Costa Rica's


Global Mark : 13.23

Ratings by criteria : 

Charm Scenery Culture Tradition Market Relax Fiesta 


 3 5 2 2 2 4 4 3 12.50

Ratings by backpackers :

Surveyed Liked  Comeback  Recommend  Range AVER.
25 100% 64%(16) 100% 10 to 18 13.96

Description : A small town, full of tours agencies, in a volcanoes area

Comment : Volcan Arenal, one of the most active & dangerous volcano in the world is the main attraction but there are plenty of other tours around

What to do ? Look regularly toward the volcano to check for the clouds conditions / Book a tour : offerings every 5 meters or so / Ride a horse / Walk for 5km toward a 61m waterfall (C1000, 8am to 4pm) and spot monkeys and birds along the way / Relax by hot springs : three of them including a free one / Get info at Paraiso Tropical, the official tourist office, S of Ciglesia (daily 7 to 22) / Shop for souvenirs (best place S of Parque central)

What you may not like ? Not spotting any eruption because of the clouds, especially if going on an expensive tour / The unpredictable and still very dangerous volcano : in case of major eruption (could happen at any time), being cooked at the observatory point with the other travelers / The huge cost of most tours / The limited things to do outside of the tours / Some poor horses / The time it takes by public transport to reach or leave (incl. waiting time at bus station) from or to Tilaran / 

How long ? Doing all the tours will take you over a week. If on a more limited budget, a couple of days, until you can spot your great volcanic eruption...

Where to stay ? There are plenty to choose from, in all budget categories. Just make sure you do not pick one on the noisy main road. A few budget options, all South of the Parque central and offering HW shower.

- South of the football field :

  • Hotel Dorothy (, 200 m S and 30 m E of Church / $5 p.p. w. shower / Go there for the large clean rooms at excellent price, the limited view (trees) toward the volcano from some rooms and to check out the improvements (it is a new place) / What you may not like : not all the rooms are equal and the friendly black owner from Haiti is a bit noisy (voice or music) : a lively place !
  • Cabinas Dona Alicia (4799517), one street S of the above / w. shower $10(1), 13(2) or 14(3), w. large kitchen 13(1), 16(2) & 20(3) / Nice rooms. The one with kitchen is a good option for a small family. / What you may not like : two rooms only means that you usually need to book in advance.

- The road just N of the river (100m S and 100m W of Iglesia) :

  • Cabinas Iguana Keanda (4799127) / w. shower 4000 (up to 3) / Go there for the clean & comfortable rooms and intimate size (2 rooms only) / What you may not like : it is not too big and just opp. the road
  • Cabinas Sissy (4799356) / $4 p.p., w. shower $5 p.p., w. matrimonial bed $7(1) or $10(2) / Kitchen / Camping in garden C1000 / Go there for the correct rooms at correct prices and the nice garden w. view toward the volcano / What you may not like : the building w. the cheapest rooms is rather basic
  • Cabinas Adriana, formerly Andrea (4799474) / C1000 p.p., w. shower & small AC 2000 p.p. / Go there for the cheapest prices / What you may not like : it is not as nice nor clean as the others and would be noisy if full / Rooms upstairs w. a view
  • Cabinas Jerry (4799707), the last place West / 2000(1), 2500(2) or 3750(3), w. shower 3000(1) or 4000(2) / Go there for the nice & clean rooms w. shower and the good prices if two. Room number 9 (w. shower) is especially good as the front terrace offers a great view toward the volcano / What you may not like : a bit expensive for one

- In other places :

  • Cabinas Las Palmas (4799379), one street N of the above / w. shower $8(1), 10(2) or 15(3) / Go there for the correct rooms and relative isolation by a tiny garden / What you may not like : it is expensive for one

Where to eat ? There are quite a few restaurants in town with prices in the $4-7 bracket. Much cheaper are the small fastfood that serves hamburgers or tipico dishes. One of the best, popular w. locals, is Soda La Pasada, just S of the Parque : the "tipico cenar" (C500) was well served but rather tasteless while the super tacos (C400) and hamburgers (C350) were quite good. For a cheap bite or breakfast, head to the local branch of Musmanni.

