As one of the most photographed natural formations in this visually stunning country, the waterfalls of Costa Rica astound both experienced and novice travelers alike. There is just something incredible about rushing water dramatically falling from the rainforest canopy into a pool at the base of a cliff. After a hike through the rainforest in the tropical heat, a cool dip beneath these powerful forces of nature will not disappoint. The following waterfalls are timeless favorites of both locals and tourists:
La Fortuna Waterfall, Arenal Volcano
To put it simply, La Fortuna Waterfall is stunning. People from around the world come to appreciate the natural beauty of the waterfall and surrounding hot springs. Spanish for “Fortune,” the waterfall is the attraction of a number of different tours near the Arenal Volcano and is fed by the Tenorio River. The view of the waterfall spilling out from a cliff at the base of the dormant Chato volcano and plummeting 70-meters (230-feet) before hitting a tropical pond that’s surrounded by the rich, green rainforest along the Arenal Mountain range is an awe-inspiring experience. Visitors come from around the world to appreciate the stunning natural beauty of the waterfall and surrounding hot springs.
There are two viewing areas that offer different perspectives of La Fortuna, and you can even walk right out on to the massive rocks and boulders alongside the banks of the basin. Remember to bring a swimsuit — the cool pool at the base of the waterfall is a great swimming location on a balmy summer day. The hike from the starting point on the cliff down to the waterfall (which can be combined with a hanging bridges canopy tour) follows a staircase that is carved into the hillside and takes about 15 minutes, and the calm green-blue waters of the pool will make the trek well worth the effort, and among the most beautiful Costa Rica hikes.
Rio Celeste Waterfall, Guanacaste
The Rio Celeste Waterfall in Tenorio Volcano National Park in the northwestern Guanacaste region is renowned for its hypnotic blue color and tropical surroundings. According to local legend, when God painted the sky, he washed his blue brushes in the river, turning the waters an entrancing shade of turquoise. In reality, the water that flows through the park is the unique product of a chemical reaction between minerals from the volcano and lush rainforest.
A two-hour hike into the park will unveil the brilliant blue waterfall and several natural hot springs, as well as plenty of Costa Rica wildlife including poison dart frogs, colorful blue morpho butterflies, and curious monkeys — it’s the ultimate tropical adventure. Swimming is prohibited due to unknown effects of the volcanic minerals, but the views make for picture-perfect memories to share with friends and family. The best time of year to experience the bright blue river is during Costa Rica’s dry season between December and April. Despite their many alluring sights, the Rio Celeste Waterfall and park system are known as relatively well-kept secret due to their remote location off the beaten path. A hidden jewel in a country of treasures, the Rio Celeste Waterfall is not a sight to be missed.
La Paz Waterfall Gardens, Cloud Forest
Located in the Cloud Forest outside of San Jose, the La Paz Waterfall Gardens is the most visited privately-owned ecological attraction in Costa Rica — and for good reason! The area is a combination of a nature walk, five waterfalls, and rescued wildlife preserve with over 100 species of animals. The preserve also includes a Butterfly Observatory, Serpentarium, Frog Exhibit, and Hummingbird Garden. You can expect to see the following animals in the gardens — over 40-species of birds including toucans and 26-species of hummingbirds, as well as marmosets, white-headed capuchin monkeys, and black-handed spider monkeys, two-toed sloths, jaguars, pumas, and ocelots, and a thriving frog exhibit.
The La Paz Waterfall Gardens are open to the public year-round and the grounds are primarily self-guided, so visitors can tailor their experience to see exactly what and how much they’d like to see. With so many of Costa Rica’s wildlife and tropical sights to take in, it’s quite easy to spend an entire day touring the gardens and waterfalls at La Paz Waterfall Gardens.
Bajos del Toro Waterfall, Cloud Forest
What a sight to behold! As one of the most spectacular and largest waterfalls in the country — with a 90-meter (300-foot) drop — Bajos del Toro Waterfall is hidden away in a valley between the Poás and Rincon de la Vieja Volcanoes, located in the Bajos del Toro Cloud Forest about 1 1/2 hours from San Jose.
