As you drive in to the town of La Fortuna, CR you can’t help but get the feeling of a quaint ski/resort town. There is one main street, with no more than five more parallel to that. It only took a couple of minutes before we realized that there were as many, if not more tourists than locals (gringos everywhere!) Even a good majority of the folks that live there and that are a part of the local service industry are ex-pats from the U.S. The Main Street is lined with tourist activities – white water rafting, zip lining, canyoning, volcano tours, lake tours, hiking tours, and on and on and on. This is definitely a base camp for all of the activities around the volcano – ranging from leisurely bird watching to vicious rapids with just about anything in between. You can find hotels, B&Bs, and a lot of hostels, which makes lodging pretty accessible for a wide range of budgets…for lodging at least.
After a quick restroom break at a plaza (with a Burger King as the main business), we got our bearings and made our way to La Fortuna Suites (definite recommend). After a long drive through curvy mountain roads filled with semi drivers who didn’t seem to care if you were in the other lane or not, we were ready for some local fare and relaxation. We were given a few options from our host Jesse, and chose the closest restaurant – the Lava Lounge Bar and Grill, which we were told was opened by an ex-pat from Los Angeles. We really dug the open air dining room and laid back atmosphere, but were surprised at the prices. We had been warned about the dramatic price jumps around tourist and ex-pat communities but were still shocked that a late lunch at a bar and grill would be the same or slightly more than a 5 star restaurant in downtown San Jose! As for the food, we had a burger (the first burger we have seen on a menu yet, so I had to!) and a fish wrap – topped off with 2 drinks (total bill, $65 U.S.!). The food was o.k. but not great (even for bar food) and you could tell that the staff was cruising through the day to get to a more exciting night life that the place is sure to offer, but definitely not what we would consider our money’s worth. The higher prices were reinforced by a couple trips to the market, a stop at the pizza place for a drink, and our own excursions.
After our late lunch, we walked around town to take in the sights. There is definitely a mix of local, authentic CR restaurants, shops, etc. but they are far eclipsed by the overwhelming amount of tourist activities. One exception is in the center of town – there is a great little park where locals hang out and relax. We saw many families settled down where the parents would converse and read while the kids would ride skateboards, play soccer, etc.
Another sign of what this town had to offer was that we almost exclusively spoke English with everyone (with some important exceptions. See “$20 oil cap” for a taste of what it’s like to go off the beaten path). This definitely makes things a little easier if you are just there for the activities rather than the culture of CR.
All in all, we appreciate La Fortuna for what it is – a tourist town with amenities similar to where you are probably coming from – including Pepsi, Doritos, high prices, and no language barrier. It’s a very safe getaway to explore the wonderful things that Costa Rica outdoor life has to offer, but not the kind of place to really get involved in the culture of Costa Rica, which is our intent on this journey. Depending on what you are looking to do, this may be the place for you but be careful, you won’t get “pura vida” unless you work hard to seek it out!