Recently my good friend Pat sent me a NY Times article about the rise in “Solo Sojourners” over the past few years. Reading it made me think about a solo trip I took to Costa Rica exactly two years ago. In addition to deciding to travel alone, I also challenged myself to go without planning a single thing before I arrived! The first time I thought about my itinerary was actually on the airplane to San Jose! There, I flipped through my Lonely Planet guidebook and got advice from Juliana, the woman sitting next to me, who was a native of Costa Rica. We bonded over our love of travel and the fact that Academy Award winner Josh Brolin was on our plane. The flight may have only been a few hours, but that was enough time to settle on my first stop that was highly recommended by both Juliana and Lonely Planet — La Fortuna.
From Los Angeles, I had a layover in Texas and then flew into San Jose. I was shocked at how fast it was to get to Costa Rica! It took less time than trips I’ve taken to the East Coast and really opened my eyes to how accessible Central America is from the West Coast and Southern US. When I arrived in San Jose, I headed to a popular backpacker hostel called Hostel Pangea for the night and booked a shuttle bus right at the front desk to take me to La Fortuna first thing in the morning.
If La Fortuna is your first stop in Costa Rica, a lot of travelers fly into San Jose and take a bus like I did. If you’d rather spend a little more money and fly to La Fortuna from San Jose, Nature Air has a 30-minute flight. If you’re traveling to La Fortuna from a different starting point, a bus is the cheapest option. I took buses throughout the country my entire trip and it was a great way to see the country.
5 Things to do in La Fortuna Costa Rica
1. La Fortuna Waterfall
As soon as I arrived to La Fortuna I wanted the outdoor adventure to begin! After speaking to the staff at my hostel and fellow backpackers, I joined my new friends Tonya and Lisa on an afternoon trip to the La Fortuna Waterfall. The entrance fee cost less than $10 and proceeds actually go toward local conservation efforts. On the grounds we hiked, swam at the base of the waterfall and unwound in the jungle.
2. Free Hot Springs
Another one of the main things to do in La Fortuna Costa Rica is the Arenal Volcano and its surrounding hot springs. As I returned from my waterfall trek, a different group of backpackers was heading out to the FREE natural hot springs so I spontaneously joined them! The town is surrounded by luxury resorts that charge for access to hot spring pools, hot tubs, waterslides, etc. But if you want to enjoy the hot springs in their purest form, go to the free ones! It’s the perfect way to relax, save some cash, and give your body a treat to end a long day.
3. Tabacon Hot Springs
Even though I really enjoyed the free hot springs, the following night I decided to check out the resorts. I kept hearing good things about Tabacon, so I decided to go at night for $45. The grounds were gorgeous, the springs were rejuvenating and I was easily able to make friends. Splurging was definitely worth it. I felt as if I was living out a “Survivor” Reward Challenge (something Rodney wouldn’t know about… for those watching “Survivor 30”).
5. White Water Rafting
There are so many things to do in La Fortuna Costa Rica in terms of outdoor adventure: volcano hikes, whitewater rafting, waterfalls, canyoning, hiking and horseback riding to name a few. I recommend doing what excites you the most! That’s one of the best parts about traveling solo. You get to do what YOU want to do all the time. For me, that was whitewater rafting and even going solo I was able to make new friends!
BONUS 6: Rappelling
During our whitewater rafting trip we even had the option to go rappelling down a waterfall!
Stay at Arenal Backpackers Resort! It’s definitely one of my favorite hostels. I stayed in one of the tents, which I loved, and it also offers dorms – both co-ed and all-female. It’s in a great location in town, a helpful staff, a pool and a welcoming atmosphere to meet a lot of awesome backpackers.
If I had to classify my personality type, I would say I fall into the A++++ category. I’m a perfectionist and a planner in all aspects of my life. So hopping on a plane to a foreign country without a gameplan for 10-days should have freaked me out. To my surprise, it was one of the most liberating and rewarding experiences of my life! Every day I decided where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do in the moment. With no schedule and no agenda… I felt completely free and ended up having the best time!
Spontaneously deciding what to do in Costa Rica, starting with La Fortuna, set the tone for the rest of my trip. That sense of freedom and adaptability is something I’ve carried forward into all of my travels. Not only do I challenge you to take a solo trip, I challenge you to take one where you don’t know what you’re doing until you actually start doing it. This solo traveler skill set I’ve developed has also helped me find a better balance in my daily life. Sometimes it’s better to let go of control and just enjoy the adventure!