La Fortuna (or La Fortuna de San Carlos, as it’s officially named) was once a simple agricultural town dominated by the majestic conical form of Arenal, just 6km away. True to its name, La Fortuna is now booming as a thriving base for the area’s sports, activities and tours. Despite all the air-conditioned tour buses whizzing through town, however, it remains a pleasant, inviting community. There’s nothing specific to see, as most of the streets are taken up by agencies selling tours, and visitors wander between them comparing prices, while gazing keenly towards the volcano and popping into sodas for much-needed refrescos to cope with the heat.
Looming at 1633m, Volcán Arenal seems to emerge directly from the town’s fringes. On a clear day you can bask in the mesmerizing sight of lava oozing down the lip of the volcano like juice from a squashed fruit. But when it’s rainy and foggy – which is more often than not – the volcano is almost totally obscured, its summit hidden behind a sombrero of cloud; indeed, locals estimate that one in two visitors never actually get a glimpse of the summit or lava. Nevertheless, its brooding presence remains palpable, and even if you can’t actually see it, you’ll almost certainly hear its rumblings and splutterings.
The picturesque La Catarata de La Fortuna, the waterfalls southwest of town, are a popular half-day diversion, while the area to the northwest offers a variety of outdoor activities, from hiking forested trails to zip-lining to bathing in steaming hot springs – the perfect relaxing vantage-point for observing the pyrotechnics with drink in hand.
The waters of Laguna de Arenal make what would otherwise have been a pretty area into a very beautiful one – a fact exploited by the tourist board’s promotional posters showing a serene Volcán Arenal rising preternaturally out of the lake. Pretty as it is, it’s actually a man-made body of water created when the far smaller original lake was dammed in 1973; the resulting Arenal Dam now generates much of the country’s hydroelectricity. The lake is an excellent spot for fishing rainbow bass (guapote), an iridescent fish found only in freshwater lakes and rivers in Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Honduras, and for windsurfing; several schools operate out of Tilarán, on the southwest corner of the lake. Tourism has brought with it a sizeable colony of foreign residents, many of them Germans or Austrians attracted by the combination of a rather European-looking landscape with year-round tropical temperatures.
Thanks to its unusually consistent conditions, Laguna de Arenal is the best place in Costa Rica for kitesurfing and windsurfing – the strong winds that buffet the surface of the lake from December to April can reach speeds of up to 25mph, drawing experienced riders from around the world. The wind peaks between mid-December and February, so aim for the late-season months if you’re looking to learn.
Thanks to the ideal weather in Costa Rica, kitesurfing and windsurfing companies are booming. With such a variety of operators choosing the right one can be tricky - but we're here to help. We've found you the best two operators that we recommend for your Costa Rican kitesurfing and windsurfing adventures.
Top image: Volcano Arenal, Costa Rica © Simon Dannhauer/Shutterstock