The La Fortuna Waterfall: The ULTIMATE Hike and Swim Guide

The La Fortuna waterfall, also known as Catarata la Fortuna, is one of the most widely visited natural sites in Costa Rica. This waterfall is about 75 meters high and you can often swim under it. 

As a couple who lives in Costa Rica and often has family and friends visit, we have been to the La Fortuna waterfall many times. We consider it a must do activity for anyone visiting the area.

We created this guide based on all the things we have learned from our many times visiting. Discover how to get tickets, the best time visit, what to bring and wear, things to do after, and more!

Background Info on La Fortuna Waterfall

la fortuna waterfall

The La Fortuna Waterfall is located in the town of La Fortuna. This is the most popular jungle town to visit in the country. There are so many fun things to do here!

Plus it is somewhat centrally located between both international airports. From the Liberia Airport, it will take about 3 hours to drive here. From San Jose International Airport it will take about 4 hours.

The waterfall is formed by the Arenal River as it descends from the mountains. Standing at an impressive height of 75 meters, the waterfall cascades down rugged cliffs, creating a breathtaking spectacle for visitors.  

The waterfall is not privately owned but is managed and protected by local organizations. 

The La Fortuna waterfall is one of the most popular waterfalls in Costa Rica. This is mainly due to the amount of people who travel to La Fortuna, its easy access, and its impressive views. 

Directions to the Waterfall Entrance

We think renting a car is the best way of getting around La Fortuna. This will allow you to drive to the waterfall instead of having to take a tour to get here. You can read more about that in our complete La Fortuna guide here.

Rent Your Car and Save 10% with Our Exclusive Discount

Also, every time we go to the La Fortuna waterfall we see tourists walking from town to the waterfall. It may look like a short distance on a map, but it’s not! 

Just to give you an idea, from the park in downtown La Fortuna, it is a 3-mile walk to where the waterfall is located.

That might not sound too bad but then when you factor in the 500 steps down to the waterfall and back up again, it’s a lot of walking! Plus, in the sun it is a killer.

If you do not have a rental car, you can always get a taxi to the falls.

Also, if you are driving and feel like being nice and trusting, we always stop and offer a ride to some people who look like they are about to pass out.

From the town of La Fortuna, it is about a 10 minute drive to drive here. There are plenty of signs so you shouldn’t have much trouble finding it.

Here are the directions to the parking lot on Google Maps.  


There is a large paved parking lot on site which you are welcome to park in for free. 

As always, please don’t leave anything of value in your car. 

We have not heard of anything bad happening in this parking lot, but we also have never noticed any parking attendants actively keeping an eye on vehicles.

Important Info About La Fortuna Waterfall

la fortuna waterfall

Here are all the must-know details to plan your perfect trip to the waterfall.

Opening Hours

The waterfall is open daily from 7:30am until 4pm. We suggest getting there by 2pm if you want to have enough time to fully enjoy the waterfall. 

If you go early in the morning you will likely have the whole place mostly to yourself. This is a popular place so it usually starts filling up with a lot of people around mid-morning.

Admission Cost

Admission is $18 per person for anyone age 9 and older. Children under the age of 9 can enter for free. 

The profits from the La Fortuna waterfall entrance fee go to supporting ADIFORT (the Asociación de Desarrollo Integral de La Fortuna). This local government organization works to maintain local schools, the cute park in the center of town, and other things around the La Fortuna area.

If you would like, you can buy your ticket online ahead of time to skip the line once there.

Pre-purchase your tickets here at no extra cost to skip the entry line 

Physical Ability

To get down to the base of the waterfall and back up again you will need to be in decent physical condition. The walk involves going down and up 500 steps.

However, you can always opt to view the waterfall from the top. There is a viewing platform that is handicap accessible and does not involve any steps. 

What to Bring

The mosquitos typically aren’t too bad here, especially during the daytime. But, it is still a good idea to put some on if you have it.

What to Wear

  • sunglasses
  • a sun-blocking hat (we love this one from Columbia)
  • shorts made from breathable fabric
  • a lightweight t-shirt
  • your bathing suit underneath (if you want to swim)
  • water shoes

Our favorite shoes for this type of activity in Costa Rica are Keens. Keen makes solid hiking shoes that you can walk through the water with. We love them! 

