Visiting The All-New La Fortuna Waterfall And Orchid Garden
Last updated on June 7th, 2022 at 04:28 pm EST
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Get the Costa Rica info you need by browsing our article's TABLE OF CONTENTS:
- Why we love the La Fortuna Waterfall
- La Fortuna Waterfall facilities
- Waterfall viewpoints
- Hiking to the La Fortuna Waterfall’s base
- Who should (and who shouldn’t) visit the La Fortuna Waterfall
- Getting to and from the La Fortuna Waterfall
- Tours to the La Fortuna Waterfall
Why we love the La Fortuna Waterfall
You may be surprised to learn that there are several (yes, several) waterfalls you can visit in and around La Fortuna, Costa Rica. Take it from us, longtime La Fortuna locals, none of the other waterfalls you can visit in the Arenal region are as breathtaking and photogenic as the La Fortuna Waterfall (also known as the Rio Fortuna Waterfall).
If you’re planning a trip to La Fortuna (don’t miss our related blog post Must-Know Info About La Fortuna Costa Rica From Longtime Residents if you are), you’ve probably already learned that one of the top things to do in town is visit the La Fortuna Waterfall. If you’re wondering why, see our quick list of reasons below.
Reasons to visit the La Fortuna Waterfall:
- The La Fortuna Waterfall is full and powerful year-round
- The La Fortuna Waterfall is immersed in the rainforest and surrounded by walls of rock, vines, tall trees, lichens, and brush
- The La Fortuna Waterfall can be toured with or without a guide
- The La Fortuna Waterfall entrance fee is relatively inexpensive and, with a paying adult, children up to the age of 7 enter for free
- Payment of the entrance fee supports ADIFORT (the Asociación de Desarrollo Integral de La Fortuna), a local organization that’s working to grow and strengthen the community of La Fortuna through education, environmental awareness, sport, culture, and security
- The La Fortuna Waterfall can be experienced in a short amount of time
- From downtown La Fortuna to the La Fortuna Waterfall, travel is quick, easy, and doesn’t require a 4×4 vehicle
- Thanks to the river that flows downstream from the La Fortuna Waterfall, there’s a place to swim
- The trail (steps) that lead to the La Fortuna Waterfall’s base are well maintained
- The La Fortuna waterfall is stunning to see both at a distance and up close (it makes a fantastic backdrop for vacation photos)
- In addition to the La Fortuna Waterfall, the attraction has bathrooms, showers, change rooms, lockers, a restaurant, a souvenir store, and an orchid garden
La Fortuna Waterfall facilities
Reception and La Fortuna Waterfall tickets
Upon arriving at the La Fortuna Waterfall, you’ll see a long building that houses the attraction’s reception. This is where you’ll purchase a ticket to access the La Fortuna Waterfall. Just beyond the entrance is a short hanging bridge that leads to on-site facilities, including bathrooms, change rooms, showers, lockers, a restaurant, a souvenir store, an orchid garden, and the main set of stairs that leads to the waterfall’s base.
Bathrooms, change rooms, and showers
Bathrooms, change rooms, and showers are located just beyond the attraction’s entrance. There are no bathrooms, change rooms, or showers at the waterfall’s base. If you wish to swim in the river at the bottom of the La Fortuna Waterfall, be sure to change into your bathing suit (using the bathrooms or change rooms provided) prior to embarking on your hike.
There are lockers for rent should you wish to store any items you don’t want to carry with you during your hike. At the time of publication, the La Fortuna Waterfall was charging $2 USD per locker, plus a $10 USD per locker refundable deposit.
If you’re feeling parched or peckish before or after hiking to the waterfall, you can purchase food and drink at the attraction’s on-site Rio Lounge restaurant. The open-air dining establishment, which is only accessible to paying waterfall visitors, is located just beyond the attraction’s entrance. It serves hamburgers, pasta dishes, sandwiches, quesadillas, and more meal options.
If you’re looking for a souvenir of the La Fortuna Waterfall, beyond the incredible photos and tender thigh muscles you’ll get from your visit, don’t miss the on-site souvenir store next to the Rio Lounge restaurant.
As if the La Fortuna Waterfall isn’t stunning enough, the attraction boasts a beautiful, natural orchid garden on-site. Access to the orchid garden is free with purchase of the La Fortuna Waterfall entrance fee.
Here’s your chance to see several species of mini orchids all in one place in Costa Rica’s wild. Stroll around the attraction’s short trail that weaves throughout the forest and is comprised of small stones (the flat trail has slight inclines and declines in places). Along the way you’ll pass by trees and vines that hide miniature orchids of a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. Many are tagged with names and photos to help you identify the species.
