Feeling Ripped off in La Fortuna Costa Rica
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.
Related: Travel Bloggers on Tourist Traps and Disappointing Places – and where you should go Instead.
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.
Really, if I can recommend anything in Costa Rica: RENT a car. And book early and get an SUV. Of all the places we’ve visited, you need a car in Costa Rica and we’re kicking ourselves that we didn’t. (Use Rentalcars.com – we used them in South Africa and got some good deals).
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.
Related: Why we think Costa Rica is Overrated
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:
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.
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. BUT if you do have your own wheels I recommend this place.
Below: Top activies in La Fortuna. I’ve warned you that tours in La Fortuna are not cheap.
Related: Why you SHOULDN’T visit Manuel Antonio (Costa Rica)
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Related: Dogs we’ve met on our travels…and the most dog-loving countries!
Have you been to La Fortuna? What was your experience?
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Wow…Eco Thermales has gone up since I visited back in ’07 when it was around 25.00 per person for a 4 hour block, including a meal. This is one of my most memorable places I visited in CR but if those are the current rates it I will have to reconsider going back.
And this is an old post. We were there in 2011. Who knows how much it costs now…
I am here now …….. loving it….yes stuff is expensive but not quite the price of back in the US. You have to just roll with it and pay the bills when you get home. Don’t expect to have a great trip anywhere unless you can divorce yourself from your money. This is their livelihood and you are supporting it. My 3 week vacation with my family of 5 and lots of excursions and nice hotels was about $20k.
$20K for a 3 week vacation. My point exactly.
You can go many great places where you’ll get much more bang for your buck and where you’ll see much more impressive things. You can see that same things you see in Costa Rica in Nicaragua and pay half the price and have authentic experiences. You can go the Colombia and see incredible beauty as well as historic cities.
And the livelihood you’re supporting are the Americans and Europeans who own most of the businesses in CR, not the locals.
Last point: you can’t travel internationally and think along the lines of what you would pay in the US.
Hello. I found this post a bit late.
Thank you for confirming what I already knew. I have visited Costa Rica twice, spending a total of about 3 1/2 months there. I do no wish to visit again. Why?
First, I got tired of getting ripped off. For example, a 10 minute taxi ride from the airport to Alajuela cost me $35 U.S.; it would have been $45, had the host of the guest house I was staying at not threatened to call the tourist police on the taxi driver if he persisted on gouging me to the tune of $45. Second, I found the friendly Tico trope to be as verifiable as a Yeti sighting. Most of the people I found to be exceedingly friendly, saying “pura vida” after a friendly interaction, were actually Nicaraguans. The ticos were actually quite unfriendly every place I visited, save for Limon province, which Costa Ricans from the Central Valley, along with Americans and Canadians, derided as a wasteland of moral impurity (lots of black folks and Indians there). In Santa Ana, I got really nasty looks from about half of the people I said “buenos dias” to on the street or in local business.; the rest reciprocated my good day wishes. Finally, once they realized I was a gringo, it seemed that my head metamorphoses into an automatic teller machine, like in the Looney Tunes cartoons where Daffy Duck’s head turns into that of an ass. I felt like an ass for expecting the warm reception I so often read about in doing my research before traveling. Finally, there are waaaaay too many Americans and Canadians there for my tastes; they tend to take their “isms” with them abroad.
The best thing I can say about the country is this: I met quite a few Nicaraguans there. My interactions with them made me want to visit Nicaragua next, but unfortunately, the political situation there recently took a turn south. Reading the most popular online travel forums generally do not tell you any of this.
Thanks for taking the time to comment and for the feedback fp. We’re on the same page 😉
Daughter and I went to La Fortuna in 2016. Had been in Puerto Viejo for 5 days and took a shuttle to La Fortuna but picked up a rental car from Alamo on arrival. Stayed at Casa Luna. Saw Arenal from the first moment we arrived. This was in late May. Days were great and then thunder and rain in the late afternoon. Drove to the La Fortuna Waterfall, admission $12 pp. Beautiful place. Then went to the free hot springs. Awesome. Next day we drove to Mistico Hanging Bridges. Entry price for 2 was $54 but I used my Capital One card and points to erase the purchase. After the walk went to the cafe, got the table right in front of the window and had great view of Arenal!
Took the shuttle to Manuel Antonio but then picked up rental again from Alamo for the rest of the trip. Went to Nauyaca Falls. Fantastic. Sorry you missed it. We rode the Toyota truck instead of hiking in. I had done a lot of research prior to the trip. Except for the Caribbean where we used the public bus to get to the National Park in Cahuita and rode bikes, you need a car.
