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La Fortuna Waterfall: Everything you need to know

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Central Costa Rica’s famous La Fortuna waterfall is located on the outskirts of La Fortuna village in Arenal Volcano National Park. Meaning ‘the fortune’ in Spanish, the waterfall and ecological reserve is the area’s best-kept secret. The crystalline water of the Arenal River tumbles from a height of 70–75 meters over the cliff to form this beautiful waterfall. Located on the slopes of the dormant Arenal volcano, La Fortuna carries waters from the rainforests of the Arenal Mountain ranges.

Visiting La Fortuna waterfall is a must for anyone who loves nature and wants to breathe fresh mountain air. The spectacular waterfall is surrounded by lush green forests and iconic Costa Rican wildlife including toucans and monkeys. The area is well-maintained by the town of La Fortuna and has a parking lot, restrooms, cafe and gift shop at the top of the waterfall. There is also an orchid trail and butterfly garden within the reserve.

Here is everything you need to know about the falls, including how to reach the waterfall ecological reserve and things to do in the area.

La Fortuna Waterfall at a glance

Location: La Fortuna Waterfall is located in the Arenal Volcano National Park, in Alajuela Province, Costa Rica, just a few kilometers away from the village of the same name.
Activities: The area offers many attractions including waterfall zip lining tours, white-water rafting, rainforest hikes, enjoying a view of the Arenal volcano, experiencing the indigenous way of life at Maleku Reserve, and soaking in the hot springs at La Fortuna village.
When to visit: More than 1000 visitors travel to the waterfall ecological reserve year-round. The most crowded months are dry summer months of January to April. Relatively few people visit the falls in the rainy winter season from May to December.
Entrance fees: Admission to the waterfall is USD 15* for adults and children over the age of 6. The proceeds go towards the conservation of the area and its rainforests.
Good to know: La Fortuna waterfall drops from a height of about 70–75 meters (200-ft). To reach the bottom of the waterfall, visitors have to walk down a 500-step staircase in the jungle.

Highlights

  • La Fortuna waterfall emerges from the dense rainforests covering the Arenal Mountains and plummets over the cliff to form an emerald pool several feet below. Hiking down the staircase to see the waterfall from below will be the highlight of your visit. The hike also passes over a dry waterfall which flows only in the rainy season. There are several rest areas and lookout points along the trail which offer beautiful views of the waterfall.
  • Swimming! Although visitors are not allowed to swim in the waterfall pool, there is a safe and pleasant swimming area further below the waterfall. There are bathrooms located near the swimming area.
  • Seeing the thundering waterfall cascade down the cliff is a highlight of the visit. Note that the waterfall is especially noisy and powerful after a heavy rainfall, if you like dramatics! There is also the chance of seeing multiple waterfalls after a particularly heavy rainstorm.
  • Aside from the spectacular waterfall, the surroundings are beautiful. The mountain ranges behind the waterfall are frequently covered with clouds and make excellent photo opportunities.

Lowlights

  • Although La Fortuna Waterfall hike is short, it can be strenuous, and if it has recently rained, slippery. A 500-step long staircase takes you down the hillside to the bottom of the waterfall. You need to be in moderate physical condition and be ready to climb down the stairs and then back up to the top. If you can’t climb the stairs, there are multiple viewing areas at the top and the waterfall looks beautiful from above.
  • The swimming area is often crowded and busy especially during the high summer season. There are fewer visitors on cool and cloudy days but the water can be too cold for swimming. Also, the area near the bottom of the falls is often in the sun’s shadow and chilly during the cooler months.
La Fotuna waterfall within the Arenal Volcano National Park is breathtaking
Aerial view of La Fortuna Waterfall.

How to reach La Fortuna Waterfall

You can reach the falls by renting a car and driving from La Fortuna village. An alternative way to reach the waterfalls is by taking a taxi from the village of La Fortuna. The easiest way to reach the waterfalls is by joining a tour that provides return transportation from the La Fortuna area.

You can also reach La Fortuna waterfall on horseback. The trail passes through pastures and dense forests and is very beautiful. The horseback ride takes about 45 minutes from the village of La Fortuna to the entrance of the waterfall reserve.

How to spend a day at La Fortuna Waterfall

Base of La Fortuna Waterfall
You can reach the waterfall through a short hike.

The Waterfall Ecological Reserve has many activities and you can easily spend a day in the area. Start by hiking the orchid trail behind the cafe at the entrance to the waterfall reserve. The wild orchids are unique and the trail looks beautiful when the orchids are in bloom.

The butterfly garden, located next to the orchid trail, is a great place to see tropical butterflies. Then you can hike down the steps — we recommend taking your time and enjoying the beauty of the La Fortuna Falls. At the bottom, walk around the waterfall and if you brought snacks, have a leisurely picnic among the trees. Sit near the pool and contemplate the falling water and lush green rainforests. If you want to cool off, swimming is allowed near the bottom of the waterfall and there’s a lifeguard on duty. The water temperature in summer is very pleasant.

When you’ve had your fill, head back up to the top. The hike back up can be strenuous and is perfectly complemented by a meal at the entrance cafe.

Getting close to the La Fortuna waterfall is the best way to understand the height, volume, and force of the rushing water of the Arenal River and effect of rainfall in the Costa Rican rainforests. The waterfall is one of the must-see attractions in the La Fortuna area and the waterfall hike is well worth the effort.

*Note: Prices listed are as per January 2018.

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