Note: The orchid garden sits just beyond the attraction’s entrance. You do not need to hike down to (and back up from) the waterfall’s base to explore it.
Though the La Fortuna Waterfall can be seen several times along the journey you’ll make from the attraction’s entrance to the waterfall’s base, there are two official viewpoints that provide fantastic photo opportunities.
Waterfall viewpoint #1
The first viewpoint you’ll encounter is located just beyond the attraction’s entrance. This means that you do not need to hike down to (and back up from) the waterfall’s base to access it. From this viewpoint, you’ll see the full La Fortuna Waterfall at a distance, surrounded by a thick wall of lush rainforest. If you’re lucky, the sun will be shining overhead and the sky will be a beautiful shade of cobalt blue.
Waterfall viewpoint #2
The second viewpoint you’ll encounter is located at the waterfall’s base. This means you’ll need to hike down (and back up from) a long set of stairs to access it (see below for details). From this viewpoint, you’ll see the full La Fortuna Waterfall up close. You can even feel the spray of the powerful cascade as water tumbles out of the tall forest into Rio Fortuna (the Fortuna River) below.
Hiking to the La Fortuna Waterfall’s base
Photos of the trail, bridges, and steps to the La Fortuna Waterfall
If you have researched the La Fortuna Waterfall before, you’ve probably already heard about the daunting downhill trek that’s required to reach the base of the waterfall, and the even more challenging uphill hike you’ll need to make when it comes time to leave. Fortunately, we can report that for the average traveler, the hike to the La Fortuna Waterfall isn’t that bad.
When Ricky and I used to visit the La Fortuna Waterfall years ago, long before the attraction built the wide concrete and metal stairs and bridges that form the waterfall’s current “trail”, hikes to the waterfall’s base were much worse. The path that led through the forest was rugged and steep; the concrete blocks that were used as steps were often cracked, uneven, muddy, and slippery; and loose chains served as guardrails. Today, reaching the La Fortuna Waterfall’s base is as easy as walking down and up a set of stairs. A long, 490-step (possibly 517-step) set of stairs, that is.
We know that every traveler differs from the next across lines of physical ability, endurance, strength, hiking experience, and general interest in being active. This being said, most travelers who visit the La Fortuna Waterfall make it down to the waterfall’s base and back up again without problem. Some speedily complete the hike without stopping in as little as 15 minutes heading down and 20 minutes climbing back up. Others take closer to 30 minutes to hike down and 45 minutes to hike back up because they walk slower, stop to hydrate every few minutes, and make use of rest stops stationed along the way. Take note: There’s no right way to hike the La Fortuna Waterfall. Provided you don’t enter just before the attraction is ready to close, you can take as much or as little time as you want or need to complete the hike.
The complete 1,034-step journey (517 steps each way)
Following the La Fortuna Waterfall’s renovations, the set of stairs that descends into the rainforest toward the waterfall’s base consists of 490 steps. After traversing the majority of these steps (465 to be exact), you’ll come to a fork in the path. If you head left, you’ll descend another 25 steps to a gathering spot where you can access the river water at the waterfall’s base and slightly downstream. Head right (this route is optional) and you’ll climb 27 steps up to the attraction’s second viewpoint, which provides a great view of the waterfall and its base. If you wish to visit both places (i.e., the river water and the attraction’s second viewpoint), the complete round-trip journey you’ll make to the La Fortuna Waterfall’s base and back will require you to walk 1,034 steps: 517 steps downhill and 517 steps uphill. Here’s a breakdown of the exact number of steps you’ll walk counting from the top of the set of stairs that leads to the waterfall’s base, which is located just beyond the attraction’s entrance:
- It’s a downhill walk over 465 steps to reach the fork in the path
- From the fork in the path, it’s a downhill walk over 25 steps to reach the gathering spot where you can access the water
- It’s an uphill walk over 25 steps to retrace your steps and return to the fork in the path
- From the fork in the path, it’s an uphill walk over 27 steps to reach the second viewpoint
- It’s a downhill walk over 27 steps to retrace your steps and return to the fork in the path
- From the fork in the path, it’s an uphill walk over 465 steps to reach the top of the stairs (near the attraction’s entrance)
Swimming is permitted in Rio Fortuna, the river at the waterfall’s base. It is strongly advised not to swim in the pool at the immediate base of the waterfall given the cascade’s power and the pool’s strong current. Swimming is best (though caution should still be exercised) slightly downstream where most bathers congregate. Be careful wandering around the river as rocks can be sharp and slippery. The current remains swift in this area so keep children and inexperienced swimmers within arm’s reach. There are no lifeguards on duty. Keep an eye on your belongings to prevent theft.
