La Fortuna and Volcano Arenal

Costa Rica


La Fortuna Area

The region of Costa Rica surrounding Lake Arenal began as a farming community, and there is evidence of human life in the area dating all the way back to 4000 B.C. In these times, and largely up until the area became a tourist attracting community, the people of the area were subsistence farmers whose primary crop was maize (corn). Many traces of ceramics have also been found from prehistoric times, showing the people of the area have always had a knack for the crafts they now, thousands of years later, are selling to tourists who come to see the volcano and enjoy the hot springs.  This simple, self-sustaining way of life was disrupted with the eruption of the Arenal volcano in 1968, which is the main cause for La Fortuna’s growth in becoming one of the main tourist attractions in Costa Rica. As the pressures of tourism were placed on the people of La Fortuna, the main industry moved from farming and exporting beef, papaya, ginger root, oranges, pineapple, and sugar cane to tourism which now greatly surpasses any other industry in the area. Being a gateway community, La Fortuna sees a multitude of different people every day on their way to and from the volcano. It appears that the people of the area have handled these changes relatively well and are adapting to the growing demands placed on the local people. What is most important for the community’s future is to find a balance between meeting these demands and protecting the unique ecology of the area. 

With globalization and development certain aspects are able to both enhance while at the same time hurt a community. In the La Fortuna area, one strength they possess is the way in which the community is organized and the location of the community itself. It is a gateway community that requires all visitors to the volcano to pass through it to get to the volcano. The fact that the town is setup directly adjacent to one of the most major tourist attractions in Costa Rica sets them at a huge advantage over other developing areas. As Arenal Volcano continues to become more of a tourist attraction it is inevitable that La Fortuna will benefit from this influx as well. A weakness La Fortuna possesses is the fact that greater majority of the locals in the area are living in poverty. Some might not have the economic, intellectual, or psychological capabilities needed to facilitate the changes caused by globalization. Also, used to a more remote, solitary lifestyle some may be reluctant to change their way of life to welcome in the many different types of people that will be passing through the area in need of all various sorts of goods and services. Take a virtual tour of the beautiful city at Virtual Tour 



The Arenal Volcano


The volcano Arenal is a strato volcano that stands at 5,437 feet in elevation.  The earliest estimated eruption of the volcano occurred 7,000 years ago. The most recent large eruption occurred in 1968. At this point, the people that lived around the base thought that the volcano was simply a mountain, and they referred to it as Cerro Arenal.  Around 7:30AM on July 29th, the volcano came to life again after about 400 years of being dormant. This came as a big surprise to the locals. The eruption killed 78 people and destroyed three nearby villages.


Arenal eruption 1968 Costa Rica

(Destruction of nearby pastures and crops)


Many pastures, crops, and forests were destroyed as a result. The way of life for the Costa Ricans around the volcano was severely disrupted. The volcano hasn’t seized to flow since the eruption as it is currently an active volcano producing pyroclastic flows daily. Eventually, some people saw this as an opportunity for tourism. Locals would guide visitors around the area and explain what happened during the eruption. People now flock to the area in order to see the volcano, in turn creating a large gateway community in the area to serve the people different ways to see the volcano and surrounding forests.



The Arenal Observatory Lodge

Offers one of the best places to observe the volcano, the lodge sits in a private nature reserve in the heart of one of Costa Rica's most beautiful areas.   Rich volcanic soil supports primary and secondary rainforest. Waterfalls and rivers offer breath taking views on the well marked and manicured trail system around the property, which provide easy access to the natural beauty.  It is best to observe Arenal during the evening or early morning hours and heavy cloud cover is quite common throughout the day, especially during the rainy season.  .





In 1978, the man made Lake Arenal was formed by the waters of Rio Arenal being diverted to fill and stock what is today a 40,000 sq. impoundment. The lake is surrounded by rolling hills that are partly pastured and partly forested. The northwest side of the lake is a dry region of rolling hills and pastures, distinctly different from the lush landscape near La Fortuna. Water depth near the dam runs up to 190 feet; the water depth in the channels will run up to 120 feet. Water temperature varies less than 4 degrees Fahrenheit year round.  The lake produces about 60% of the hydro electrical power for Costa Rica.




Hot Springs

The hot springs not only feature stunning views of Arenal Volcano but also offer the pleasurable experience of bathing in the volcano's byproduct.  These hot springs are about 12 km from the town of Fortuna. Luxury hotels have opened bathing resorts with different swimming pool fed by the thermal hot springs. Set amidst stunning lush greenery, rare orchids and superb waterfalls, the hot Springs offer the ultimate indulgence for those who just want some peace and quiet.




Tourist Activities

Beside the volcano and the hot springs, this town has other great attractions like the La Catarata de la Fortuna, a breathtakingly beautiful waterfall that falls from a dizzying height of 70 meters.  For the more outdoorsy person, this region of the country has plenty to offer. White water rafting, hiking excursions, kayaking, canoeing, fishing, horseback riding, canopy tours.  These are all ways to create and maintain positive developments in the area while keeping power with in the community. They should not allow many major tourism or commercial corporations to come in dominate the area, instead as much as possible try to keep the money made in the community from leaving the community. Also, it is important to educate the people of the community, helping them to develop specialized skills that will help aid in the development of the community. Possible constraints will be a lack of initial capital that may be needed to start local programs and businesses that will be needed to help the local people in the community harness the development opportunities provided. The Arenal area is already flooded with large businesses and tourism corporations it seems only a matter of time before these types of businesses flood the La fortuna area.