Horseback Riding to La Fortuna Waterfall

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Giddy UP!

Getting on a horse and feeling that steady sway beneath you is a favorite activity for vacationers. However, a lot of the time, the ride doesn’t really take you anywhere. What’s the point of a loop or simple trail ride when you could go somewhere truly amazing? 

Costa Rica is known for its majesticwaterfall-scene waterfalls and this tour delivers travelers directly to the La Fortuna waterfall – one of the most impressive in the country. The day starts with the stable’s owner picking you up directly from your hotel. He lives only a couple of blocks from the center of La Fortuna, so there’s no time wasted. This ranch hand has been working with horses for over 30 years, and his skill is evident with the stables of healthy and friendly horses. My horse was a magnificent white two and a half year old filly that was somewhat new to the game (at least compared to some of the veterans) but was waterfall-jessica-horseincredibly intelligent and well behaved. 

Groups are small, which means ample time to enjoy the ride to the falls. The adventure begins in an open pasture that offers an exceptional view of Arenal Volcano, the peak of the cone barely covered by a white cloud. A series of pastures take riders through some amazing pieces of land, complete with neighboring cow farms with lounging cattle who are interested enough in the procession to stick close and have a look. For new or novice riders, this is a great way to get accustomed to being on horseback. However, if you’re more experienced, the guide is happy to let people take their hand at a trot or gallop while still keeping an eye on safety. Waterfall-cloud-covered-volcano

Now for the trickier part. Nothing worth having is easy, and the horses need to navigate a steep trail through mud to get to a picturesque creek created by the La Fortuna waterfall. Don’t worry, only the horses indulge in the mud bath and riders stay dry. Skilled at navigating these sometimes slippery waters, waterfall-ride-thru-streamthe horses are happy to take travelers through the gushing rapids and this is prime time for picture taking. On the other side, an incline up a well-drawn trail delivers guests to the bank of the stream and into another open pasture. The horses know this trek well, but a herding dog is a constant companion, staying slightly ahead and checking out the terrain.

The ride moves to a quiet road that’s flanked by small typical “tico” houses owned mostly by local farmers. An art studio and a small hammock shop bring a touch of local flavor to the trip. Up the final hill, riders arrive at the “horse parking station” where there is a trough of water and fresh hay for the horses to enjoy while vacationers tackle the waterfall. waterfall-view-of

On foot, after entering the park, a short bridge leads to a changing station, snack stand and souvenir shop. I’m well aware of the reputations souvenir shops have, and as an avid traveler I’ve always considered them a window shopping time waster at best. However, this one is an exception. I highly encourage every visitor to check out this shop for some really unique items waterfall-heliconia-flowerand reasonable (even cheap) prices. If you think you’ll need some shade on the ride back, high quality baseball caps are only $11. I picked up a locally handmade scrap book, created completely with local palm leaves and twigs, for just $9 and it is absolutely beautiful.

When you’re ready, the waterfall awaits – and you’ll already be aware of this from the roar that suddenly doesn’t seem too far away. Before starting the descent, take in the view at the observation stand that’s perched on the bluff and provides an incredible panorama. I must warn you, it isn’t a particularly short or easy walk to the base of the falls. The stairs are sometimes steep,waterfall-steep-narrow-trail winding, and seemingly endless. It’s not too bad of a trek walking down, but remember everyone who goes down inevitably has to come back up. There’s no alternative or “easy” way – the only option is the stairs. Is it worth it? Definitely.

I visited the La Fortuna  waterfall during “high season,” and on a Saturday, so it “should” have been packed but it wasn’t. There were some other visitors, but nothing like what I imagined such an attractive spot to be like when it comes to tourists. There is a short bank of rocks – many of them flat and none of them particularly slippery – that leads into the welcoming natural pool. It is completely safe to leave backpacks, towels and clothes on the rocks while the ranch owner keeps an eye on things. The waterfall’s pool is the perfect temperature for a swim, with water so clear it’s easy to see to the bottom. Most of the water waterfall-pool is the perfect depth for a person of average height and has a number of big rocks bordering it – an ideal way to sit immersed in the water and enjoy the incredible 121 foot fall.

Some people try to take on the challenge of swimming into the fall, which I imagine is dangerous with how powerful it is. However, no one succeeded and with such a strong current created from the sheer magnitude of it, I’m pretty sure it’s impossible. Visitors sunbathe on huge nearby fallen trees (nature’s own natural deck) and relax in the spray of the water while taking a leisurely swim or soak.

We enjoyed an hour at the pool before returning to the parking lot to reunite with your horse. Again, I have to reiterate – this is not an easy climb, waterfall-splash especially for very young children or elders. I would recommend enjoying the view from the observation area if climbing hundreds of steep stairs doesn’t seem feasible or enjoyable. The views are truly unbelievable from that spot, and if you’re up for a little challenge, just a few steps down the path there is a bench that offers a closer view of the natural beauty.

For the return ride, everyone is more skilled at riding and has built a relationship with their horse. The ride back is peaceful and a great time to reflect on the phenomenal sites you’ve just encountered.

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