We highly recommend staying at El Silencio Luxury Lodge for the full Bajos del Toro experience. Hike the winding trail down to the base of the waterfall for about an hour with a guide and get up close to the roaring mist of this natural spectacle. From the lodge, a fifteen-minute relatively flat hike will bring you to about 375 steps leading down to the base of the waterfall. The hike back up can be a bit challenging, but the views are worth it! Don’t forget to wear sturdy hiking shoes! The surrounding streams and pools allow for visitors to observe unique Costa Rican plants and animals species. Because the area is not heavily populated with tourists, you will also see an abundance of wildlife — from blue morpho butterflies to armadillos, and plenty of hummingbirds thanks to the feeders along the hiker facilities and nearby restaurants.
Nauyaca Waterfalls, South Pacific Coast
The stunning Nauyaca Waterfalls are located in the South Pacific region of Costa Ballena, just 20 minutes from Dominical. Though featuring less impressive drop-offs than the towering La Fortuna or Bajos del Toro waterfalls, Nauyaca is unique in its layout – it’s split into the upper and lower cascades; water pours over the cliff side to fall over 140 feet before the next 60-foot drop. One of the most amazing things about this waterfall is the location. Remotely tucked into the deep rainforest, the trip there might be a bit of work, but the views are worth it!
Guests have a few options for getting to the falls: horseback riding, hiking, or via 4×4. The hikers and horseback riders use the same well-maintained trail – keeping an eye out for the abundant wildlife in the area, such as monkeys or birds! This is a favorite home for a number of hummingbird species. The trail to the waterfall is roughly 2.5 miles, an easy hike that isn’t too difficult for children.
Once you arrive at the waterfall itself, the trail splits into two, bringing you to either the upper or lower falls. The upper falls are impressive, falling for a greater distance. The occasional mist blowing off the waterfall is refreshing after the hike, and there are a number of smooth river rocks that are the perfect location for your picnic lunch! The view is impeccable, and it tends to be more tranquil at the upper falls.
The lower falls, however, are where the fun is truly at! Right before the steps down to the falls are facilities where travelers can change into swimsuits. The cascade falls into a large pool of clear blue water – a perfect, natural swimming hole. Taking a dip is the best way to cool off after the hike. There’s plenty of room for everyone to swim, relax, or explore, with the occasional entertainment of a daring local jumping from one of the cliffs. For amazing photo-ops and a great combination of hiking and swimming, the Nauyaca Waterfall is not to be missed!
Llanos de Cortez Waterfall, Guanacaste
Some say Llanos de Cortez is Costa Rica’s most beautiful waterfall. It is located in Bagaces about 30 minutes (16 miles) south of Liberia. At about 50 feet wide and 12 feet tall, Llanos de Cortez is wider than it is tall with streams of water cascading over a rock wall. The pool at the base of the falls is clean, clear, and perfect for a refreshing swim on a hot day. There’s also a little white sandy beach which can be nice for a snack or picnic! The trail from the parking lot down the waterfall is a short 10-minute hike but it is steep. The forest leading to the falls is lush and dense with wildlife like birds and monkeys that can be seen along the way. There are no entrance fees to Llanos de Cortez, but donations to the local community school are welcome. Guided waterfall excursions can be arranged.
Bijagual Waterfall, Central Pacific
The Bijagual Waterfall is located near Jaco on the Central Pacific Coast in the mountain town of Bijagual. The 590-foot waterfall is accessible by guided horseback ride through the lush forest. The hike showcases incredible views of seaside fishing villages and the Pacific Ocean. Be on the lookout for tropical birds like scarlet macaws and toucans as well as other tropical wildlife like sloths, frogs, and monkeys. Once you arrive at the falls, walk around or cool off int he cool refreshing natural spring fed from the high mountains in Carara National Park. Horseback tours can be arranged upon request.