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.