Internet ? Quite a few places in town clearly caters to tourists with ridiculous prices : C38 per mn for example ! Much more reasonable is the fastfood Soda Las Jicaritas, just N of the bridge, by most of the GH : C600 per hour, C300 for 30mn (min). The owner may also answer your questions about volcanoes.

A volcanic experience ? The main reason visitors flock here is to spot a volcanic eruption. It is best experienced at night time (difficult to see the lava otherwise) and the tours therefore leave at 5pm. They cost from $16 to $20 and are certainly a bit of a rip off ! Indeed, it is very much possible to get the same visual experience by taking a taxi.
A one way drive to Hotel Los Lagos (the entrance of the recreational area, 6km away) should cost C800, while a drive all the way to the observatory point C1800, per taxi. Late at night, you may however have difficulties finding a taxi back. A few hours round trip with a taxi should be negotiated at around $20 for a group of 5. Always clarify the cost before leaving, where you will go and the time that you will actually spend there. And, of course, do not pay before you are safely back in town.
According to a local who had his friend killed from standing at the wrong place, the spots where most people are going to are not secured : if the volcano gets angry, you may be cooked ! This guy also runs tours but stays on the safer main road, where the "emergency exits" lead to. Beside, access to the official viewing platform cost an additional C500.
Some tours include a visit of the crocodile farm or a stop at the hot springs. The later is certainly the most interesting but the admission fee ($7) is usually not included.
Another good reason not to go with a tour is that the eruptions can not always be spotted : it is often cloudy. The guy selling the ticket may guarantee that tonight is the right night but, truly, quite a few people see nothing ! Clouds are fast to reach the place... Of course, not seeing lava flow does not entitles you to any refund : check therefore the weather carefully !  When is the best time ? According to the logic and the guidebooks, it is during the dry season. But according to a few locals I talked to, the rainy season was the best... Hopefully, the best time will be when you are there !  
If you have no money to spend on lava, do not despair ! By clear nights, eruptions can also be spotted from the village ! It won't be as spectacular but you will still see the lava explosions and some huge lava rocks rolling from the summit. It took me a while to find a place outside of the city lights : I crossed a small river and went inside a wild field. Unfortunately, a local leaving nearby spotted my flashlight, got scared and called the police. They showed up 5mn later and ordered me to come back to civilization. Discovering that I was only a volcano spotter (and a foreigner), they smiled & apologized but advised me with courtesy to remain on the road. Friendly guys ! 
Of course, you do not wish to get close to the crater : a few people have been killed for their lack of caution. The volcano can erupt at any time. Although the last major eruption was in 1967 (80 dead), it remains completely unpredictable ! 

Other tours ? There are plenty of things to do around, as long as you have money. Most agencies offer the same tours so you will usually find yourself with people from other agencies. It is best to book from an agency, not an individual. A few options (prices usually include the entrance fees) :

  • Canopy tour : at $45, it is more expensive than in Monteverde as it includes a 40mn horse riding and a short walk through the primary forest. It is safe but you need to be in good physical condition as it is an adventure ! The tour last 3.5 hours.  3 departures daily.
  • Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge : $45, 8.5 hours. 
  • Horseback riding to the waterfall : $17. 3.5 hours. 
  • Horseback riding to Monteverde : $40, 5 hours. The horse ride is actually 3.5 hours only as it starts from the other side of the lago. This is a good way to save on transport time and certainly a memorable adventure. There are several trails and some are accessible even during the rainy season. The most spectacular "Mirador Trail" should not be attempted during this season as too hard and dangerous for the horses. The "lake trail" (the less adventurous) and the "Rio Chiquito Trail" (the longest ride) are safe year round. If you decide to ride, just be careful with what agency you go with : reports on poor treatment for the horses are recurrent and some books have actually advised their readers not to do it altogether ! This is probably excessive as you do have companies which take care of their animals. 
  • Venado Cave : $35, 3.5 hours
  • Rafting on Class III Penas Blancas River ($44, 4 hours), on class III and IV Toro River ($60, 6 hours) or on class IV Sarapiqui River ($75, 7.5 hours). The higher the class, the higher the danger . As people have died in the area, you wish to go with a reputable agency !

