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La Fortuna Waterfall Hike: How To Visit Independently

La Fortuna Waterfall Hike: How To Visit Independently

The La Fortuna Waterfall hike is one of the easiest and most rewarding trails to any waterfall in Costa Rica. Although there are a number of steps to traverse to reach this stunning single-drop cascade, your efforts are more than rewarded. La Fortuna in Costa Rica is a truly stunning waterfall set within the Arenal Volcano National Park. Boasting an impressive drop of some 75 metres, the Arenal River falls into an enchanting turquoise pool below. Whether you admire this Arenal Waterfall from the perfectly placed viewing platforms, or from the inviting pools at its base, a trip to La Fortuna Waterfall should definitely be part of your Costa Rica travel itinerary.

Also known as Cascada La Fortuna, Río Fortuna Waterfall and Catarata La Fortuna in Costa Rica, you’ll find the La Fortuna Waterfall hike to be the perfect way to while away a few hours nestled in a beautiful jungle landscape. The dense rainforest gives the feeling of being far from civilisation. And, the refreshing waters are an excellent way to beat the humid climes of Costa Rica.

In this travel guide, we’ll start with some fun facts about the waterfall. Then, we’ll talk about the La Fortuna Waterfall hike, as well as how to get there and your options for hiking independently or as part of a tour. We’ll discuss the best places to stay, other things to do in the area and even throw in some useful FAQs about La Fortuna Waterfall in Costa Rica to help you plan your visit.

We hope you enjoy this guide to the La Fortuna Waterfall hike. If you’re travelling through Central America, check out our guides on some other great waterfalls including Tamanique Falls in El Salvador and San Ramon Waterfall in Nicaragua, and La Paz Waterfall in Costa Rica.

La Fortuna Waterfall Facts

  • What is the height of La Fortuna Waterfall? The drop of La Fortuna is around 75m.
  • How many steps are there to the bottom? There are 530 steps down to La Fortuna Waterfall. That means 530 back up too!
  • What is the elevation of La Fortuna Waterfall in Costa Rica? La Fortuna sits at 520m above sea level.
  • Where is the location of La Fortuna Waterfall? La Fortuna is part of the province of Alajuela, Costa Rica and sits at the base of the impressive Arenal Volcano.
  • What does ‘La Fortuna’ mean? La Fortuna translates to ‘the fortune’ in Spanish.
  • Where does La Fortuna Waterfall flow from? The water that forms La Fortuna flows over the edge of the now-extinct Cerro Chato, also known as, Chato Volcano.
Dan stands at the entrance to the La Fortuna Ecological Park in Costa Rica
Entrance to La Fortuna Ecological Park

La Fortuna Waterfall Hike Overview

The La Fortuna hike is a short but steep trail, down a well-maintained staircase leading to the bottom of the mountainside. At the base, you’ll be greeted by the sight of one of Costa Rica’s most beautiful waterfalls, La Fortuna. This waterfall is also one of Costa Rica’s most visited, and for good reason. The shallow pools downstream from the main drop are perfect for swimming or relaxing in, and the Arenal waterfall itself is, well, a stunning natural attraction.

La Fortuna Waterfall Map

Press here to view the map of La Fortuna Waterfall trails.

La Fortuna Waterfall Hike Preview

  • Type: Out & Back
  • Distance: 1.5 km
  • Time: 1 hour
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 111m
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trailhead: La Fortuna Waterfall Entrance

La Fortuna Waterfall Hike

Dan and I arrived exactly at the opening time for our La Fortuna Waterfall hike. In fact, there was only one other traveller who had beaten us to it, so we knew it would be quiet at the base. We’d experienced a lot of rain the night before. So, we expected the waterfall to be pumping first thing and we were keen to tackle the 530 steps to the base.

First things first though, you’ll pay the entrance fee and sign in. After this, you’ll receive your visitor wristband, and then it’s onwards to the first lookout.

