A trip to the mountains of Costa Rica is incomplete without a visit to La Fortuna Waterfall, and for good reason. It’s a beautiful sight. You can swim in front of it and get an awesome picture of yourself with the waterfall thundering behind you. The hiking trail is well traveled, though it’s much easier to walk down the hundreds of steps than it is to come back up. There’s landings at regular intervals to rest.
However, in the last few years tourism to Costa Rica has exploded. The well traveled tourist trail is getting even more, well, traveled. What once was a waterfall that one could spend uninterrupted hours at is now a lunch stop for tour companies operating in the Arenal region. This makes alone time with La Fortuna rather difficult. We arrived at 11am to find a few couples swimming at the base of the falls. In the next half hour, Desafio Tour Company and their group of 30-40 people arrived and tourists sprawled out over the rocks in front of the waterfall to eat lunch. Unless a person is sitting perfectly still, the long exposure shot of the waterfall (like the type we were trying to get, above) becomes completely distorted.
There’s a lifeguard of sorts at the entrance to the waterfall now. You used to be able to swim behind the waterfall (a sublime experience) but this lifeguard does not permit that. In fact, if you get too close to the waterfall you get a whistle blown and a hand waving you back to shore. It takes the “unadulterated nature factor” away.
Regardless, the waterfall is still worth a quick visit. Here’s how to get your best experience:
1) Make sure you are down to the falls before 10am. In order to do this, you’ll have to get your ticket to the waterfall by 9am (tickets are still $10 USD).
2) Carry a small backpack with drinking water, a light snack, flip flops/ water shoes, and a towel.
3) Wear your bathing suit. There are no stalls to change in.
4) Leave before the lunch crowd, which trickles in about 11:30am. (It pains me to say there’s a lunch crowd at a waterfall, but there is).