Right in La Fortuna, you’ll find a score of budget options. One of the better choices is Arenal Backpackers Resort ★ ((tel) 2479-7000; www.arenalbackpackersresort.com), which bills itself as a “five-star hostel” for its large pool, free Wi-Fi, and volcano views. It has both shared-bathroom dorm rooms and more upscale private rooms.
A couple of places both in town and right on the outskirts of La Fortuna allow camping, with access to basic bathroom facilities, for around $5 to $10 per person per night. If you have a car, drive a bit out of town toward Tabacón and you’ll find several more basic cabins and camping sites, some of which offer volcano views.
Near the Volcano
While La Fortuna is the major gateway town to Arenal Volcano, many of the best places to stay are on the road between La Fortuna and the national park.
Although the hotels along the road between La Fortuna and the National Park tend to be geared toward higher-end travelers, more budget-conscious travelers do have a few choices, the best of which is Cabinas Los Guayabos ((tel) 2479-1444; www.cabinaslosguayabos.com), with views and a location that rival the more expensive lodgings listed above. There’s also Lomas del Volcán ((tel) 2479-9000; www.lomasdelvolcan.com), with 47-rooms, a pool, and hiking trails.
Where to Stay Farther Afield
All the hotels listed in the following sections are at least a half-hour drive from La Fortuna and the volcano. Most, if not all, offer both night- and day-tours to Arenal and Tabacón, but they also attract guests with their own natural charms.
East of La Fortuna
The broad, flat San Carlos Valley spreads out to the east of La Fortuna. This is agricultural heartland, with large plantations of yuca, papaya, and other cash crops. The popular Ciudad Quesada route to or from La Fortuna will take you through this area.
In addition to the places listed below, Leaves & Lizards ((tel) 888/828-9245 in the U.S. and Canada, or 2478-0023 in Costa Rica; www.leavesandlizards.com), near El Muelle, wins high praise as an intimate, isolated getaway.
South of La Fortuna
Finca Luna Nueva Lodge ★★ ((tel) 800/903-3470 in the U.S. and Canada, or 2468-4006 in Costa Rica; www.fincalunanuevalodge.com) is a fascinating sustainable farm and tourism project, and proud advocate for the international “slow food” movement.
A Really Remote Nature Lodge
This little-visited area along the San Carlos River near the Nicaraguan border is hard to get to, with rough and poorly maintained roads. But those who brave it will find themselves right in the heart of nature, particularly at the Maquenque Ecolodge ★ ((tel) 2479-8200; www.maquenqueecolodge.com), where birders have been known to spot green macaws in the wild. To get here, head first to Pital and then continue on dirt roads to the town of Boca Tapada. It’s also possible, albeit difficult, to get here on public transportation (ask your hotel for directions), or ask for the hotel to arrange transportation from San José or La Fortuna. Since anyone with four-wheel-drive can make the trip here independently, though, you’re best off driving on your own.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.