Though Arenal Volcano is no longer spewing lava, the neighboring town of La Fortuna remains a great base for all sorts of activities, including hiking, horseback rides, canopy tours, spelunking and of course, soaking in the region’s wonderful hot springs. One of the finest attractions is located just 3 miles (5.5 km) outside of town, La Fortuna Waterfall.
The cascade is one of the most dramatic in Costa Rica, as well as being among the most accessible. Plunging some 65 miles (213 feet) down the lush flank of Cerro Chato, Volcán Arenal’s long-dormant twin, the massive, aquamarine waterfall creates a beautiful space for swimming, picnicking, relaxing and taking dramatic photos deep in the rainforest. It’s a great half-day trip.
There are several ways to get there. The cheapest is to walk to the trail-head, a solid (and mostly shadeless by midday) two-hour walk that’s favored by the budget backpacker set. You could also rent a bicycle in town, but keep in mind that the unpaved portion of the route is quite steep, a bit of a challenge if you’re not used to the exercise.
Taxis will make the run for about US$7 (3,500 colones) each way, and even wait around for a while if you make arrangements. Or, you could book a horseback tour.
Rather than take the main road to the falls, you can take guided horse treks across the region’s fertile ranches and fields, with the perfect volcanic cone of Arenal looming just above. Then, you’ll enter the rainforest, where lucky travelers will be treated to the region’s wealth of wildlife, from howler, spider and capuchin (white-face) monkeys, to toucans, parrots and other tropical birds.
No matter which route you choose, you’ll arrive at the trail-head, a staircase down into a chasm where the waterfall’s roar and cool mists are constant. It’s only about 20 minutes down, but significantly longer climbing back out. Less active travelers can get a gorgeous view over the falls without descending the staircase, however; you’ll still need to pay the $8 fee, but there’s a lookout just past the entrance.