Feeling Ripped off in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

la fortuna, costa rica header

We had a lot of things planned in La Fortuna. Unfortunately everything on this Costa Rican trip was going wrong.

It never stopped raining during our first 3 days at Arenal. It wasn’t a light drizzle, it was a constantly heavy downpour with low hanging cloud. Humidity permeated everything and it actually felt cold. We spent those first days in the room playing board games, draped in blankets, and looking out the window towards Arenal volcano, hoping that it would actually stop raining for 2 minutes.

On the fourth day, with the heavy rain actually slowing to a drizzle, Debbie at Leaves and Lizards arranged for a driver to take us to: 1) the Proyecto Asis animal rehabilitation center and 2) Eco-Thermales hot springs. Proyecto Asis was a 45 minute drive away and cost between the two of us was $90 for a 3 hour tour/volunteering. We prepared some food and fed the animals which consisted of spider and capuchin monkeys, parrots, a macaw, some raccoons and a coati. We then went to the hot springs where we relaxed in the water, had a few pina coladas and lunch. The bill came to $120 for about 3 hours. The arrangements for the driver came out to $70. Adding it up, we had spent $280 that day. Holy cow. We both found that to be a LOT of money for what we got. Both Proyecto Asis and Eco-Thermales were a disappointment; Proyecto Asia consisted of about 20 animals in cages and Eco-Thermales are a bunch of swimming pools with above average water temperature. These are the No. 1 and No. 4 activities in La Fortuna according to Trip Advisor. I had read some people say that the La Fortuna area was overly commercialized but I found the cost and value for money ridiculous. Its not like we’re in Switzerland taking the train up Jungfrau or in Tuscany taking a hot balloon ride over the countryside – these are very ordinary tourist attractions in a third world country. You remember that commercial about people being ripped off by bank service fees, the one where a guy is walking around with another guy who’s always got his hand in his back pocket? That’s how I was starting to feel about Costa Rica. And all I got for it was someone telling me “Pura Vida” all the time. That was getting on my f***ing nerves too.

sloth

Above: sloth at the Proyecto Asis animal rehabilitation center.

eco-thermales

Above: Eco-Thermales hot springs. 

What we’ve learned here; in Costa Rica nothing is as close as it seems. You look at a map and the scale of it and you think something might be 10 minutes to get to. Wrong. The roads are winding and in horrible shape. I would recommend that anyone coming to Arenal (or Costa Rica in general) rent a 4*4. We’ve travelled to many countries without a car but Costa Rica is the one place we have travelled where we feel it is essential. Also, transport is also incredibly expensive; taxis here cost more than in Manhattan. I don’t think any of the guide books adequately prepares you for this. Ridiculous.

We decided to forget about the other tours and activities we had planned; ziplining (which we can do anywhere including Canada), hanging bridges (which other travellers told us was a disappointment), and hiking around the volcano (again, it would have required a driver who would have to wait for us). This whole vacation was making me upset. Nothing, even from our flight getting here, had gone to plan. I think my exact words to Lissette were “f*** that shit, I’m not spending more money on boring crap”. She was in total agreement.
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A positive about Costa Rica is that you don’t have to go far, or spend a lot of money, to enjoy pretty scenery or wildlife. The sun finally came out, giving us clear views of the volcano. Arenal is mesmerizing and you can stare at it all day, the colours constantly changing with the clouds and angle of the sun. With the sun came the birds, beautifully coloured birds of all variety and sizes. Costa Rica is a bird lover’s paradise, there are gorgeous birds everywhere. It is probably the one thing that has impressed us the most about this country. We spent the next few days in Leaves and Lizard’s restaurant, enjoying the views, talking to the workers, and taking walks along the grounds. Some photos:

blue birds, la fortuna

Birds in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

humingbird, arenal

Arenal volcano, La Fortuna

Hibiscus, arenal

Leaves and Lizards restaurant

parrot in restaurant

baby at L&L

weird clouds, arenal


Summary
: Beautiful views of the volcano and great wildlife. But we found La Fortuna grossly overcommercialized and expensive. As we would later find out in Santa Teresa, you can get some reasonable pricing in Costa Rica. But not in La Fortuna.
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For more on Costa Rica, visit our Destination Guide page.

