5 Comparisons of La Fortuna or Guanacaste, Costa Rica

Costa Rica is well known for its adventure, jungle, and unique beaches. Ideally, it would be great to see it all. But for those on a tight schedule, you may have to make some hard choices about which parts of this beautiful country to see. The main popular areas you’ll have to decide between are La Fortuna or Guanacaste.

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We spend 3 weeks in Costa Rica and got to see a lot. There were definitely areas where I said “I wish we spent more time in X,” so with that in mind, here is my guide to choosing between La Fortuna or Guanacaste and what each has to offer.

pinnable image with jungle pictures and beach pictures, text of La Fortuna or Guanacaste

Location of La Fortuna and Guanacaste

La Fortuna and Guanacaste are located in different parts of the country, which may be why you are trying to decide between the two.

La Fortuna is located north of San Jose about 2-1/2 to 3 hours from the San Jose Airport. You’ll drive among windy, jungle roads to get there, passing by attractions like the Peace Lodge with cool waterfalls, gardens, and animals.

Getting to La Fortuna from the Liberia Airport is about 2 hours and 45 minutes.

You’ll also go by Poas Volcano National Park, an impressive volcano crater to look into. Well, if it’s not covered in clouds and fog.

La Fortuna is located in the thick of the jungle, providing ample opportunities to explore and really be adventurous.

Guanacaste is an entire province located on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. It’s known for it’s popular beaches. Depending on where in Guanacaste your destination is, it’s roughly 4-1/2 hours from the San Jose airport and 40 minutes to 1-1/2 hours to various locations in northern Guanacaste from the Liberia Airport.

La Fortuna Waterfall overlook

Jungle Experience in La Fortuna vs Guanacaste

If you are heading to Costa Rica, you’re probably wanting some good jungle time. That is, after all, the main reason people head to Costa Rica.

La Fortuna is the absolute paradise for jungle adventures. It’s kinda the home base for wanting to see the jungle in Costa Rica. Here you can explore:

Everything about La Fortuna screams jungle. If you are hoping for a true, exceptional jungle experience, La Fortuna is the place.

Does Guanacaste Have Jungle Experiences? Yes, technically. You can take excursions and day trips to the jungle adventures, but in La Fortuna, it’s right in front of you wherever you go.

soft white sand with the ocean coming into land at Playa Conchal in Guanacaste

Playa Conchal has soft white sand

Beaches: La Fortuna or Guanacaste?

If beach is what you’re traveling for, then Guanacaste is an easy win. This is simply because La Fortuna is landlocked and doesn’t have any beaches.

The beaches of Guanacaste are beautiful. Know now that if you are looking for a white sand, tropical, Caribbean beach, you won’t find much of that in Costa Rica.

Instead, you’ll find caramel sand colored beaches with a jungle backdrop. Most beaches aren’t very wide (though some, like in Samara, are).

Guanacaste is home to the golden beaches of Costa Rica. While Playas del Coco is a main hub of the northern area with shopping, restaurants, grocery, and plenty of places to stay, there are beach towns all over Guanacaste.

Popular beach areas include Playa Hermosa, Playa Flamingo, and Tamarindo.

The beaches all over the coast are beautiful and worth a visit. We tried to visit as many beaches as we could from Playas Del Coco and each were unique in their own way.

Playa Samara with waves rolling in to the dark sand

Playa Samara

We were also able to stay in Samara (still within Guanacaste) and this was an incredible town we loved. The beach was much bigger here and in next-door Playa Carrillo. I highly suggest a visit to Samara.

Are there Beaches near La Fortuna?

La Fortuna is landlocked, so there are no beaches around the area. The closest beach town to La Fortuna is about 3 hours away in Playas del Coco.

Jaco is just over 3 hours away and remains a hopping beach town full of tourists and activities.

There are a few towns in Costa Rica that offer a great Jungle and Beach experience, so if both are important, one of those may be a better option if you only have time for one place.

Los Lagos Hotel La Fortuna hot springs

We loved Los Lagos in La Fortuna

Better Lodging: La Fortuna or Guanacaste

If you are looking for an All-Inclusive, Guanacaste is the best area. Otherwise, there are great accommodation options in both La Fortuna or Guanacaste.

La Fortuna

La Fortuna has some really cool, unique, affordable, and/or luxury accommodations. So whatever your budget, you’ll be able to find something.

The most sought after resort in La Fortuna is either Tabacon, which has magazine-worthy hot springs on site, or The Springs Resort, which is luxurious with hot springs and many activities on site.

For more affordable options, Los Lagos is a popular place with smaller but great hot springs on site. Los Lagos also has a few different pools and waterslides and great food (this is where we stayed and my kids still talk about it a year later).

I highly recommend Los Lagos. Book soon as it books up quickly.

And for budget options, you can choose from hostels or budget accommodations like Volcano Lodge that have its own beautifully designed hot springs on site.