Amount of Time You’ll Need

We typically spend about two hours here. You might spend a bit longer if you plan to do some swimming and take it slow getting up and down the steps. 

It typically takes about 10 to 15 minutes to get down the stairs and about 20 minutes to get back up. 

So, it is not a full day trip. You can easily enjoy this in the morning and try out another activity in the afternoon. 

Best Time to Visit

The best time of year for good weather and clear water is in the dry season (from December until early May). We suggest visiting the waterfall in the morning if you can. It fills up with a lot of visitors as the day goes on. 

If you plan to visit during the rainy season, definitely plan your visit for the morning. The rain typically rolls in around 2pm.

The one nice thing about visiting during the rainy season is that the water level is very high so the falls are even more impressive than usual. 

🛏️ Our Top Hotels Picks in La Fortuna Are….

🌴 Here are all your hotel options in La Fortuna

On-Site Facilities

There is a bathroom on-site near the ticket window. The bathrooms have been very clean and well-maintained every time we have visited. There are changing rooms and showers here if you would like to change into your bathing suit, or out of it after swimming. 

This is the only bathroom on the property. Definitely change into your bathing suit before defending to the falls because there is no bathroom at the bottom. 

There is a small restaurant at the top of the staircase to the falls called Rio Lounge which sells items like sandwiches, burgers, etc. We have not eaten here but I just checked the reviews on TripAdvisor and it has excellent reviews.

It might be a great lunch option after you have your waterfall workout.

There is also a nice souvenir shop on the property if you would like to buy some gifts. Most of the items at the gift shop are a bit pricey, but they usually have a good selection of unique items.

Check out our guide to buying souvenirs in Costa Rica if you need some other ideas. 

If you need it, there are lockers for rent next to the ticket office. The lockers are $2 to rent, but you will need to put down a $10 deposit which will be returned to you after you return the key. 

The La Fortuna Waterfall Hike

The La Fortuna Waterfall: The ULTIMATE Hike and Swim Guide

The hike to the falls isn’t really actually a hike. It is more like well-maintained paved paths and what feels like 10,000 stairs. In actuality, it is a little over 500 stairs. But, on a warm and humid day, it can be brutal.

We do not suggest this walk for anyone with breathing problems, problems with their knees, or any other physical issues that may hinder walking up and down 500 stairs. 

However, if you would like to visit the falls and do have some physical limitations, you can access the first viewpoint and a nice orchid garden without going down too many steps. You will still need to purchase an entry ticket, but if you just want to capture the view of the falls it may be worth it. 

Along the way, there are several observation platforms that you can stop at to enjoy the view (and catch your breath). I think that the waterfall is almost best viewed from higher up. 

Eventually, you will make it to the base of the falls. Here you can feel the spray of the water as it plummets down into the pool below. 

At the bottom of the falls, you can sometimes swim. 

Swimming at the Falls

la fortuna waterfall swim

Sometimes it is possible to swim directly under the waterfall. However, this is somewhat limited to what the water level is like on that particular day.

There will always be signs and a lifeguard at the falls who can give you more details.

Additionally, we suggest asking at the ticket counter before you begin your trek down to the waterfall so you have a better idea of what to expect. 

If you are unable to swim under the waterfall on that particular day, have no fear! You can still swim in the stream next to the waterfall. There is a designated swimming area.

Just know that the water is typically really cold and the rocks are slippery. I suggest wearing some type of water shoes (like Keens) if you decide to go in. 

The Orchid Garden

la fortuna waterfall flowers

At the top of the stairs, near the beginning of the trail, there is a nice orchid trail that is worth visiting. This is a loop trail that is filled with orchids.

All the plants have small signs with details about each flower. We like to stop here after climbing up all the stairs as a nice break to catch our breath. 

Pre-Purchase Your Waterfall Entry Tickets Here

Guided Tour to the Waterfall

If you will not have a rental car or would like a unique way to see the waterfall with a guided tour, there are a few different amazing options for you. 

Horseback Riding to the La Fortuna Waterfall

This 3-hour adventure with an experienced guide and well-behaved horses is awesome! You will get to enjoy amazing views of the Arenal Volcano and visit the La Fortuna waterfall.