Rio Fortuna’s water is typically clear. Brown river water can be a sign of an oncoming flash flood. Flash floods can arrive quickly and be deadly. Stay away from the river if the water appears brown.
Who should (and who shouldn’t) visit the La Fortuna Waterfall
Though we’ve helped hundreds of travelers plan enjoyable visits to the La Fortuna Waterfall, including solo backpackers, couples, honeymooners, families with children, and even active seniors, here’s who we feel would be better off skipping a trip to the La Fortuna Waterfall altogether:
- Individuals who don’t enjoy exercise or being physically active
- Individuals who have a medical condition that could be worsened by strenuous activity, physical exertion, or exercise within a humid environment
- Individuals who are pregnant
- Individuals who have difficulty walking up or down stairs
- Individuals who get dizzy easily or are at risk of falling
- Individuals who aren’t interested in visiting a popular waterfall (i.e., travelers who prefer to visit remote waterfalls that are off the beaten path)
Getting to and from the La Fortuna Waterfall
The road to the La Fortuna Waterfall
Though we wish the same could be said for every road in Costa Rica, fortunately, the main road that leads to the La Fortuna Waterfall is easy to drive. The unnamed, paved road, which is colloquially referred to as “the road to the La Fortuna Waterfall” (Google Maps displays it as “Diagonal 301”), can also be traveled on bike or foot from downtown La Fortuna, though some sections (as you approach the waterfall) have steep inclines/declines. You can catch the road to the La Fortuna Waterfall by taking Road 702 south out of downtown La Fortuna. From the center of La Fortuna, the drive to the cutoff (1.5 kilometers), which is signed for the La Fortuna Waterfall, takes roughly 3 minutes. Once you turn onto the road to the La Fortuna Waterfall, it’s another 8-minute (4-kilometer) drive to the attraction.
If you plan to travel to the La Fortuna Waterfall from anywhere west of downtown La Fortuna, including hotels that curve around the Arenal Volcano or popular adventure parks like Sky Adventures’s Arenal Park and the Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park, you’ll be pleased to know that there’s a shortcut to the waterfall that avoids travel through downtown La Fortuna. From Road 142 (the main road that connects Lake Arenal to downtown La Fortuna), turn right onto Calle 506 (there’s a large Super Cristian grocery store on the corner). Follow this short, 2-kilometer road through the community of Zeta Trece for about 5 minutes until it ends at the road that leads to the La Fortuna Waterfall (i.e., the road described in the previous paragraph). Turn right and you’ll find the attraction about 5 minutes (2-kilometers) up the road.
La Fortuna Waterfall map
Here’s a map that shows the north-south runs of Road 702 and Calle 506 (zoom in on the map to see both in greater detail), as well as Diagonal 301 (a.k.a., the road to the La Fortuna Waterfall):
A large parking lot sits immediately across from the La Fortuna Waterfall entrance. Parking is free.
Tours to the La Fortuna Waterfall
If you’re traveling on a budget, you’ll love that the La Fortuna Waterfall permits unguided / self-guided tours (see our related blog post Self-Guided Adventures: 20 Things To Do In Costa Rica Without A Guide). Simply pay the waterfall entrance fee upon arrival at the attraction and hike to the waterfall’s viewpoints / base on your own. The amount of time you’ll need for the experience depends on how fast / slow you hike and how much time you want to spend relaxing / swimming in Rio Fortuna. Most people give themselves 1-2 hours (excluding drive time to and from the attraction) to explore the waterfall, and an extra 20-30 minutes to explore the orchid garden (if desired).
As we explain in our related blog post Guided Tours In Costa Rica: Are They Necessary, Valuable, And/Or Worthwhile?, there’s benefit to touring attractions in Costa Rica with a good tour guide. With respect to guided tours of the La Fortuna Waterfall, most guides will talk about the waterfall’s history, the surrounding ecosystem and wildlife, and the pollinization / seed dispersal of trees and plants encountered during the tour. Hiking and horseback riding tours that only visit the La Fortuna Waterfall are available, as are 1-day combo tours that include a visit to the waterfall among other Arenal-area attractions. Nearly all tours (whether single tours or combo tours) include the waterfall entrance fee, a tour guide, and round-trip transportation to and from La Fortuna hotels in their cost. Single tours generally run anywhere from 2 to 4 hours. Combo Tours, depending on which activities / attractions they include, can occupy a full day.
Free La Fortuna Waterfall tour discounts
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QUESTION TO COMMENT ON: Have you been to the La Fortuna Waterfall? What did you enjoy most about your visit?