Thanks Maureen, sounds like you had a good trip. You’re very right about the car.
I’ve been in La Fortuna for a few days now and have been feeling a sense of familiarity. It wasn’t until I read this article and comments that I was able to pinpoint it to having the same feeling I get when bringing visiting relatives to Niagara Falls… Which is also beautiful when you take the tourist attractions out of it..
Thank you for taking the time to comment Nel!
David from Travelscams.org
Great article, thanks for the tips! Indeed, Costa Rica is home to a diverse range of amazing landscapes, from gorgeous jungles, cloud forests, sand white beaches, rolling hills to colonial architecture in San Jose. However, crime rate is high and petty crime is common in tourist areas.
Do be wary of unofficial tour operators, children with palm leaves, drug planting, airport transport intercept, unofficial taxi express kidnappings, short changing taxi drivers, snatch theft, credit card fraud, and many more!
Not trying to be snarky, but you picked the number 1 and number 4 items off a published list on trip advisor and were disappointed it was over commercialized and over priced?? That’s what happens with tourism. Remember tourist websites are there to promote tourism and tourism is a business. You get treated like a tourist. But at least people’s families were fed and their kids can go to school. And yes, you are completely correct that some things are very expensive in Costa RIca and for sure renting a car is worth it. You just need good ground clearance, not necessarily 4×4.
(I know text has no tone, so again, this is suggestive, not condescending) I would recommend learning to “travel”. Find things to do that everyone else isn’t doing. It takes more research ahead of time, but its worth it. Invest the time to meet some locals, they will show you some amazing places that aren’t listed on the tourist websites. This place is full of waterfalls and rivers. You’ve probably seen a bunch along the roads as you drive around. There are some amazing places here that aren’t over run by tourists staying in big hotels and being bussed everywhere in shuttles. I always try to avoid that. Who wants to see 9 or 15 other people standing around in the background of our pictures anyway. Right?
Venado Caves for example. Hard to get to as Ticos are notorious for bad directions, even on the websites. It’s pretty funny. For me that is more of an adventure than just showing up to a place trying to check off the Trip Advisor list. Also tons of hikes in national parks. Just my two cents. I think you will find places more enjoyable just changing the mindset a bit. At least you travel a lot.
Thanks for the comment. I totally get what you are saying.
This was written back in 2011, before we started travelling full-time. At the time we were the average tourist, taking our 2-3 week vacation somewhere once a year.
We always have this conversation. As travellers, do you tell others not to go up the Eiffel tower or visit the Coloseum in Rome or the Uffizi Gallery in Florence? Likewise, do you tell a tourist that they shouldn’t visit Arenal, go to hot springs, or go to Manuel Antonio? Tourists want to see the things that a place is known for for themselves.
You say to invest time to meet locals and have them show you around. But that’s not going to happen during a 2 week vacation and it won’t happen when the country is mobbed by tourists and the locals just really want to hide away somewhere…
I totally know what you are saying. As full-time travellers now we would never spend this kind of money on excursions, we’d blow our monthly budget in 1 week. But in most countries you CAN see the highlights without blowing a wad of cash (and I was mentioning Trip Advisor to highlight that these were “Top”attractions. Which were nothing special. My Lonely Planet Guide at the time had all the same highlights listed).
But what useful advice do you give people going to Costa Rica other than stay away from touristy places? And I tried rented a car – only to be told that everything had been booked out way in advance. I can only imagine how much renting would have cost considering the demand.
I compare this to Nicaragua which I visited with my mom. I arranged private transport between places which was very affordable and stayed in beautiful lodges with even more impressive volcano views. I never felt ripped off.
I summed up my feelings on Costa Rica here. And I stand by that. I’d love to go back to Costa Rica and get put up and shown around by a local. But that’s not going to happen for 99% of people.
Hi Frank! I am in La Fortuna now and cane across your post looking up the negatives of Costa Rica. I don’t know why but I don’t really “click” with this town. It is WAY overpriced. I ordered a margarita with a double shot of tequila at one of the hot springs it was $16 USD! Seriously?? We were lucky enough to get great weather no rain which was surprising and we did the volcano tour (you didn’t miss much) we did hanging bridges and due to a really good tour guide I like this, the waterfall swim also fun and Canyoning which was fun. The tours were proved over $100 each which gets pricey. I also don’t love the food which I’m hoping I’ll find a local dish I enjoy. I read your post about Santa Teresa we head there tomorrow so I’ll let you know how I like it. I hope I enjoy it as much as you did!! Great post btw I’m glad you could relate to the hype.
