Should I visit La Fortuna / Arenal or Monteverde / Santa Elena?

Our reservations agents are often asked if they should go to La Fortuna where the Arenal Volcano is located or better to see the world-famous Cloud Forest in Monteverde. Many guests want to know where they can see more wildlife and where there is more to do in terms of tours and activities.  

Choosing between the two destinations is not easy.  Both offer amazing experiences and if you have ten days or more in Costa Rica, we recommend visiting both.  But if you only have a week and want to combine Monteverde or Arenal with a beach destination like Manuel Antonio or Santa Teresa, the answer depends on various factors.  Budget, climate expectations, time of the year, and of course interests. 

Here is the Executive Summary: If you prefer a more low-key destination with a relaxed vibe where everything evolves about wildlife and nature experiences, Monteverde is for you.  If you are looking for a more developed destination with a wide range of tourist activities, hotels, and restaurants, La Fortuna is for you. 

Here is a bit more detail: Monteverde is an ideal destination for those who enjoy outdoor activities such as bird watching, hiking, and exploring the cloud forest. It offers a cooler climate than Arenal at about 1,300 meters above sea level, so it’s perfect for those who want to escape the heat.  

Fun fact: Monteverde was founded by Quakers from the United States whose pacifist values led them to defy the American draft before the Korean War.  It still maintains a very calm and peaceful small-town vibe. 

In the 1960s, conservationists from around the world came to the area to study the flora and fauna of the cloud forest which led to the establishment of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve by George Powell in 1972.  There are roughly 9,000 species of plants in Costa Rica, with approximately 3,000 growing in the Monteverde Forest. The complex ecosystem is also home to over 100 mammal species, 400 types of birds, and thousands of insect species. 

In addition, if you are a coffee fan, a visit to Monteverde is a must as you can sample some of Costa Rica’s best high-land blends. 

La Fortuna is, alongside Manuel Antonio on the Pacific Coast considered the adventure tour and activity capital of Costa Rica.  It has a bustling and busy downtown, and most hotels and restaurants are spread along a road that leads to the Arenal Volcano which is an impressive sight.  The volcano was even more impressive before 2010 when it had regular eruptions, and you could see the “red” lava run down the side of the mountain at night.  Due to the volcanic activity, there are hot springs of which the Tabacon Hot Springs are the most stunning.

Both destinations can be easily reached from either international airport in Costa Rica.  Monteverde is a bit closer than La Fortuna (one hour less from San Jose and half an hour less from Liberia). 

A few months ago, I ran into a couple on their honeymoon at Arenas del Mar in Manuel Antonio and they told me that they had come from La Fortuna.  They booked the two destinations as they wanted to spend some time at the beach (in Manuel Antonio) and some time in the rain forest (La Fortuna).  To their surprise, Manuel Antonio and the Central Pacific is all about the rainforest.  Probably more so than La Fortuna and they told me that if they would have known that they would have preferred to visit a different ecosystem like the cloud forest in Monteverde. 

So, once again if you can, visit both destinations.  But if I had to choose one to combine with a beach destination like Manuel Antonio or Uvita, I would go to Monteverde.  It is just uniquely different.  The climate and flora and fauna of La Fortuna are like what you would find on the Central Pacific Coast.

If you have further questions, chat with our reservations team here or send us a note to

Hans Pfister, President and Co-Founder of the Cayuga Collection

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Hans Pfister

Co-owner & President