Arrange Your Horseback Riding Adventure

One of our favorite things to do in La Fortuna is to take a combo tour. This is a great way of combining several fun activities in one action-packed filled day. 

There are several combo tours that visit the waterfall. 

These include:

Full day Arenal Volcano, La Fortuna Waterfall and Hotsprings

This 11-hour full-day tour includes transportation from your La Fortuna area hotel, a visit to the waterfall, hiking around Arenal Volcano, a soak in a hot spring with a cocktail, and lunch.

Arrange Your Full Day Tour

Hanging Bridges, La Fortuna Waterfall and Arenal Volcano Hike

This is one of the most widely booked activities in Costa Rica on Viator.

This is a 9 hour adventure that includes transportation from your La Fortuna hotel, hiking around the Arenal Volcano, a waterfall visit and a walk on 16 hanging bridges with impressive views.

Lunch is also included.

Arrange Your Hanging Bridges, Waterfall, and Volcano Adventure

Additionally, Arenal Mundo is a local zip-lining company with direct access to the waterfall. They have several different package options depending on what you are looking for. 

We have gone to Arenal Mundo for zip lining multiple times and one of the best parts about it is that you can visit the waterfall after your adventure on their private trails.

So, you can enjoy the waterfall from a different view and won’t have the same crowds that the official entrance sometimes has. 

AMA Extreme 7 Zipline Cables

This highly-rated experience includes hotel pick-up and drop-off. You will have the chance to zip line from 7 different platforms while enjoying views of the waterfall. It’s super fun!

Book this Adventure with Arenal Mondo

Arenal Best 12 Zipline

If 7 zip line platforms are not enough for you, you can pump up your Arenal Mundo adventure with 12 zip line platforms. This adventure also includes transportation.

Book this 12 Zipline Experience with Arenal Mundo

Is the La Fortuna Waterfall Worth a Visit?

In our opinion, the waterfall is definitely worth visiting. We love that it is somewhat budget-friendly compared to other activities in the La Fortuna area.

It is not a place you will likely spend a lot of time, but we think that it is such a special place that is impressive and makes for great pictures.

It would be kind of a shame if you visited this area and didn’t go to the waterfall.

Pre-purchase your La Fortuna Waterfall tickets here to skip the entry line 

However, I don’t think it is worth planning your entire Costa Rica vacation around this particular waterfall. There are impressive waterfalls located all over the country.

So, if the only reason you are thinking of visiting La Fortuna is for this waterfall, maybe skip it.

Instead, check out our waterfall guide and find a waterfall in the areas you are planning to visit. 

What to Do After

The La Fortuna area is filled with amazing things to do! You can check out our guide to 30 things to do in La Fortuna for all the details.

But, here are a few of our favorite things to do directly after visiting the falls. 

Visit the Rainforest Chocolate Tour

cacao tour costa rica

The La Fortuna waterfall is on the same road as the Rainforest Chcocolate Tour company. This is one of our favorite things to do in La Fortuna because it is something that people of all ages will enjoy.

This tour takes you through the process of producing chocolate from bean to delicious sweet treat. You will get to see cacao plants in different stages of growth and then you can eat as much chocolate as you want. 

It’s awesome! 

We suggest reserving a time slot in advance because they tend to book out.

Reserve Your Rainforest Chocolate Adventure Now

Swim in El Salto 

As you head back into town from the waterfall you will come to an intersection. If you head left you will go back to downtown La Fortuna. If you turn right, you will immediately pass over a bridge with a small river below.

This is called El Salto.

If you pull your car off, you can climb down and swim in the river. There is even a rope swing for those of you who are risk-takers.

Just note, please enjoy this activity at your own risk. There are no lifeguards and the rocks can be slippery. 

Visit a Hot Spring

la fortuna hot spring

One of the most popular things to do in La Fortuna is to visit a hot spring park. These hot springs contain hot and cold pools of water that come down off of the Arenal Volcano.

One of the many things we love about La Fortuna Hot Springs is that there are places for all budgets and interests.

There are adult-only places with romantic grottos and family-friendly places with water slides. 

For more info check out our guide to La Fortuna hot springs. 