Those are crazy prices.
We’ve travelled full time all over the world over the last 4 years and when I see prices like those in Costa Rica I shake my head. They have no relation to the local economy. Just makes me angry.
Our trip to Costa Rica was back in 2011 so I appreciate your feedback and I hope you enjoy Santa Teresa!
Wow! Full time travelers for the past 4 years! How impressive. We actually love Santa Teresa. It has terrible roads but the atmosphere is still fun. Still on the expensive side but cheaper than La Fortuna better food. We loved this place. We also stayed at a wonderful boutique hotel called “Mint” which opened late last year and really enjoyed our hosts. The ATV riding to the beaches was awesome! Much more of a Costa Rica vibe all around.
Great to hear. That’s exactly how we felt about Santa Teresa. Did you get there overland or did you fly? We’ll never forget some of those flights on small Costa Rican planes…scariest experiences ever.
We spent 2 weeks in Costa Rica from January 10-24, 2018. Our itinerary was San Jose-Escazu-La Fortuna-Monteverde-Samara-Montezuma-Isla Tortuga-Tambor-Jaco-Quepos/Manuel Antonio-San Jose. We’re two couples splitting cost with rental car and airbnb’s. The roads are horrible but the views are nice (I mean nice–it cannot be compared when you are driving around the French Riviera or the Canadian Rockies) and the long distances are part of the adventures. We were lucky that except in Monteverde where we hike with light rain shower, all the other places were sunny and bright. Breakfast in hotels were good, so we snack around lunch time and have a nice dinner—prices are expensive but mostly they are grilled seafood–catch of the day. Since your topic is La Fortuna, 2nights/3days was good enough for us, the first day we arrived and checked in Las Lomas del Volcan hotel which has amazing views of Arenal Volcano from our balcony, felt like you were hypnotize by it and you can stare at it all the time. Each couple has it’s own cabin and after we stroll and dine in the town of La Fortuna we bought a bootle of winw to enjoy in our balcony. The second day, we hike the loop of the Arenal Volcano trail, went back to the hotel and refresh and by 6pm we were in Eco Thermales Hot Springs for the hot spring and buffet dinner–we enjoyed both. The third day we check out and on the road to Monteverde—from here is another story (*=*)
Oh boy, you saw lots over 2 weeks Nelia!
You’re right, the highlight for us in la Fortuna was looking out over Arenal (when it wasn’t raining). Our favorite spot actually in Costa Rica was Santa Teresa where prices lower, ambiance more laid back, and sunsets fabulous. Beautiful spot. But overall we were disappointed with Costa Rica: we just found the they had sold out to foreign interests and that everything was just too touristy and expensive. I wrote about all that here. I’d be curious as to your overall impression.
Morgan Alec Burton
Costa Rica is SO 2004.
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.
2nd most disappointing place ever on my list (after Brazil). And expensive. People in Brazil may have been nasty, but at least Brazil is beautiful. I didn’t think much of CR.
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.
Thank you Chris, totally agree.
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.
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.
Thanks for the feedback Ben 😉
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 $30 to leave the country by plane.
I recommend Colombia, way nicer country, very budget friendly and prettier.
I totally, totally agree with you – love Colombia! Great people, relatively inexpensive, and just a beautiful country. I’d never go back to Costa Rica.
I paid 30X 2 because I went to a bank a week in advance to pay the fee and they delievered me a voucher that was attached to my passport, then my passport was stolen the very day I had to board my flight back, thanks to the incredible reactivity of the people of the French Embassy (blessed are they) who delivered me a provisional pass, i could board my plane however before that the CR authorities required the payment of the 30$ (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”…
That sucks. We were so disenchanted with CR, and so sick of always been greeted by “Pura Vida” that we made up our own catchphrase. “Pura Mierda” 🙂 Not nice I know.
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.
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.
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.
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 😀
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.
Good to know some history Carl, much appreciate. Yes, funny how you cross the border and you suddenly don’t see so many gringos.
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.
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.
Great photos! We enjoyed our time in La Fortuna. Although we only saw the volcano for about 3 minutes!
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.
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.
Marina K. Villatoro
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!
Thanks Marina, always nice having someone who thinks the same!
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. 😉
Yeah, the roads in Costa Rica almost as bad as those in Montreal. And that’s bad 🙂