Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge ★ is a vast network of marshes and rivers (particularly the Río Frío) 100km (62 miles) north of La Fortuna near the town of Los Chiles. The refuge is best known for its abundance of bird life, including roseate spoonbills, jabiru storks, herons, and egrets, but you can also see caimans and crocodiles. Bird-watchers should not miss this refuge, although keep in mind that the main lake dries up in the dry season (mid-Apr to Nov), which reduces the number of wading birds. Full-day tours to Caño Negro average between $65 and $80 per person. However, most of the tours run out of La Fortuna that are billed as Caño Negro never really enter the refuge but instead ply sections of the nearby Río Frío, which features similar wildlife and ecosystems. If you’re interested in staying in this area and really visiting the refuge, head to Caño Negro Natural Lodge.
You can also visit the Venado Caverns ★★, a 45-minute drive away. In addition to plenty of stalactites, stalagmites, and other formations, you’ll see bats and unique cave fish and crabs. This tour is not for the claustrophobic, and includes wading through a river, scrambling over rocks, and sliding through some tight squeezes. This cave system is quite extensive, although tourists have access to only around 10 chambers. Still, these are quite striking, with impressive formations and ceilings more than 100 feet high in places. Tours cost between $70 and $80, including the guide and headlamps. Be prepared to get wet and muddy.
All tour agencies and hotel tour desks can arrange trips to Caño Negro and Venado Caverns.
Taking a Soothing Soak in hot springs
Tabacón Grand Spa Thermal Resort ★★★ ((tel) 2479-2099; www.tabacon.com; daily 10am–10pm) is the most luxurious, extensive, and expensive spot in the area to soak in hot springs. A series of variously sized pools, fed by natural springs, are spread among sumptuous gardens. One of the stronger streams flows over a sculpted waterfall, with a rock ledge underneath that provides a perfect place to sit and receive a water massage. The pools and springs closest to the volcano are the hottest. The resort also has an excellent spa, offering professional massages, mud masks, and other treatments, as well as yoga classes (appointments required). Most of the treatments are conducted in pretty, open-air gazebos. The spa here also has several sweat lodges, based on a Native American traditional design. A full-service restaurant, garden grill, and several bars round out the offerings here.
Admission is $85 for adults and $30 for children 11 and under, including lunch. A range of packages, including multiple meals, are available. The pools are busiest between 2 and 6pm. After 6pm, adults can enter for $70 and children for $25, including dinner. Management enforces a policy of limiting visitors, so reservations are recommended.
Baldi Hot Springs Hotel Resort & Spa ((tel) 2479-2190; www.baldihotsprings.cr; $35 for adults and $17.50 for children) are the first hot springs you’ll come to as you drive from La Fortuna toward Tabacón. This place has grown substantially over the years, with many different pools, slides, and bars and restaurants spread around the expansive grounds. Baldi has more of a party vibe than other spots, with loud music blaring at some of the swim-up bars.
Just across the street from Baldi Hot Springs is the entrance of Eco Termales ★★★ ((tel) 2479-8787; www.ecotermalesfortuna.cr; $37 for adults and $24 for children). Smaller and more intimate than Tabacón, this series of pools amid dense forest and gardens is almost as picturesque and luxurious, though it has far fewer pools, lacks a view of the volcano, and offers much less extensive spa services. Eco Termales runs two time periods daily—10am to 4pm and 5pm to 10pm—and reservations are highly recommended, because admissions are limited to make sure the pools don’t get crowded. In the same general vicinity are Kalambu Hot Springs ((tel) 2479-0170; www.kalambu.com; $32 for adults and $25 for children), sort of a hot springs waterpark with slides and games; Paradise Hot Springs (https://paradisehotspringscr.com; (tel) 2479-1380; $28 for adults and $16 for children), with a few pools and massage facilities; and The Royal Corin Thermal Water Spa & Resort ((tel) 2479-2201; www.royalcorin.com; $49 adults and $35 children), with a small water circuit with waterfalls and pools of various temperatures.
Termales Los Laureles ((tel) 2479-1395; www.termalesloslaureles.com) is located between Baldi and Eco Termales and Tabacón. This spot has the area’s most local feel and is by far the most economical, charging just C6,000 for adults.
You can also enjoy the hot springs, pools, and facilities at the Springs Resort & Spa ★★. In addition to the main pools by the hotel, it also has a few more at a beautiful riverfront area about 1km away. The Springs is open to day visitors from 8:30am to 10pm, and admission is $65 per person for a 2-day pass.
Finally, if you like your water hot, fast, and free, head to Río Chollín, a rushing river of hot water open to the public right next to Tabacón. Across from the main entrance to Tabacón, where you can park your car in its roadside spaces, walk downhill through some yellow barriers and you’ll find the river.