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Leaves and Lizards is not a “hotel”; the large property has its own farm, stables for its horses, a central dining area, along with 8 villas well spaced out and private. The one thing I would recommend is to have your own wheels. Like everything in Costa Rica, L&L is far from everything.

Below: Lissette made a friend on the farm, one of her fondest memories on this trip.

Spanky and horse

 

 Have you been to La Fortuna? What was your experience?

 

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Comments

  1. Bummer you didn’t have a great experience in Costa Rica. It was my first international trip and I did a study abroad while I was in high school there. I have fond memories of Costa Rica. Of course, this was about 16 years ago before it got so touristy. Good to know the roads are still crap! Some things never change. ;)
    Jennifer recently posted…Izmailovsky Market #gAdvRussiaMy Profile

  2. Nothing in Costa Rica is close. It looks it, but the roads make it hard.

    The rain can be insane, and the prices even more so. I am acutally amazed how expensive everything in Costa Rica really is!
    Marina K. Villatoro recently posted…Pizza Grizzly – Oldest Theme Restaurant in GuatemalaMy Profile

  3. Judging by your photos you got luckier than us at Arenal: at least, you could see the whole volcano. During our trip the top half of Arenal volcano was permanently covered in clouds.

    I absolutely agree with you about the whole Arenal area: it is grossly overpriced, definitely everything (i.e. attractions, restaurants of all kind, resorts) meant for tourists: what I mean is that their owners are not concerned about the quality of what they offer, but just trying to rip as much profit as they can. Really sad.

    Except some parts of Pan American Highway, roads are the perfect example of typical 3rd world roads: meaning that 4×4 is necessary. Luckily, we anticipated this debacle and got a suitable vehicle. In turn, we were rewarded with a truly beautiful unspoiled scenery in the mountains while crossing the country from Atlantic to Pacific oceans. I think this is the most wonderful thing that you can find in Costa Rica: mountain landscapes as if you were in 18th or 19th century. Just forget how you got there and do not worry about how you are going to get back (or forth depending on your destination) and just enjoy the moment.
    Elena recently posted…Time for a new adventure?My Profile

    • Thanks Elena for the feedback. Sounds like you made the most of your trip. Totally agree, based on what I know now, a 4*4 the best way to see the country.

  4. Great photos! We enjoyed our time in La Fortuna. Although we only saw the volcano for about 3 minutes!
    Cam recently posted…Photo of the Week: “Sexy Woman” in Cuzco, PeruMy Profile

  5. Just curious what time of year you visited? I’ve been wanting to go to Costa Rica but the two things you’ve mentioned, the rain (which I cannot stand) and the distance between places makes me worry that it will be a difficult trip.
    Rhonda recently posted…Romantic Paris- Our Favourite Activities for Romance in ParisMy Profile

    • Thanks for the comment Rhonda – we visited the worst time ever, arrived Dec 23 and stayed almost a month. I know CR gets a lot of tourists, but didn’t think it would be tourist hell as both Manuel Antonio and La Fortuna were. It was one of our worst vacations ever (the other was Brazil, but for other reasons). Knowing what I know now, I would recommend anyone thinking of going to CR to; 1) go when it’s not peak season, 2) rent a car, 3) skip the ‘must-sees’. The Nicoya Peninsula (we stayed in Santa Teresa) was beautiful and the weather much drier, maybe a place that would interest you more.

  6. Sorry to hear you didn’t love your time there. I was in Costa Rica six years ago and loved it though based upon my experience and talking to some of the locals I met, I knew that tourism was really changing the dynamic there. The locals were telling me how out of control prices were getting even though there were some distinctions between local prices and foreigner prices. It was still very affordable while I was there but I was astounded at the prices for some of the ‘adventure-type’ activities. People often charge what buyer are willing to pay for an experience. I didn’t go but lots of people spoke very highly of Nicaragua. Similar landscape, nice people, but not inflated from tourism. I hope Gringo Pete is still in La Fortuna.

    Carl

    • Good to know some history Carl, much appreciate. Yes, funny how you cross the border and you suddenly don’t see so many gringos.

