One of the most popular national parks in Costa Rica is the Parque Nacional Arenal (Arenal National Park). It is home to the famous Arenal Volcano and to a top ecotourism hotspot: La Fortuna Waterfall.
Not surprisingly, La Fortuna Waterfall is named for the local town that was once a sleepy village but is now a very popular eco-tourist hotspot. The waterfall is a great half-day trip on a sunny day (rainy days are probably too cold to swim).
Once you arrive at the national park entrance, be prepared for a hike. Your adventure will begin right at the door, where you’ll pay an entry fee. It’s worth mentioning that these fees and donations are the main funding source that assures the sustainable preservation of the park.
Arenal National Park with La Fortuna Waterfall is only one of Costa Rica’s 30+ national parks and reserves. Altogether they constitute about 25% of the country’s entire national territory, making Costa Rica a world leader in conservation.
When you’re ready, you can go to the waterfall by horseback or on foot. The foot trail is to your left and begins literally at the top of a spiral stairway that goes down, down, down. After about 10 minutes, you will start to wonder how they were ever able to create the stairway!
The La Fortuna Waterfall hike is 530 steps! Typically it’s a pleasant 15-20 minute descent. Remember to look around as you climb up or down. You’ll see interesting plants, tropical butterflies, and if you’re lucky, colorful frogs, all of which make their homes in the rainforest. As you near the bottom, watch for another smaller waterfall.
The next thing you will see is the mighty La Fortuna Waterfall. It appears suddenly like a white satin ribbon hanging against the green. It’s a fabulous surprise for all your effort.
The magical La Fortuna Waterfall comes from the great Tenorio River. Many natural springs feed into the Tenorio River as it curves like a gigantic serpent through the rainforests around stony edges of the Arenal Volcano. As its freely flowing water gains speed, it eventually arrives at the cliff of the fall where it races over the edge like a runaway train. It falls with a magnificent and powerful roar; finally crashing 70 meters (230 feet) into the tranquil blue pool below to form La Fortuna Waterfall. The falling water seems instantly calm as it arrives at its final, blue pool destination.
After the trek down, treat yourself to a swim in the freshwater pool at the base of the waterfall. Jump from rocks or float in the brisk cold water. The rocks can be sharp and slippery so you’ll want to wear water shoes or hiking sandals.
Alternatively, you can relax sitting on warm rocks and admire the scenery. You will find yourself surrounded by every shade of green from an uncountable assortment of rainforest plants. This, along with the crystal white waterfalls, is more than amazing. When it isn’t raining, bright rays of tropical sunshine stream through the canopy above creating a dazzling effect on the flow of falling water.
Lay back and look up. Hopefully, you’ll catch a glimpse of a blue morpho butterfly floating and fluttering in the breeze. High above in the canopy is another world altogether separate. As it happens, Parque Nacional Arenal is one of Costa Rica’s major bird-watching hotspots. Over 300 bird species have been sighted. You might see toucans, parakeets, motmots, and hummingbirds.
The rainforest canopy is also the domain of white-faced monkeys and howler monkeys. Howlers are called “Congos” locally. Although they are relatively small, their howl sounds like a gorilla. Monkeys are fascinating, but they can also be very curious and mischievous. Don’t leave your keys, ‘phones, cameras, or valuables unattended.
On the side of the large pool is a tranquil secondary pool. It’s probably a better swimming area for little ones. Take lots of photos and selfies or even take a nap. When you’re ready to go, climb slow and easy. The heat, combined with after-swimming fatigue, can make the upwards climb more tiring. There are benches along the way so you can take rest stops to catch your breath and continue to enjoy the natural scenery.
By the way, most national parks don’t have food vendors inside the park. Remember to pack water, snacks for the day, as well as your bathing suit and water shoes. You can wear flip flops; however, it’s better to wear closed shoes with traction. At the entrance to La Fortuna Waterfall, there is a souvenir store, and a restaurant nearby. There are also bathroom facilities and changing rooms at the bottom of the waterfall.
Costa Rica is a tiny country with a tremendous wealth of top ecotourism hotspots. It has become a trend-setting vacation spot attracting visitors worldwide. La Fortuna Waterfall is one of the most spectacular waterfalls in Costa Rica. It is easy to see why it is such a popular hotspot for hikers, backpackers, families, and other ecotourism tourists. The surrounding ecological environment is a treasure chest of nature’s artistry and diversity. It is a bucket-list place to go.
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