As you are driving into La Fortuna you can immediately tell that a lot of the big resorts are based around the Hot Springs that make their way down from the Arenal Volcano. You can access the river from many of these resorts for varying prices, around 30-100USD. BUT there is a place to access the hot springs for free, except for the 4$ charge for a couple locals to watch your car. You could probably decide not to pay them as they as are just a couple guys that figured out how to make a buck, but having your car watched is definitely a bonus. Also, don’t bring anything to the hot springs, no phones, money, or other valuables unless you are prepared to keep a good eye on them.
As you are driving North on Route 142, you will just be getting outside of town and into the more resort areas, you then start to go down a hill with a bridge in front of you and a parking lot on your right. When we were there caution tape was also along the side of the road. You park right along side the parking lot and caution tape and then walk down to the river under the bridge. Just be careful, where crocs or something if you can, when we were there we found a couple bottles and the last thing you want is to step on broken glass. Also, the current can be quite strong, Mum got swept down into the next pool once and although so so so funny at the time (honestly I’m laughing now just thinking about it) could also be dangerous. You can make your way up the river to find tons and tons of little pools to relax in.
I would definitely say this is worth it, Costa Rica is an expensive destination so anything you can do that is free is a bonus. If you don’t want to deal with people partying, I would recommend going right when it opens in the morning (10am), but if your schedule doesn’t allow for that – it is open until 10pm. In saying that, I’m not sure what any of this means as it’s just a public area, so maybe you could get in before 10am – I just didn’t try.
Mum and I sat in one of the lower pools with an archway over us and a small hummingbird came and fed on the little flowers along the archway. Loved that.