  7. Sad to read of the trials and tribulations but you did get some gorgeous photos – wow!
    I know where I’ll be the rest of this afternoon :-D
    Maria recently posted…Unconditional LoveMy Profile

  8. An honest post. I’ve spend a lot of time in Costa Rica, most of the time puzzled why I couldn’t fall in love with it. After all, it has many of the things I love – nature, volcanos, Spanish language/culture. But unfortunately the love affair never really took off. My favourite spots were the hot springs at Tabacon resort (although very pricey) and several of the Cayuga eco-resorts but other places such as Jaco Beach were really nasty — lots of prostitution and hotels with 5 guys to a room. The country does have an admirable record of eco-conservation and I give them kudos for that. But as for places I’d return to – I’d choose Nicaragua, Guatemala or Oaxaca Mexico as alternatives.

  9. As a budget tourist destination Costa Rica is done, finished, over. Now sadly it is just a huge rip off! Some hotels around me that used to cost $40-$60 a night depending on the season are now $100-$140 a night year round and you will pay US prices for beer and food even in sodas. Even the $25-$30 a night surfer dive in our town is now $80-$100 only a couple years later. Im sorry but this is gouging pure and simple. The prices cabs, hotels, food, rentals everything is just gone insane. Thank god there is Nicaragua left for budget travellers. Enjoy it while you can. The worst offender is the real estate. Its more expensive to buy a house in CR than it is in parts of the US and they are made out of cinder block with tin roofs! Crappy half acre lots that turn to mud and wash away during a rainfall going for 300k. Its crazy. The whole place has gone nuts.

    And in case you even try and dispute any of this please know I own property and have lived in CR for over 7 years so I think I am more than qualified to comment.

    That being said Im visiting family up north and I cant wait to get back cause its freezing here.

    Pura Vida!

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Thanks for the feedback Griggs – I don’t dispute any of the above at all, it’s exactly the point I was making about Costa Rica (I addressed it more in this post as well – and like you suggest that people go to Nicaragua instead).
      Foreign investment has driven up prices and ruined Costa Rica.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  10. Costa Rica is beautiful but this traveler is NEVER coming back.

    Prices are ridiculous for what you get. To top it all you have to give them $30 to leave the country by plane.

    I recommend Colombia, way nicer country, very budget friendly and prettier.

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      I totally, totally agree with you – love Colombia! Great people, relatively inexpensive, and just a beautiful country. I’d never go back to Costa Rica.

    • I paid 30X 2 because I went to a bank a week in advance to pay the fee and they delievered me a voucher that was attached to my passport, then my passport was stolen the very day I had to board my flight back, thanks to the incredible reactivity of the people of the French Embassy (blessed are they) who delivered me a provisional pass, i could board my plane however before that the CR authorities required the payment of the 30$ (of course I didn’t have the voucher which was in the stolen passport). Instead of arguing and risking missing my flight, I closed my eyes, paid again, and promised myself I wouldn’t set foot again in the country of “Pura Vida”…

  11. Thanks for posting this, have been dying to to go to CR and was about to waste so much $-thanks for that! In searching have found several “free” tips to enjoy hot springs, nature and beaches all of the reasons I wanted to go there in the first place.

    • Hi sir,
      I totally agree about prices which are too much for Costa Rican people as well, but still a good surf on the web can find other cheaper activities. Can you believe a company here send their products to other countries and they are cheaper there than in our own country? I hate that as it happens a lot with others as well.
      There are many things you can do without spending lots of money. All you need is more dedication to research and hopefully have a friend in Costa Rica to help you find cheaper and lovely places to see.
      For example, I can go on a hyke- almost climb- to the Arenal Volcano for only 20-30 dollars which is awesome as you get to the top of the volcano.
      About the Rescue Center you mention, they do not receive help from the government, so I understand why prices cannot be low. They have to find their own way to keep up with the good work they do.

  12. Chris K says:

    What Griggs said!!!! CR is a total rip off. Spent the last 8 days there. Will not be going back. Costa Rica needs a hard lesson in not scamming tourists.

  13. CR is a ripoff , it’s outrageous Add to that rampant insecurity I saw two women tourists being stolen on the beach in Puerto Viejo (Caribbean side, more dangerous than the Pacific side). When I called for help I met blank stares. My wife was nearly hit by a stone behind her backs at the riverside on the Panamanian border, two young teens (no more than 13-14) wanted to steal her (small , cheap) camera. The surroundings of the bus stations are derelict, one feels insecure, unsavoury charachters hanging around, and those constant “hello amigo , aleman ?” (for them every European tourist must be German) of guys , gross. CR is hyped up right now, but I believe one of these days the bubble will blow off.

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