At a large wooden viewing platform, you’ll get your first glimpse of La Fortuna Waterfall in Costa Rica. A long cascade of water cuts through the lush rainforest it sits within. It looks fantastic. It’s a breathtaking window into the Arenal Volcano National Park. For Dan and I, it was particularly wonderful to be surrounded by such lush scenery, in every shade of green, having spent the previous few weeks in Nicaragua during the dry season.

La Fortuna Waterfall in Costa Rica

La Fortuna Waterfall Steps

If you can peel yourself away from this excellent lookout. It’s time to hit the trail to the base. Left of the platform is the beginning of the La Fortuna Waterfall hike, and its 530 steps to the bottom. Along the way, there are fun info points explaining the flora and fauna in the area. But, I’d recommend leaving these to read on the way back up, as they make great rest stops when tackling the stairs back to the top.

The staircase weaves down the rock face. It feels well maintained and very safe. Descending into the rainforest is easy-going, yet adventurous. Every so often you’ll catch glimpses of La Fortuna Waterfall. And, when you can’t see it, you’ll certainly hear the roar of it growing louder the lower you go.

At the base of the stepped trail section, and passing over a bridge, is another viewing platform. This time you’ll be standing face to face with the thunderous La Fortuna Waterfall. It’s spray soaking everything in sight, including the surrounding rocks and the platform you’re standing on.

Swimming at La Fortuna Waterfall

To the left of the waterfall and the viewing platform is access to a little sandy shoreline. Here, you can enter the Rio Fortuna pools and enjoy a dip in more tranquil waters. The water that hurtles over the cliff edge of Cerro Chato now runs much more smoothly in this part of the park. The waters are calm and a swim or bathe here is unbelievably relaxing. You’ll even have a few fish for company too. The grandeur of the surrounding rainforest is incredible and this swimming area is superb.

It’s possible to enter the rocky surrounds of the main pool where La Fortuna Waterfall drops. This area makes for a fantastic place to take photos. Although, the rocks are extremely slippery, so take care when clambering over. Our aqua shoes certainly came in handy. Some people brave the choppy waters here, though never getting too close to the waterfall itself. 

Orchid Garden and Butterfly Trail

Once you’re ready to leave this little slice of paradise, it’s time to tackle the steps back up. But, in all honesty, it’s not as difficult as you might imagine. Those little info points I mentioned earlier now come in handy as you stop to catch your breath on the way up. Once near the top, you can take a little side trail offshoot to explore the orchid garden and check out some butterflies. Really, it’s just a nice little add-on to an already picturesque hike. Additionally, it doesn’t take long to complete this short circuit, so it really is worth exploring.

Back at the entrance, there’s an opportunity to check out the gift shop for some Costa Rican souvenirs to remember your trip to the Arenal Waterfall, and even grab some refreshments from the restaurant.

Hike Recap

The La Fortuna Waterfall may be one of the most visited places in Costa Rica, but for good reason. The beautiful cascade that awaits you at the bottom of the short La Fortuna Waterfall hike is sublime. Of course, we all know waterfalls in Costa Rica are some of the best in the world, but the Fortuna Falls in Arenal Volcano National Park is certainly up there with the best of them.

How to Get to La Fortuna Waterfall Independently

Getting to La Fortuna Waterfall to complete this hike is really simple if you’re staying in the nearby town of La Fortuna. Or, any hotel in the Arenal waterfall area to be honest. Taking a taxi to La Fortuna Waterfall from town costs around $5-10USD. If you take the taxi driver’s number too, you can arrange for them to return to pick you up once you’re ready. We did this and it was very convenient. We used La Fortuna Taxis Service. You can WhatsApp them at +506 8377 0156.

If driving independently, follow directions for La Fortuna Waterfall from downtown by taking either diag.301 or c.506. The drive is less than 10 minutes along a road that is 2WD accessible.