Check out Downtown La Fortuna

The La Fortuna Waterfall: The ULTIMATE Hike and Swim Guide

Sometimes it is nice to just sit and relax in the small park in downtown La Fortuna with the church and Arenal Volcano backdrop.

After all, your admission to the La Fortuna waterfall helps pay for this park’s maintenance, so you might as well enjoy it!

We like to follow that up with a visit to one of the many great restaurants in the downtown area. 

Check out our complete guide to La Fortuna for info on the best restaurants, hotels, and more!

Visit Rio Celeste Waterfall

rio celeste

We don’t suggest visiting both Rio Celeste and the La Fortuna Waterfall in one day. However, if you love waterfalls, the Rio Celeste Waterfall will definitely impress you.

This waterfall is located about an hour north of La Fortuna in the Tenorio National Park. It is a bright blue river and waterfall that looks like it should be natural.

The color is just so crazy!

It is best to visit here during the dry season. 

Conclusion: La Fortuna Waterfall

In conclusion, the La Fortuna waterfall is definitely one of those “must visit” spots in the La Fortuna area. It is a leg workout to get to the falls, but the view and overall experience make it worth the challenge. 

If you have any questions about visiting the La Fortuna waterfall don’t hesitate to leave them in the comment section below. We are always happy to help you plan!

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Having a rental car will give you the most flexibility when traveling in Costa Rica. This will also allow you to take fun day trips on your own.

🏄🏽 How can I book things to do?

We find that Viator tends to have the most comprehensive selection of activities with secure booking and good cancellation policies.

🍍 I’m overwhelmed with planning. Can you help?

Of course! I suggest joining our Facebook group for specific questions and head to our Start Here Page to get started planning.

✈️ What is the best way to book a flight?

Usually, we have the best luck finding great prices with Skyscanner. Check for flights to both San Jose Airport (SJO) and Liberia Airport (LIR).

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We highly suggest for hotel bookings and typically use VRBO for Costa Rica vacation rentals.

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📞 What is the best way to stay connected?

An eSIM from Airalo is the easiest way to get 4G data while traveling in Costa Rica.

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Generally, Costa Rica is considered safe for tourists. However, like any travel destination, it’s best to use caution and be aware of your surroundings.

🛂 Do you need a passport to go to Costa Rica?

Yes, Costa Rica is its own country. You will need a passport to visit.

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  1. Hi Sarah,
    Thanks for this great information! We are going to CR in January. My husband and I love to travel with our two very grown kids. This will be our holiday get-together since they live in different states. We will be renting a car and love local food and cool spots. We are staying in Arenal at the lodge for three nights, a guesthouse the last two nights in La Fortuna. We are trying to avoid driving long distances because of the short time we all have. Biking, waterfall rappeling, walks/hikes and nature are in our interest. I’m going to be combing your blog for info and if you have anything/vendors/providers, please pass them along!
    Thanks, Stacy

    1. Hi Stacy!
      If you get a chance, definitely check out Rio Celeste. It’s about 1.5 hours from La Fortuna, but in January it will be the absolute perfect time to visit. We have a guide to that here.
      We recently went tubing in La Fortuna with all of our family and friends and everybody loved it. We used this company if you want to check that out.
      The 1968 trail at Arenal is very nice for a good hike.
      For waterfall repelling, I’ve heard really good things about this one from Desafio.
      Also, January can be really busy here so definitely try to book any tours a few months in advance.
      Um, that’s all I can think of right now. Let me know if you think of any other questions!

  2. Hiii! Thrilled that I came across your blog. It’s been very informative so far, so thanks a lot! We’re looking to make a trip to Costa Rica in March, and would love to make our way to the waterfall. Do you think this would be a difficult and/ or dangerous activity to do with a 4 year old? He loves hiking and is pretty good for the most part, aside from the typical clumsiness of a small child. Thanks!

    1. Hi Danielle,
      It won’t be dangerous it’s just a lot of steps. I don’t know if he will make it all the way down/ back up. However, you can still see the falls from all the lookout points even if you don’t make it all the way to the bottom with him. Also, if you do make it to the bottom, you could let him get in the water at the stream next to the falls. There are always a lot of kids swimming there. Swimming under the falls themselves may be allowed but the push from the water can be really strong. Hope this helps and let me know if you have more questions!