La Fortuna Waterfall — meaning “the fortune” in Spanish — is one of the most visited waterfalls in all of Costa Rica. Located in the Alajuela Province, the waterfall is fed by the Arenal River, which travels through the rainforest in the Arenal Mountain range until it drops around 200 feet or 70 meters over a cliff.
At the base of the waterfall is a jade-colored pool surrounded by mossy hillsides, huge boulders, and a jungle landscape. The scene is so tranquil, one could easily spend the entire day sunbathing and enjoying the cool touch of the waterfall’s mist.
While La Fortuna Waterfall is a little slice of heaven, the only way to reach it is by putting yourself through a little bit of hell.
To visit this gorgeous waterfall, you have to trek down a 500-step staircase that is constructed into the hillside. While it only takes about 10 minutes to walk down and 20 minutes to hike back up to the parking lot, this may be difficult for those with knee issues. However, if you are healthy and able, I highly recommend visiting!
If you’ve decided to hike down to the La Fortuna Waterfall, keep reading for answers to common questions and a detailed step-by-step guide.
Common Questions About La Fortuna Waterfall:
Where is the waterfall located and how can I get there?
La Fortuna Waterfall is located in central Costa Rica, about 5.5 km outside of the town La Fortuna. To reach the entrance to the falls, you can drive yourself or take a taxi. The taxi ride will cost around $15 one way from the town of La Fortuna. The roads are decently paved, and if you plug the address below into Google Maps, you’ll have no problem finding the visitors center.
Where can I park?
There is a big parking lot (25+ spots) as well as bathrooms, a small cafe, and a souvenir store at the entrance. Parking is free. Since this is such a popular place to visit, I recommend going early for a guaranteed parking spot. If not, you may have to park further away or wait for others to leave
Is there an entrance fee?
Yes! The La Fortuna Waterfall entrance fee is $18 for adults and $5 for children. The good news is that they take both cash and credit card.
What are the hours of operation?
La Fortuna Waterfall opens every day between 7:30 AM to 4:00 PM. To beat the big tour buses, go at opening or later in the afternoon.
Are there restrooms?
Yes, there are bathrooms at the visitors center, but none after you start the hike. So be sure to do your business before your journey down to the falls.
How long is the hike?
As previously stated, the hike to La Fortuna Waterfall is down 500 steps. The trek down takes 10 – 15 minutes while the hike back up takes around 20 – 30 minutes. Every hundred steps or so are small rest areas with benches for those who need a break.
Can you swim at the waterfall?
Since the waterfall current is strong and there are jagged rocks in the plunging cascade pool, it is too dangerous for swimming. However, there are calmer and safer pools downstream. These natural pools have sandy bottoms and such clear waters that you can actually see silver dart river fish!
What should I bring?
Money. You’ll need either cash or a card to pay the entrance fee, but also if you want to purchase food or souvenirs.
Tennis shoes or water shoes. Since it rains a lot in this region of Costa Rica, the staircase leading down to the waterfall is typically wet and slippery. The same goes for the boulders around the pools near the waterfall. This being said, it’s essential to have shoes with some grip, so you don’t lose your balance and fall.
- Swimsuit. If you plan on swimming in the natural pools below the falls, then yes. However, I would even recommend wearing a swimsuit if you don’t want to swim. Again, since this is a very wet region in Costa Rica, so you’ll most likely get wet anyways from rain.
- Waterproof bag. For those bringing any sort of expensive photography equipment or electronics (like a phone), make sure to have something waterproof to keep it in. It’ll provide protection from both the rain and heavy mist from the waterfall.
- Water. There is no drinking water once you head down the staircase, so make sure to bring at least one bottle per person. You’ll need to replenish your body with water lost from the humidity and hike.
- Snacks. The only food you can purchase is at the cafe by the visitors center, so pack a light snack to boost your energy for the hike.
A Step-By-Step Guide To La Fortuna Waterfall:
Part 1: Entrance to the Overlook
Once you purchase your ticket and get your wristbands at the visitors center, you’ll walk along the road and through a gate. A security guard will verify your ticket and wave you through towards the start of the hike. There is a huge platform at the beginning of the trail overlooking the jungle and the La Fortuna Waterfall. From here, you’ll turn left and start your descent down the staircase.
Part 2: Overlook to the Falls
There are different sections of the stairs heading towards the falls. It starts off as paved asphalt and throughout the hike changes from cut rocks, to metal, to wood – depending on the topography of the landscape. Along the staircase are secure handrails, and as I mentioned earlier, there are a few benches scattered throughout the hike.
For the first 5 minutes of the hike, you’ll go down switchbacks, and then it continues straight down for another 5 minutes. Once you start to feel the cool breeze and mist of the waterfall, you know you’re starting to get close. The last hundred steps tend to be wet and slippery, so take your time and use the handrails.
Part 3: La Fortuna Waterfall
Once you plateau and cross the bridge, La Fortuna Waterfall will be to your right. You can either continue walking towards the base of the falls or take a few short stairs up to a small concrete platform in front of the cascade.
After you’ve soaked in the gorgeous view and taken all your pictures, keep following the path downstream. Walk for about 30 seconds, and you’ll find an oasis of small rapids and natural pools where you can swim. For those concerned with safety, there is a lifeguard on duty. You can leave your shoes and belongings on the sandy shore – but as always, keep a watchful eye.
I rank the La Fortuna Waterfall hike somewhere between easy and moderate. It is easy due to the length and good condition of the trail, and moderate because of the 500+ stairs and elevation gain. I saw people of all ages, shapes, and sizes completing this hike. Granted, some were quicker than others, but overall, this trek is perfect for all ages.
Be sure to check out more from my time in Costa Rica here!