For a more rugged (no A/C) but exceptional jungle experience, check out the Arenal Observatory lodge. This place has incredible views of Arenal Volcano, including in the dining area with floor-to-vaulted-ceiling windows that frame it perfectly as you eat your included breakfast. The rugged aspect doesn’t apply to the beautiful outdoor pool.


The province of Guanacaste is so large that you can find any type of lodging you are looking for. From hostels to all-inclusives, Guanacaste has it.

All-inclusive favorite include the Westin on Conchal Beach (made from finely ground seashells and absolutely beautiful. Riu Palace is another popular all inclusive in Guanacaste, with a small waterpark on this beachfront oasis.

For great accommodations that are not all-inclusives, you could get a rental (this is what we did and loved the convenience and space).

Really, accommodations are all over the map (financially) in Guanacaste. In a touristy town like Tamarindo or one of the bigger beaches, you’ll find more accommodation options and ranges.

living area and dining table with tv in corner on wall

The rental we used in Samara had a huge kitchen and plenty of space

Farther south in Guanacaste is Samara, where you won’t find big fancy hotels (with the exception on 1 all-inclusive that isn’t rated that great).

But you can find little local, boutique hotels and rentals that fit your budget. They even have a hostel in town that works for families, and some of the rooms are private and sleep many (that one was really popular and books up quickly!)

We especially loved the rental we stayed in. It was very budget-friendly, but provided so much space and comforts.

Check out the many places to stay in Samara for different budgets.

Overall Feel of La Fortuna vs Guanacaste

This can be a tough comparison because La Fortuna is one town and Guanacaste is an entire province made of many many towns. But the feel of the town can make a difference when deciding to visit La Fortuna or Guanacaste. I’ll do my best with a few examples.

La Fortuna

While only around 8,000 people call La Fortuna home, 1.5 million people visit each year. This small town packs a punch, making it one of the most popular places to visit in the country.

La Fortuna is a laid back town with plenty of conveniences for whatever you need during your trip. You’ll get grocery stores, small markets, restaurants, sodas (more affordable restaurants that are local cuisine), plenty of lodging options, activities and attractions, and all within the jungle.

The downtown area of La Fortuna is pretty walkable, but as you get past the downtown area, I wouldn’t recommend walking. Outside of downtown there aren’t any sidewalks, roads are windy, and places are spread apart.

La Fortuna is pretty easy to navigate around. The downtown area is all together. Head one way and you’ll leave La Fortuna. Head the other way and you’ll drive up a hill that leads you to the Tabacon resort and beyond to Arenal Volcano National Park, Hanging Bridges, Lake Arenal, and more.

Playas del Coco boardwalk

Walking path along the beach in Playas del Coco


Guanacaste isn’t too hard to navigate, especially with your Google Maps app activated.

We stayed in Playas del Coco and enjoyed the convenience of the town. The town had restaurants, shops, a great grocery store (closest thing to what we are use to in the US), and a beach. While the beach wasn’t anything to call home about, there were plenty of beaches nearby that were memorable.

While we could walk some places from our rental, the entire town wasn’t walkable. It was more walkable once you were in the “downtown” area near the beach.

Nearby Guanacaste towns weren’t nearly as developed, with the exception of big all-inclusives in some of the towns. But they had the most beautiful beaches.

Samara was a totally different feel from everywhere else. This was a small town with everything you needed, but the entire town was completely walkable. You could get from one edge of town to the beach in a matter of minutes.

This small town only had 3,500+ people who lived here at the last census over a decade ago. At that, only around 1,500 people stay year round. While the town has grown since then, it’s still a small town vibe with friendly people and fun activities.

La Fortuna or Guanacaste Thoughts

La Fortuna and Guanacaste are among the most popular places to visit in Costa Rica. If you only have a 5 days or a week in Costa Rica, it can be hard to see everything. Many people will split their time with half in La Fortuna and half in Guanacaste.

Both are definitely worth visiting.

My personal preferance?

After spending a long time in Costa Rica and getting a feel for many areas, here’s what I would do if I had to choose between La Fortuna or Guanacaste. If I only had 5 days in Costa Rica, I would spend all of it in La Fortuna. This was the place where after we left I said, “I wish we spent more time in La Fortuna.”

La Fortuna encompasses everything I imagined about Costa Rica. Walking among the canopy of the jungle, seeing wildlife, hiking to waterfalls, and soaking in the hot springs. You can easily spend 5 days or so in La Fortuna and not get bored of feel like you’ve overstayed.

Hopefully that helped you make your decision between La Fortuna or Guanacaste. Which is more important, soaking on the beach or flying among the trees? What kind of town feel are you going for, and are you picky about accommodations? This post should help narrow that down.

Pura Vida!

Also Check Out

3 Weeks in Costa Rica- Follow Our Plan!

Driving from La Fortuna to Jaco- Where to Stop

Samara vs Manuel Antonio: Which to visit (if you only have time for one!)

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