there. 

Arenal Volcano National Park covers 12,016 ha (29,692 acres) and is part of the Arenal conservation area. The Costa Rican government established the park on September 30, 1991. The park covers the Arenal Volcano and the Cerro Chato Volcano. 

As the table below highlights, you can do various activities in the Arenal Volcano National Park

Attraction Features
Heliconia Trail The trail starts near the restrooms.
You’ll see some magpie jays and colourful Montezuma orchids.
There is a lot of vegetation as the trail ends at the end of the road.
Colodas Trail It starts on the other side of the road, opposite the Heliconia trails.
The ground is primarily sand and ash from previous eruptions.
There is a staircase that leads to some jagged lava rocks. You’ll see terrestrial orchids grow among the rocks.
You’ll have a clear view of Arenal’s volcanic cone.
El Ceibo Trail The route begins and ends at the Colodas trails.
The trail passes a 400-year-old Ceibo tree as it winds through the rainforest.
You’ll see a lot of wildlife and exotic plants.
Mirador volcanic cone It is accessible by car, and you can drive to a viewpoint.
There are three hiking trails, with Trail 3 (Sendero Tabacon) being the most beautiful. Trail One (Sendero Las Arana) and Trail Four (Sendero Manantial) are the other two trails.
Trail three (follow the Lago Verde sign, as there is no Sendero Tabacon signage) is a steep, all-stairs trail. It is also fully shaded with a forest canopy.
At the end of the trail, there is a view of Arenal.
The trail has a lot of bird species, including motmots, green parakeets, toucans, and coatis.

Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge

Opening Hours: 8 AM to 4 PM. 

Charges are $5 per person. 

Caño Negro is a wetland ecosystem of 24,634 acres (9,969 hectares) whose access is through La Fortuna. The Ramsar Convention declared Caño Negro the third-largest wetland in the world. 

The wildlife refuge comprises various lagoons with a wide variety of vegetation. The Rio Frio River runs through the Caño Negro wetlands before flowing into Lake Nicaragua. You can book a motorized boat tour to take you down the river. 

As shown in the table below, several animal species call this wetland their home. 

Animals Type Examples
160 mammalian species There are a variety of animals, such as jaguars, monkeys, sloths, skunks, deer, tapirs, pumas, and ocelots.
300+ different bird species There are snakebirds, snowy egrets, storks, herons, jabiru, kingfishers, potoos, and turkey vultures.
90+ bat species Vampire, tent-making, fisherman, Jamaican fruit, bulldog.
Reptiles There are crocodiles, turtles, basilisks, caimans, and green iguanas.
Fish Snook, gar, guapote, and giant tarpon.

Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park

Opening hours are 7.30 AM to 3.30 PM (last entrance) daily. 

Charges: $26 for 11–18 years, $32 for 19–64 years. 

Mistico Hanging Bridges Park is a family-owned forest sanctuary. It’s a private wet rainforest with many wildlife and other exciting activities. The primary purpose of the hanging bridges is to provide visitors with a safe way to view the park while protecting the flora and fauna.

The forest reserve has suspension bridges that extend 180 feet above the forest floor. There are six hanging bridges and ten fixed bridges. The bridges will allow you to see and learn more about the wildlife and plants in the forest reserve. The bridges are in excellent shape, so you have nothing to worry about. 

Some wildlife you will see are toucans, lizards, sloths, monkeys, frogs, and a puma or jaguar. La Fortuna is home to some of the big cats in Costa Rica. You will get an excellent view of the Arenal volcano from one of the highest bridges, the Arenal View Hanging Bridge.

Danaus Ecology Park and Butterfly Garden

Opening hours are 8 AM to 4 PM daily.

Charges: $60 per person. 

Danaus Ecology Park is five minutes from downtown La Fortuna and covers 7.4 acres (3 hectares) of forest cover. You’ll see trees, plants, flowers, and wildlife in this forest and through the 0.4-mile (600-meter) trail. 

The park is a private reserve with a botanical garden with more than 600 species of plants and a butterfly garden with more than 40 species. Other animals inhabiting this sustainable ecotourism park include monkeys, birds, frogs, agoutis, caimans, alligators, snakes, sloths, and turtles. 

The botanical garden comprises different medicinal and tropical plants and flowers. Protea, bromeliads, heliconia, and beehive ginger are some of the most common flowers in the botanical garden. 

The monarch butterfly, scientifically known as Danaus plexippus, is one of the butterflies you will come across at the centre. It is this specific butterfly from which the park gets its name from this particular butterfly. The centre’s founders created one of the best habitats for butterflies to breed and feed. 

Other butterflies include the owl butterfly, malachite, and blue morpho.

Monkey Park, La Fortuna

Opening Hours: 8 AM to 4 PM daily. 

Charges are $5 per person. 

Monkey Island is a private natural reserve. The park has four types of monkey species. Other animals exist in this beautiful park even though it is known as a monkey park. We were lucky to see some strawberry poison frogs, coatis, and red-eyed tree frogs. 

You will likely encounter various monkey species in Costa Rica, specifically in Monkey Park La Fortuna. The most common monkey species include. 

  • Howler monkeys are most commonly found in forests, making loud, distinctive calls and rarely descending to the ground. There are two types: black howler and mantled howler monkeys. 
  • Capuchin monkeys: These monkeys are known to be mischievous, mostly stealing food from unsuspecting tourists. There are two types of capuchin monkeys at the park: black-faced and white-faced.
  • Squirrel monkeys are the smallest of all four monkey types and are active during the day. The squirrel monkeys have a distinct orange coat on their hands and feet. They are rare, and you can only find them in protected rainforests. 
  • Spider monkeys can be identified by their slender, long limbs and tail that can grasp or hold, making it possible to hold onto trees. They mainly have brown or black fur and are less common than all the other species. 

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Why is Arenal Volcano National Park famous?

Apart from destroying three towns in 1968, the Arenal volcano remains active. Though its last eruption was in 2010, daily sightings of orange lava flows, underground rumble, and ash columns still occur. 

Its lake reservoir helps generate hydroelectric energy for irrigation projects in Guanacaste and the national interconnected system. 

2. Is La Fortuna a worthwhile town to visit?

La Fortuna has a vibrant culture and various activities. You can start with the La Fortuna waterfall, the Arenal Volcanic Mountain and National Park, hot springs, wildlife, and caves. The town is relatively safe for you to visit and undertake various activities. 

Apart from the adventurous activities, you can visit the different bars and restaurants. 


It was a wonderful trip, and we saw all kinds of animals at the different La Fortuna parks. I must congratulate Costa Rica’s government and private individuals who are conserving wild animals and forests in the country.

Please share your experiences in the La Fortuna national parks. 

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Born in California, Michelle traveled extensively through the USA and Europe before moving to South Florida during the pandemic. Her career in Marketing has taken her all across the world. Her favorite country is France but she'll never turn down a beach vacation!

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