Canyoning in La Fortuna with its waterfall rappels and cavernous ‘falls’ proved to be Costa Rica’s biggest thrill of all.
Beneath the hulking slopes of Arenal Volcano in northwestern Costa Rica is the small town of La Fortuna. With a wealth of natural attractions nearby including lush rainforest, extensive hiking trails, myriad hot springs and two gargantuan volcanoes (Cerro Chato is also within easy reach), it’s not the town itself that draws visitors to this green district of Costa Rica.
The streets, flanked by hotels, noisy cafes, milkshake huts and restaurants, are a loud and roiling stretch of conveniences set up mainly for tourists.
However, just a few kilometres from the town centre, a dizzying range of adventure awaits. Rainforest hiking, white-water rafting, canopy zip lining and waterfall jumping are all on the agenda.
We visited La Fortuna as part of our National Geographic Expedition to Costa Rica. We found ourselves with a free day and a plethora of activities to choose from, so decided to join local provider Desafio for a morning of canyoning in La Fortuna.
We dropped by their offices the day before to book our time slot and hear a quick briefing on what to expect and what to bring. The following morning we were collected from our hotel and driven for 20 minutes to Lost Canyon.
Wedged into steep-sloping verdant jungle, Lost Canyon is home to the largest waterfalls for rappelling in Costa Rica’s wet and wild northern zone. Along (should that be down?) the canyon, there is a series of four plunging waterfalls to be navigated, as well as several sections of other watery challenges.
After strapping into harnesses, helmets and thick gloves at Desafio’s ‘Lost Canyon Ops Centre’, we paused for a safety briefing (“when we shout ‘let go’, let go!”) and were whisked up to the start of the course via the ‘jungle limo’, more prosaically known as a Jeep.
The canyoning course began with a fairly sedate rappel down a waterfall known as The Baby, before moving onto the second largest waterfall, known as Big Boy. This significantly larger waterfall required a less-than-graceful mix of rappel, free-fall and zip line. Regardless of technique the outcome was the same: a screech-inducing thrill!
Once we’d gathered ourselves at the bottom, we continued down the canyon, rappelling the smaller waterfalls, launching ourselves into deep pools, zipping down guided rappels and clambering over canyon walls and river boulders before finally arriving at the activity’s climax: a 60m (200ft) waterfall.
Here, there is a genuine adrenaline-pumping free-fall before the line tightens and whips you sharply down a zip line towards the canyon floor. Hearts racing and blood pulsing, our group reassembled at the base of the canyon to hike our way up through the rainforest to the end of the course.
The camaraderie among the group was particularly special as everyone from the 25-year-old teacher to the 60-something retiree cheered and screamed their way across the course.
Back at the Lost Canyon Ops Centre, we towelled off and warmed up with a hot drink, some biscuits and plenty of giggling while we swapped watery tales of our hopelessly clumsy descents and ungraceful splashes.
Canyoning in La Fortuna is outrageously good fun, shamelessly thrilling, relentlessly wet and utterly, utterly ridiculous. Naturally, we highly recommend it.
Canyoning in La Fortuna: the essentials
What: Canyoning in La Fortuna as part of a 9-day National Geographic Expedition to Costa Rica.
Where: We stayed at a number of mid-range hotels, ranging from the lush grounds and comfortable rooms at Arenal Manoa in La Fortuna to more simple mountain-lodge style dwellings at Hotel Heliconia in Monteverde and even shipping containers repurposed as rooms at El Faro in Manuel Antonio.
When: The best time to visit Costa Rica is the dry season of December to April. Plenty of sunshine makes it an ideal time to explore both canopy and coast. This is, however, high season so expect more tourists and higher prices. The shoulder seasons of May-Jul and Nov are also good times to visit. There is more rain, but it’s quieter and Costa Rica’s forests burst with foliage.
Canyoning in La Fortuna costs $99 USD per person for a four-hour activity and includes transport to and from your hotel, all safety equipment and a buffet lunch at a nearby restaurant after the activity. The photo and video package costs an extra $20 USD per person.
We visited La Fortuna as part of a 9-day National Geographic Expedition to Costa Rica. The tour is priced from £1,199 and includes a chief experience officer (CEO) throughout, all accommodation, transport between destinations, all breakfasts, some meals and numerous activities. Canyoning is an optional activity and not included in the price. For more information or to book, call 0800 440 2551 or book online.
We flew to Costa Rica with British Airways. Book flights via Skyscanner for the best prices.