Unfortunately, there is no public bus that will take you to the La Fortuna Ecological Reserve. But, you can walk from downtown La Fortuna. The roughly 3km walk will take you around 1 hour, and will help save some pennies if you’re on a tight budget.

La Fortuna Waterfall Tours

It’s possible to visit La Fortuna Waterfall and hike here as part of a tour. Often, these tours include other activities such as the Arenal Volcano. This makes them more worthwhile as visiting La Fortuna Waterfall is very straightforward to do independently and so a tour, solely to see the waterfall, really isn’t necessary. The town of La Fortuna is literally littered with tour agencies. So, they’ll be no shortage of finding someone to book a La Fortuna Waterfall hike with if you walk up or down the main street in town.

Booking a tour also gives you the option to visit La Fortuna Waterfall more easily from further afield. Tours run from San Jose pretty regularly. Also, with a tour, you may get to see even more waterfalls of Costa Rica in a day.

Where To Stay in La Fortuna

La Fortuna has a wealth of accommodation options for every budget and every type of traveller. Here we’ll list three of the best hotels near La Fortuna Waterfall.

Arenal Observatory Lodge: for a top-of-the-range accommodation option in La Fortuna, it has to be the Arenal Observatory Lodge & Spa. The lodge is the epitome of jungle-luxe (if that’s a thing), being surrounded by 860-acres of private tropical rainforest. All rooms come with a private bathroom and a pretty great buffet breakfast is included in the price. Here, you can enjoy the private lake, swimming pool, restaurant, bar and 11km of private walking tracks within the estate. The Arenal Lodge sits right at the base of Arenal Volcano. So, if the clouds are playing fair, you should have some pretty exceptional views to enjoy whilst relaxing in this tropical paradise.

La Palmera Real Lodge: for a mid-range option, we highly recommend La Palmera Real Lodge. It’s where Dan and I stayed and we loved it. A little out of town, the hotel is quiet and very comfortable. The breakfast was delicious and there’s a shared kitchen for cooking. There’s also a pool to enjoy and the hotel can arrange tours around the Arenal area for you.

Selina La Fortuna: for hostel accommodation, the Selina La Fortuna is a great option. Situated right in the centre of town, the hostel offers guests a range of accommodation options including dorms, private rooms and even tents or tepees. There’s good wifi, use of a shared kitchen and continental breakfast each morning.

Other Things To Do in the Arenal Area

  • La Fortuna Waterfall rappelling: in the Arenal area of Costa Rica, waterfall rappelling is one of the most adrenaline-packed and fun activities to take part in. Trek through rainforest and rappel down waterfalls, yes please!
  • La Fortuna Waterfall zipline: one of Costa Rica’s most famous ziplines can be found at La Fortuna Waterfall, flying through tree canopies and enjoying the rainforest from above. Woohoo.
  • Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges: the Arenal hanging bridges are a major tourist attraction in the Arenal Volcano National Park. Their original purpose was to protect the flora and fauna of the rainforests, whilst still allowing visitors to enjoy and experience the beauty of the park. Naturally, a bunch of hanging bridges became a big tourist hit in La Fortuna, with the popular trail covering just over 3km of rainforest, and including 6 hanging bridges. You’ll see wildlife, walk over Arenal waterfalls and see true Costa Rica, all in a sustainable and environmentally protective way.  
  • Other waterfalls near La Fortuna: other waterfalls near La Fortuna include El Tigre Waterfall and Catarata Los Murciélagos in Monteverde. Also, within the Arenal area, there are a few hot springs to enjoy.

La Fortuna FAQs 

Is There an Entrance Fee?

La Fortuna Waterfall entrance fee is $18USD/person. It’s a steep price but not unusual for Costa Rican tourist attractions. And yes, of course it’s worth it.

What Are the Opening Hours?

La Fortuna in Costa Rica is open from 7:30am-4pm daily.

Can You Swim at La Fortuna Waterfall?

