Visiting a waterfall is on almost every traveler’s wish list. But for those heading to the northwestern part of Costa Rica, especially the beaches of Guanacaste, finding one of these magnificent cascades can be difficult. That’s because this region of the country is known to be more flat and dry, not exactly ideal conditions for a waterfall. Luckily though, there are some spectacular waterfalls hidden away. In this post, we’ll tell you about one gem near Liberia, the Llanos de Cortez Waterfall.
The Llanos de Cortez Waterfall is located near the town of Bagaces, just a half hour south of Liberia and its international airport (LIR). It’s a short drive off the Pan American Highway (Route 1) and less than a two-hour trip from Tamarindo, Flamingo, Playa Conchal, and other beach towns in Guanacaste. These majestic falls are also a convenient stop for those traveling from the mountains near La Fortuna or Monteverde to those beautiful beaches of Guanacaste’s Gold Coast. For detailed directions, see the end of this post.
Tip: If you’re looking for something to pair with a visit to Llanos de Cortez, there’s a wonderful wildlife rescue center just a half hour south near Cañas. Read our post about Las Pumas Rescue Center for more information.
Another draw of the Llanos de Cortez is that it is relatively easy to access. The parking area, which is just an open lot, gets you very close to the waterfall. From there, it is just a short 10 minute hike down. The dirt trail is somewhat steep and has some rocks and roots to watch out for but is not too long. Sturdy sneakers or sandals like Keens are your best bet.
Once you reach the bottom of the trail, you’ll see why Llanos de Cortez is considered to be one of Costa Rica’s most beautiful waterfalls. The falls are wide and wispy, with thin streams of water tumbling along the mossy rocks. Rocky cliffs are visible through the transparent cascade. To add to the grandeur, thick forest surrounds the falls with many birds and sometimes even monkeys bellowing from the trees.
At the base of the falls is a nice pool that is good for swimming or wading, and there is a sandy area to just hang out and relax. When we visited, there were even a couple of vendors set up serving cold drinks and snacks like grilled chicken kabobs.
If you’re up for a little exploring, you can walk along the banks of the gentle river to see wildlife like frogs and tadpoles, small fish, and the Jesus Christ Lizard, which got its name because it can actually run across the surface of the water. The more adventurous can traverse some rocks and get right behind the falling water to explore the shallow cave.
Tip: Water shoes with good grips would be nice to have here as the rocks are slippery and the bottom of the pool can be a little mucky.
Helping the Local Community
One of the best things about visiting the Llanos de Cortez Waterfall is that your visit helps support the local community. Shortly after you turn off the highway on your way to the falls, you will come to a small group of people asking for a donation. There is no admission fee to visit the waterfall; instead all donations go directly to the local school, Escuela de Llanos del Cortés. Many people don’t think of Guanacaste, with its developed beach towns, as an area that would need such support, but rural areas like this one have some of the highest poverty rates in the country. We donated $5 per person but any amount is appreciated and will go a long way for the local kids.
Directions to Llanos de Cortez Waterfall
From the North (Liberia)
Take the Pan American Highway (Route 1) south. Pass through Liberia and continue on the highway toward the town of Bagaces. As you drive south, look for the large pedestrian overpasses. There is one overpass about 20 km (12.5 miles) south from the main intersection in Liberia. Immediately after going under the overpass take a quick right hand turn onto a dirt road. There is a rustic sign for Catarata Llanos de Cortez. Follow the dirt road and you will soon come to an intersection where you can give a donation for the local school. From there, take a right and continue about 5 minutes up the road to the parking area. Parking is about $4, which pays for the attendants who watch over the lot. A 4×4 vehicle was not necessary on our last visit (April 2016) and the road was in great condition.
From the South (Cañas)
Take the Pan American Highway (Route 1) north. Drive past the main intersection for Bagaces, staying on the highway. As you drive north, look for a pedestrian overpass about 25 km (15 miles) from the main intersection in Cañas. The turn for the Llanos de Cortez will be on the left side of the highway, at this overpass. Since it is blocked by the highway divider you will need to continue north until the next left hand “U-Turn”, which is only a few minutes. Once you get turned around, go south on Highway 1 until you reach the pedestrian overpass again. Immediately after going under the overpass take a quick right hand turn onto a dirt road. There is a rustic sign for Catarata Llanos de Cortez. Follow the dirt road and you will soon come to an intersection where you can give a donation for the local school. From there, take a right and continue about 5 minutes up the road to the parking area. Parking is about $4, which pays for the attendants who watch over the lot. A 4×4 vehicle was not necessary on our last visit (April 2016) and the road was in great condition.
Llanos de Cortez Waterfall is open daily from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
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The Llanos de Cortez Waterfall is one of Costa Rica’s most spectacular waterfalls and is also one of the easiest to access. Its convenient location makes it the perfect stop while passing by or paired with another activity in Guanacaste. Just an hour or so is all you’ll need to get in a swim in the refreshing water and fully experience the beauty of this stunning natural attraction.
Have you visited the spectacular Llanos de Cortez Waterfall or have questions about visiting? Leave us a comment below!
Updated: July 5, 2016