La Fortuna/Arenal Volcano is one of the best places in Costa Rica for hiking. With tons of thick rainforest all around, you’ll find dozens of parks and reserves to explore. But what if you don’t want to do an intense trek through the jungle? In this post, we’ll tell you about Ecocentro Danaus, a small reserve and nature facility right outside La Fortuna. It has an easy hiking trail, perfect for young kids or anyone looking to do a light hike to see wildlife.
Ecocentro Danaus is a private nature reserve, about five minutes from downtown La Fortuna. This reserve protects roughly three hectares (7.4 acres) of secondary forest.
About 20 years ago, the land where the reserve is located was used for farming. Much of it had been cut down. Over the years, the owner of Ecocentro Danaus let the rainforest grow back. They also strategically planted native trees and plants with the goal of conservation and improving biodiversity.
On a visit, you will only see one part of the reserve, where the trail cuts through. But the land being conserved is much larger. This ensures adequate space for birds and animals. It is also why Ecocentro Danaus is a great place for wildlife viewing.
Trail at Ecocentro Danaus
The main trail at Ecocentro Danaus is only 600 meters (0.4 miles) long. This makes it the perfect place to spend an hour or two.
Although the trail is short, you will still feel immersed in the jungle. The foliage along the well-maintained path is thick. You’ll see giant towering trees, which provide shade, as well as lush plants and flowers.
Parts of the trail almost have a garden feel. You can see some of Costa Rica’s most exotic tropical flowers, including heliconia, beehive ginger, protea, and colorful bromeliads.
The trail winds through the rainforest, taking you to a few different points of interest.
Exhibits at Ecocentro Danaus
The exhibits you’ll see at Ecocentro Danaus include a large butterfly enclosure, reptile/frog pond, natural lagoon, and Maleku indigenous house.
At the butterfly garden, you can see many species of butterfly cruising around. The enclosure has flowering plants that butterflies especially love, as well as some feeding stations with bananas. These spots are good to get some pictures since the butterflies stay still for a long time.
We were able to see several kinds of blue morpho, owl butterfly, malachite, and many more.
Right outside the enclosure is a small area that explains about the butterfly life cycle. There are also some cocoons that the staff has gathered that you can check out.
There are a couple of frog ponds along the trail. We visited during the day so didn’t have much luck seeing frogs in these areas. Since many frogs are nocturnal, you would have a better chance after dark. Ecocentro Danaus does offer night tours (see below).
Although we weren’t able to see frogs in the ponds, we were able to spot some blue jeans poison dart frogs (also called strawberry poison dart frogs) right off the trail. These are tiny frogs with a characteristic chirp that makes them fairly easy to find once you’ve seen/heard them before.
Ecocentro Danaus has many species of frog on the property. You can see various types of tree frogs, the green-and-black poison dart frog, and even glass frogs (with cool, transparent skin).
One of Costa Rica’s indigenous groups, the Maleku, can be found near La Fortuna. Ecocentro Danaus has a small, but nice, house displaying some of their beautiful art. You can also learn more about the Maleku culture here.
We were fortunate to talk to Dauber, who is Maleku. He told us a little about the Maleku’s traditional attire, which nowadays is only worn for ceremonies or important events.
He also explained about some of the artwork on display, much of it he had done himself.
The carved wooden masks and bowls depicted different nature scenes from Costa Rica. Animals and nature are a sacred part of the Maleku culture.
You’ll find brightly colored Scarlet Macaws, toucans, pumas, turtles, butterflies, owls, etc. Each animal symbolizes something. The blue morpho butterfly represents peace and love, while the snake represents the shaman of the tribe. The toucan symbolizes the beauty of women.
The intricate bowls are carved from the fruit of the jicara tree. This strange-looking tree produces large, round, gourd-like fruits that, when dried and cut in half, make a great functional bowl.
Another nice feature of Ecocentro Danaus is a big lagoon. This is a nice place to sit and take in the view. You can also see crocodiles here.
On our visit, we were able to spot quite a bit of wildlife in just a short time.
We saw a three-toed sloth, including a baby, blue jeans poison dart frogs, a whiptail lizard, hummingbirds, toucans, iguanas, and some cool insects like spiders and centipedes.
Near the lagoon, we were also excited to see a brown basilisk, also known as a Jesus Christ lizard because it can walk on water.
While the reserve has many sloths (currently around 20), there are no monkeys. This is because monkeys and sloths are territorial, and there isn’t enough space for them to coexist.
Planning Your Visit to Ecocentro Danaus
Accessibility and Trail Conditions
The trail is very well maintained. It’s flat and easy to walk on. Much of it is covered in gravel.
Cost for Self-Guided Visit
$20 adults. $10 children ages 5-10. Children under 5 are free.
We recommend hiring a guide to see the most. Guides know where to look for wildlife and will be able to teach you a lot about what you’re seeing. You’ll leave with a greater appreciation for the forest you visited. Here’s a link to our post about naturalist guides in Costa Rica and why we recommend them in general.
You can arrange a guided tour directly through Ecocentro Danaus. Tours can be booked in advance through their website or you can just show up and request one. You may need to come back if they have to call in a guide so it’s better to prearrange if you can.
Day and night tours are available (2 hours, $30-40 per person), as well as birdwatching-specific tours (3 hours, $50 per person).
What to Wear/Bring
We recommend closed toe shoes. Even though it’s a well-maintained reserve, you’re still in the jungle. Closed shoes are best to avoid biting insects.
Bring water and insect repellent. There weren’t too many mosquitoes overall, but we did see some near the areas with water.
Most of the trail is under the thick canopy so you probably don’t need a hat.
Because sloths and other wildlife are often high in the treetop canopy, it would be good to have binoculars.
Monday to Sunday, 7:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Ecocentro Danaus is also open early in the morning for birdwatching and for night tours, with prior reservations.
We really enjoyed our visit to Ecocentro Danaus. Our two-year loved it. Unlike many hikes, he was able to walk the whole time, and since it was such a short trail, we could go at his pace and not be rushed. If you’re looking for an easy hike to see wildlife in La Fortuna/Arenal, give Ecocentro Danaus a try.
Have a question about visiting Ecocentro Danaus? Ask us below.
Looking for more information to plan your trip to Costa Rica? Check out these posts?
Hiking in Arenal Volcano National Park: If you want a close-up view of the volcano, the national park is a great, less busy option. Check out our post for details on visiting the park’s two sectors.
La Fortuna Hotel Guide: Check out our top picks for hotels in the area.
Vacation Rentals in Costa Rica: Safety and What to Look for – Airbnbs can be great for families and larger groups. This post will help you know what to look for when considering a vacation rental in Costa Rica.