It is possible to swim at Rio Fortuna Costa Rica, though it’s recommended to use the shallow pools downstream from the actual cascade, rather than the pool at the base. Here, the currents are strong and the waterfall extremely powerful. There are sharp boulders that line the edge of the pool which are slippery and, generally, it’s considered unsafe to swim here. That being said, you’ll find people do swim in this pool, so weigh up the conditions for yourself when you visit. The shallow pools just a few metres away are relaxing and a great alternative. So no FOMO.

How Long Is the La Fortuna Waterfall Hike?

La Fortuna Waterfall hike is just 1.5km in distance. The out and back trail may be short in length, but it’s the effort of climbing 530 steps back up from La Fortuna Waterfall that’s the killer. The hike down to the waterfall takes around 10 minutes, with the hike back up from La Fortuna taking more like 20 minutes. There are plenty of rest points along the way to catch your breath though, so it’s very doable.

Is There Parking?

Yes, there’s ample parking at the entrance to the waterfall. But, it would be better to arrive early as by 8am the car park does begin to fill up.

Are There Restrooms?

There are toilets and changing rooms located at the entrance building before you head down to the waterfall. Here you can change into your swimmers before heading down to the waterfall. Bear in mind, that there are no toilets or changing rooms at the base of La Fortuna Waterfall.

When Is the Best Time To Visit?

The best time to visit this Arenal waterfall is definitely as soon as it opens at 7:30am. You’ll enjoy a much quieter trail at this time and may even enjoy the La Fortuna Waterfall and hike all to yourself, as we did. From 8am onwards, the crowds start to arrive and the area becomes very busy.

What to Bring for La Fortuna Costa Rica

Make sure to also pack 1L of water, snacks, sunglasses, sunscreen, aqua shoes and a hat. Also, pack your swimmers if you’re keen for a dip.

For a more comprehensive hiking gear list, check out our 66 Travel Accessories That You Must Travel With. Or, for a summary of everything you’d need for a backpacking trip, visit our Ultimate Packing Checklist.

Bonus Tips

  • Other epic waterfalls: For other incredible waterfalls in Costa Rica, be sure to visit La Paz Waterfall Gardens, Rio Celeste, Bajos del Toro Waterfall and Llanos de Cortez Waterfall.
  • Costa Rica La Fortuna weather: don’t wait for a blue sky day when visiting this Arenal La Fortuna Waterfall. More often than not, low clouds and mist shroud the rainforests and certainly cover the cap of Arenal Volcano. I’d recommend cracking on whatever the weather.
  • Early bird: as previously mentioned, arrive early at La Fortuna Waterfall if you want to enjoy this tranquil place with fewer or no other visitors.
  • Slippery steps: take your time when descending and ascending the staircase. As well as being quite tiring, they can also be quite slippery due to the damp, humid and often misty rainforest.

Costa Rica Travel Insurance

Never travel anywhere without travel insurance. Especially an adventure-packed location like the Arenal Waterfall, and Costa Rica in general.

SafetyWing is an excellent budget-friendly travel insurance provider. Personally, Beck and I have used SafetyWing’s Nomad Insurance many times to insure our trips. The Nomad Insurance is fantastic value for money with a smaller additional cost to add a partner. Unlike most other insurance companies, there’s an option to pay on a monthly basis, similar to having a prepaid phone plan. Better yet, there’s no lock-in contract. In addition, you can cancel at any time, which will take effect the month after.

For shorter trips, it’s also possible to use Nomad Insurance for trips lasting just days or just 2–3 weeks. Indeed, SafetyWing is cheaper than almost all other travel insurance policies and covers just as much and sometimes more.

SafetyWing is a modern travel insurance company that is certainly leading the way in terms of how travel insurance should work in the future. Use the widget below to suss out a quote today.

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Are you keen on other adventures in Costa Rica? Have a read of our Poas Volcano and Irazu Volcano guides.

Beck Piggott

With an art and design based background, Beck uses photography and writing to help inspire readers to climb mountains, hike coastal trails and chase waterfalls around the globe.

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