The walk to the waterfall ? Of course, you could go by horse or taxi ! But walking is actually just fine, as those 5km are rather pleasant (thought very hot). The path is about 800m from the bridge. Then it is 4km inside the countryside and toward the peaks : a nice enough panorama ! The way is a bit sweaty as going up a bit. If you are careful, you may spot monkeys or a toucan. The entrance fee cost C1000 and must be paid at a small cabana before the parking. You could however keep walking toward the entrance's gate and have a look at the photos of the fall (61m high but did not look too impressive) before committing. If you do, at least bring your swimming gears ! The ticket office closes at 4pm but you can stay up to around 5:30pm. If you wish to see the river without racking, you could also reach it via the field on the left, 10mn before the parking (basically when you hear water). You will need to get up barbed wires and then down the wild field. I was planning to do it but was caught by a storm. It looked feasible but how far you can follow the river and whether or not you can swim will remain a mystery until an adventurer contribute...


Backpacker's Tips : Pathou, France (Sept 04)
May be the most touristic place I've done. You won't see any local...
Be carefull, some place may recommend you their own guides\attraction, We've done Canopy there and we've been quite disapointed (45 pp)
We spent 2 nights in a Cabinas called "Roca Virgen", people are friendly, Hot water and clean room (5$ pp).
It is worth going there to see the volcano and Hotsprings not to be missed, we went to the cheapest one but it was luxury enough for me !!!

Backpacker's Tips : Renee, USA (August 04)
Interbus provides shuttle service from san jose to fortuna for $25. some hotels like the hotel san bosco are able to get a $5 discount off the entrance fee to baldi springs. we were able to get into the springs for $10 vs. the regular $15 fee. not as nice as tabacan though, but worth a visit for $10 if you're looking for something to do. soda la parada across from the park has cheap, good food. lots of locals eat there. another good restaurant was the restaurant in the Hotel Fortuna. pretty reasonably priced.  

Backpacker's Tips : Anthony Asael (March 04)
Hotel Sissy raised their price to 12us. Just go 150m North and go to Hostal Adriana for 4us and the same service and nice view to the river.
Go to lake Arenal to have a excellent view on the volcano if there is no clouds. Hitchhiking is really easy. Take a taxi back by night
The termas de Baldi doubled their price to14us. It is worth it if you have been traveling for couple of month and want to relax
Restaurant: Soda La Parada in front of Park: good and cheap tacos for 650C

 << Discover a volcanic area

Leaving ?
If you do not wish to afford the tours, you will have to rely on the public transports. Double check the schedules at Tropical Paraiso, the official tourist office, S of the Iglesia. To Tilaran, bus at 8am & 5:15pm. C620. Connection to Monteverde at 12:30. 3 hours. C650 / To San Carlos (then direct bus to San Jose or Alajuel, every 30mn from 5:30 to 19:30, C700, 2.5 hours) you have the choice between 4 roads from 5am to 5:30pm. They all offer nice panorama, takes around one hour and cost C450. The 2:45pm bus straight to San Jose is not recommended as very slow : 10 hours ! / Another option is to go to San Ramon (5:30, 13 & 16, C600, 2.5 hours) and change for a bus to San Jose (every hour, 45mn) This should be the fastest option / Al buses to San Jose will stop at the airport near Alajuela. Get off and wait for a bus to the city, every couple of minutes. 

Going to Monteverde ? If time saving (5 hours) is more important than money saving ($21), you could consider crossing the lake to Monteverde and then take a 4WD to Santa Elena in just 3.5 hours (instead of 7 hours). Another, more adventurous alternative would be to horse ride. See above.

The trip back to Tilaran : SSSS / Left / C650 / 2.5 hours
The 8am bus arrived from San Carlos at 8:15. Most passengers got off, leaving plenty of rooms on the left side. The road had not been improved within my short stay and some parts were still full of potholes. The scenery somehow did not look as impressive as on the way in : maybe because of the different time, because we were leaving the volcano behind or simply because I had seen the scenery already. We reached Arenal two hours after departure and Tilaran one hour later.