La Fortuna Waterfall and the Horse Ride from Hell

One of the top “must-see” sights in La Fortuna is the La Fortuna Waterfall.

While La Fortuna Waterfall can be visited on your own (if you have a car or take a cab), or as part of a packaged day tour… I wanted to try something different.

When I ran across horseback riding to the falls as an option, I immediately fell in love with the idea.

I’ve been obsessed with horses for… ever? When I was young, I would beg my parents for a pony, read every single book in the Pony Pals, Black Stallion, and Misty series, and would spend long summers hours on RPG message-board style games role-playing a stable owner (yes, this is a thing… or at least it was in the early days of the Internet before awesome graphics and multiplayer online video games).

I was a wannabe horse nerd (emphasis on nerd).

When’s the time to fulfill childhood fantasies if not now?

La Fortuna Waterfall and the Horse Ride from Hell

I signed up for the horse ride and (like every other activity in Costa Rica) was picked up from Hotel Bromelias. The van was noticeably rattier than others I’d been in, and seemed on its last legs. Luckily, the stable was just a 5 minute ride away from my hotel.

Upon arrival, I met an American couple who’d be joining on the ride. We were instructed to put on helmets and given a short, several minute introduction to riding Costa Rica style before being helped onto our horses.

To be honest, the horses seemed a bit tired and grumpy. It was raining, and I kinda felt the same way.

Horseback Ride La Fortuna Waterfall

(Grace: already showing her true colors)

But especially mine. Let’s call her Grace.

Horseback Ride La Fortuna Waterfall

Grace: plotting her next move

I kept my mouth shut about my worries because 1. my experience with horses is limited to a few pony rides and a thousand hours of imagination and 2. every single activity I went on Costa Rica had been beyond safe and professional.

The 3 of us newbies and one guide set off into the field. Actually, fields. Of hundreds of cows. That gave us the stink-eye. I don’t have pictures because…

I had my camera around my neck (I assumed it’d be a pretty placid ride, like I’d been used to, and the guide said it was fine).

Before I knew it, the guide was urging our horses faster and they broke into a trot. Not having been on a horse in 10 years (seriously), I’d forgotten how to ride a trot, no instruction was provided, and my camera was bouncing everywhere.

The rain was only a slight mist, but evidence of days of harder downpour were obvious, as the fields we were racing through were basically a thick layer of mud, which sprung up with each step and splattered everywhere.

Eek – not the leisurely ride through fields and perfect picture-taking opportunity I’d been expecting.

The fields ended and a riverbed appeared. The horses raced through the water, and Grace attempted to cut off the others and sped up even more on the other side of the bank.

The bouncing was too much, it was all I could do to stay on (damn you, vibrams, you hold on in every circumstance other than horseback), I couldn’t attend to my kangaroo-ing camera and my lens cap popped off and disappeared in the river.


Once we reached the other side, the guide helped us slow down the horses, and gave me time to put my camera in my bag (after wrapping a spare shirt around it to protect the lens.)

He gave us a two-line instruction on how to handle a trot (too little too late, maybe?) and then off we were again.

Grace began to get a bit crazy, veering far off the path to the left or right, taking me over logs and rocks and into bushes, picking up speed suddenly or slow down out of nowhere, causing the guide to chase after her and check in with me worriedly, “Eh-stephanie? You are alright?”

I’d smile and nod giddily (hell yeah nothing can spoil this – I’m on a horse!)

Then Grace tried biting the other horses (Jesus Christ) and I felt like I was riding a runaway train.

But everything in Costa Rica is safe, right? I’ll tell myself that…

La Fortuna Waterfall

By the time we reached La Fortuna Waterfall, I wasn’t in the mood for swimming but was happy to get my aching butt off my gray Grace friend.

The La Fortuna waterfalls were truly beautiful and totally worth the bumpy, grumpy ride.

La Fortuna Waterfall

I was soaked to the bone already from the rain and ride over, so I didn’t feel the need to jump in the river or the waterfall. Selfies sufficed.La Fortuna Waterfall

La Fortuna Waterfall

But a bunch of others did get in. If you want to – bring a swimsuit and some dry clothes.

La Fortuna Waterfall

And obey the rules.

La Fortuna Waterfall

the view from the top of the trail – sorry for the water spots! The rain was pouring at this point

Be forewarned – it’s an easy, stepped trail down to La Fortuna waterfall, but a rumored 500 steps to get back to the top.

La Fortuna Waterfall

With trot-sore calves, it was painful climbing back up, but I’d do it again.

La Fortuna Waterfall La Fortuna Waterfall La Fortuna Waterfall

These views? It’s worth it.

Saddled up once again, on the way back from La Fortuna waterfall, my sassy ride continued her naughty antics, at one point getting right up next to the American’s horse, biting her straight in the face, and then doing a little jump/buck (to get me off?) routine while I gripped the saddle horn for dear life.

I screamed like a little girl until the guide raced over to calm her. And me.

The ride ended 10 minutes later, and the following days were the sorest of my life. I must’ve clenched every single muscle in my body. Muscles I didn’t even know existed screamed in pain every time I changed position.

Horseback Ride La Fortuna Waterfall

sorry for the blurry, rain smeared photo – but that’s us (a little worse for the wear) and our fearless guide

Mad respect for real riders, and I’m certain that 10 year old me didn’t fully understand the physical (and mental?) demands of having a horse in the yard rather than in imagination… no matter how many hours she devoted to writing requests on the subject.

Did this ride scare me off from horses forever?

Actually, the opposite. I’ve got a renewed interest in learning how to ride for real, and plan to take up lessons in Puebla!

High five, childhood me!


Necessary Details

While the idea of a horseback ride to La Fortuna Waterfall is awesome and I would do it again – I wouldn’t recommend the particular outfitter I used, but you can book a similar tour on Viator here

I didn’t encounter bug problems, but if you’re prone to bites you might want to bring some spray or wear a bug bracelet.

Wear shoes with a heel (to keep your feet from falling out of the stirrups) – boots or tennis shoes are fine. I wore Vibrams, and as much as I love them for other Costa Rica activities, they weren’t great for this.

The weather was misty on the way to the falls, and downright rainy on the way back. Bring a dry bag, and maybe a change of dry clothes. A rain jacket or a huge ugly waterproof poncho like mine is a necessity.

Staying in the La Fortuna city center (like at Hotel Bromelias) is cheap and convenient, and most of the horseback tours provide transportation.

Looking for more adventure in La Fortuna? Check here


Have you ever gone horseback riding abroad? How was your experience?


A short vacation in Thailand turned into a life abroad with a canceled ticket home. Nearly a decade later and after living in Bangkok, Rio de Janeiro, Puebla, and Puerto Vallarta, Steph is on to her next adventure and living back in beautiful, cosmopolitan Mexico City. She is living, traveling, and working (both as an expat therapist and an international health insurance representative) around the world to find the beautiful, inspirational, and interesting while sharing it with you!

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