Six Wonderful Waterfalls in Costa Rica
Waterfalls are a must-see natural wonder in Costa Rica
Given the country’s geography, it’s no surprise that Costa Rica has many waterfalls. A driving tour to see waterfalls is a good way to experience the countryside and its geographic diversity.
These six Costa Rica waterfalls are universal favorites.
Located just over an hour from San Jose, and situated between the Poas and Rincon Volcanos of Costa Rica, Peace Lodge and La Paz Waterfall Gardens is a must do on your waterfall checklist. With 5 waterfalls and assorted wildlife exhibits, it’s a great place to recover and ground yourself in Costa Rica’s natural beauty upon landing in the country. The gardens and trails—free to lodge guests—include several waterfall viewing areas, including an overlook of 3 waterfalls. You’ll see more than 40 bird species, as well as marmosets, capuchin and spider monkeys, two-toed sloths, jaguars, pumas, and ocelots in the various exhibits and rescue areas.
The 300-foot Catarata del Toro, among the largest in Costa Rica, is in the Bajos del Toro Cloud Forest, a hidden gem in a valley between the Poás and Rincon de la Vieja volcanoes. Most visitors don’t stop here, so it’s a lightly impacted environment with plenty of plant and wildlife to appreciate. The walk down 375 steps to the falls’ base takes about an hour. Go with a guide; a good guide will spot wildlife and point out the best vantage points.
Still farther north, the Tenorio River spills from a cliff at the base of the dormant Chato to create La Fortuna near Volcán Arenal. La Fortuna’s 230-foot drop to the pond below is unforgettable. Two vista points give distinct perspectives, as does the view from the massive boulders on the basin’s banks. A 15-minute walk from the top of the falls, which you can combine with a hanging bridges canopy tour, takes you down the cliff to the basin below. If you remembered your swimsuit, you can enjoy a refreshing dip in the cool water.
The 295-foot falls at Rio Celeste in Guanacaste Province’s cloud and rainforest is an unbelievable shade of blue. Local legend has it that as God painted the sky, he rinsed his brushes in the Rio Celeste and the stunning color was the result. The hike to the waterfall viewing platform is a moderate one. If you’re up for the strenuous hike, make the trip to Tenideros, where the rivers converge. There’s no swimming, but the view is worth the effort.
In Bagaces, 30 minutes south of Liberia, you’ll find squat Llanos de Cortez Waterfall. It’s an easy stop, just off the Interamericana Highway and a good place to stop for lunch and a swim. Wider than it is tall, the river cascades into a pool with small white-sand beach at its base. The trail from the parking lot is short—but steep—edged by verdant forest filled with birds and monkeys.
Bijagual Waterfall is in Bijagual, near Jacó on the Central Pacific Coast. You’ll need to take a guided horseback ride through the rainforest to the dramatic 590-foot fall. The views during your ride are of the villages below and the Pacific Ocean beyond. As always, the forest is alive with tropical birds and monkeys. This is another place to enjoy a swim.
Nauyaca Waterfalls, on Costa Ballena, is just 20 minutes from Dominical. The two-tier falls drop 140 feet to the first pool, which overflows to drop 60 feet into the second. There’s a vault toilet and changing room on-site. Visitors can get to the falls by horseback or ATV or make the hour-long hike via a well-maintained trail shared with horseback riders. Once at the falls, you can continue to the upper falls or head for the lower one. Again, it’s the perfect spot for a picnic lunch and a swim.
There’s no denying its stunning waterfalls draw visitors to Costa Rica; there’s something about water falling over a steep hillside that shrieks “Paradise!” Having a rental car in Costa Rica gives you the best opportunity possible to spot the big, popular falls, and also catch sight of those that are off the beaten path.