If you are staying in La Fortuna you will have been offered a multitude of tours to see the natural wonders in the area. The good news is you can do most of them for much less on your own. Not to mention enjoying them with far less people when you get there and the sense of accomplishment for going it alone.
As someone on a budget I was glad to meet the spirited Romane a 19 year old French senorita wise beyond her years and full of steely determination to get the best price for our adventures. Her mastery of Spanish was pretty useful also!
Together we climbed the cerro chato volcano and only paid the park entry of $12, enjoyed the free hot springs and climbed the hill (twice) to see the brilliant blue waters of the rio Celeste. Here’s how we did each and what it cost compared to the local tour operators…
Cerro Chato volcano and ‘green lagoon’ $12 vs $50
There are two trails to the volcano but the closest one to the town centre is at the La Fortuna waterfall. To get here it’s a straightforward walk out of town just north of the bus station. Keep the volcanos on your right and you can’t go wrong! About 1km along this road taking a right onto diagonal 301. This road is pretty long (around 4km) so we decided to hitchhike from the start of 301. Of all the places in the world I’d say you’re pretty safe doing this here given the only people taking this road will be locals or tourists. Great way to practise your Spanish! If you’re not comfortable hitchhiking we did walk back the same way but I would only recommend this if you are fit and ready for it, the round trip will be over 20km. Once you get to the waterfall the entrance is on your right. Same place the tours would take you! Get there early ahead of the tours and you should be able to enjoy the lagoon on your own!
Again these are looped into a lot of tours but you can go for free if you stay at the right place. Our hostel, La Choza Inn, offered a free shuttle service as part of our stay. Again hitchhiking would be fairly easy just make sure you time it right most people are there between 5pm and 6pm so plenty of cars going back to La Fortuna. Unfortunately this is not the best technique for avoiding crowds!
Tours combine the above for $50 we did both for $12! Taxis are available too but we didn’t ask, I expect this would be the most expensive option.
The Blue Waters of Rio Celeste, $20 vs $65 with an extra stop not included in the tours
It is tricky to get to so if you are short on time the tour might be a good idea but if you want an adventure here’s how we did it…
1. From La Fortuna take the bus to Upala getting off at Katira, we actually stayed in Guatuso which is more of a town and has the main bus station but Katira is closer. We stayed in a private room opposite the supermarket for $5 each.
2. Find a cabina to drop off your things, depending what time you arrive you may want to stay the night and head to the park early next morning. Don’t do what we did and head out late ignoring the signs that say it shuts at 2pm. It really does shut at 2pm! You don’t want to walk the hill twice!
3. From Guatuso there are buses to Katira and Florida. Florida is the village at the bottom of the hill for the park. The road from Katira to Florida doesn’t actually appear on google maps but don’t worry it does exist. You know you’re off the beaten track when you find a road google doesn’t know about! Again it is possible to hitchhike we got a lift after about the 5th/6th car (you may need to factor in Romane’s long blond hair into that number).
4. From Florida it’s a 6km hike uphill to the park. The road is even and the steepest part is the bottom so plain sailing after that. Once you see the purple house you’re half way. Keep your eyes open we saw toucans, lots of parrots and a laughing falcon. You will also cross the river getting a preview of the crazy blue waters in the park.
5. That’s it you’re at the park with a $10 entry fee. There’s routes around the park after the waterfall but you can’t swim anywhere in the park. So we opted for another spot outside the park.
6. About 500m before the park there are signs for a ‘river surprise’ turn right onto the road (if you are on the way uphill to the park) and walk another 600m. You’ll find a green cabin selling admission to the surprise for $6. The tours don’t go here so if you’re lucky like us you’ll get to enjoy this magical spot on your own! A 10 minute scramble down hill brings you to your own personal lagoon and Tarzan swing (which we didn’t do!).
6. Getting back, there are buses from Florida so make sure you check the timetables before you head out. Or you can do what we did and jump in the back of a pickup truck to take you back down the hill.
$16 entry fees, another $5 for local buses compared with $65. Not to mention all the extra things we would have missed if we’d been in the bus!