Best Waterfalls in Costa Rica

Best Waterfalls in Costa Rica | Two Weeks in Costa Rica

 

Over the last 21 months, we’ve been fortunate to see some incredible waterfalls in Costa Rica. At times, it seems there’s one around every corner. Even just a simple day trip can turn into a full-day affair when you randomly discover a hidden waterfall. We’ve encountered waterfalls with multiple tiers, waterfalls that flow into dormant volcanoes, remote waterfalls that require hours of jungle trekking to reach, and even falls with water so blue they don’t seem real. Deciding which were our favorites was difficult but here are our picks for the best waterfalls in Costa Rica.

Be sure to refer to the map at the end of the post, which pinpoints the location of each waterfall.

Rio Celeste Waterfall

 

Rio Celeste Waterfall | Two Weeks in Costa Rica

 

Location: Tenorio Volcano National Park, near Bijagua and Guatuso (Northern Zone)

Visit from La Fortuna or Nuevo Arenal

Level of Difficulty: Moderate

 

The Rio Celeste Waterfall is Costa Rica’s most magical cascade. The strikingly blue color looks almost out of this world but it’s real. The Rio Celeste gets its baby blue hue from a natural chemical reaction that occurs between minerals in this volcano-rich region. Access to the Rio Celeste River and Waterfall is via the jungle trails at Tenorio Volcano National Park. It is a moderately difficult hike along an often muddy, shaded path to reach the staircase that leads to the waterfall. A short climb down 250 stairs gets you to a viewing platform. Swimming is no longer permitted so don’t worry about packing a suit.

Admission: $12.

For more information on visiting the Rio Celeste Waterfall, including the best times of year to go, read our separate post.

La Fortuna Waterfall

 

La Fortuna Waterfall | Two Weeks in Costa Rica

 

Location: La Fortuna (Northern Zone)

Visit from La Fortuna or Nuevo Arenal

Level of Difficulty: Easy to Moderate

 

La Fortuna Waterfall is probably Costa Rica’s most well-known waterfall. It is located just outside the popular destination of La Fortuna and is a great place to bring the whole family. You access it from a visitors center, which has bathroom facilities and changing rooms. To reach the falls, you have to walk down 500 steep (but well maintained) stairs, which make for a challenging hike back up. The waterfall is a gorgeous white ribbon that flows from a lush green backdrop into an azul pool. While you can swim, the stream of water is very powerful so the pool can sometimes be rough. Luckily there’s also a calmer river for wading right next to the falls.

Admission: $10.

Llanos de Cortez Waterfall

 

Llanos de Cortez | Two Weeks in Costa Rica

 

Location: Between Liberia and Bagaces (Guanacaste Province)

Visit from Tamarindo, Flamingo, Playas del Coco, or any of the beach towns in northern Guanacaste

Level of Difficulty: Easy

 

Conveniently located right off the busy Interamericana Highway is the stunning Llanos de Cortez. This wide waterfall is an oasis in the middle of the arid forests of Guanacaste Province. Guanacaste receives the least rain in Costa Rica so waterfalls are less plentiful in this region and the ones that do exist sometimes run dry. This is not the case at Llanos de Cortez, which was flowing with wispy streams of water even on our visit at the end of the dry season. Llanos de Cortez is a nice place to stop for a couple of hours en route to the beaches of Guanacaste and is also a good place to pack a lunch and spend the day at the small sandy beach. Swimming in the calm pool is highly recommended.

Admission: By donation (proceeds go to the local school). Parking: $4.

For more details on visiting Llanos de Cortez Waterfall, read our separate post.

Catarata del Toro

 

Catarata del Toro | Two Weeks in Costa Rica

 

Location: Bajos del Toro, near Poas Volcano (Central Volcanic Mountain Range)

Visit from Puerto Viejo de Saraiqui, La Virgen, or Poas Volcano Area

Level of Difficulty: Moderate

 

One of Costa Rica’s most unique waterfalls, Catarata del Toro flows into a dormant volcanic crater. Vivid greens, reds, and oranges line the walls of the pool, remnants from the extremely acidic crater lake. This little known waterfall is said to be one of Costa Rica’s largest at 90 meters (300 feet). To reach the base, you have to hike down 375 steep steps. At the time of our visit, the steps were irregular and some were muddy and slippery, and the hike up was challenging. It’s not a trek for everyone, but fortunately you can see the falls from the top near the visitors center as well. There are also several hummingbird feeders outside the on-site restaurant and some nice trails that traverse the cloud-forest habitat.

Admission: $10.

For more details on visiting Catarata del Toro, read our separate post.

Nauyaca Waterfalls

 

Nauyaca Waterfalls | Two Weeks in Costa Rica

 

Location: Between Baru and Platanillo, near Dominical (Southern Zone)

Visit from Manuel Antonio or Uvita, Dominical, or Ojochal in the Costa Ballena

Level of Difficulty: Easy to Moderate. Also can access the waterfall on horseback.

 

The Nauyaca were the first big waterfalls we saw in Costa Rica and will probably always be our favorite. Set in the jungle in Costa Rica’s lush Southern Zone, the Nauyaca Waterfalls have two gorgeous tiers with a lovely natural pool for swimming. To access the waterfalls on foot, you have to hike along a well-maintained trail for about an hour. There are a few steep spots, but it is appropriate for most fitness levels. Right before you begin the final descent, there’s a rustic bathroom and changing room so that you can put on your bathing suit. If you’d rather not hike it, a local company offers horseback tours as well.

Cost to Hike: $8. Cost for Horseback Tour: $70.

For more details on visiting Nauyaca Waterfalls, including trail conditions, read our separate post.

Diamante Waterfall and Cave

 

Diamante Waterfall | Two Weeks in Costa Rica

 

Location: Las Tumbas, near Dominical and San Isidro del General (Southern Zone)

Visit from Manuel Antonio or Uvita, Dominical, or Ojochal in the Costa Ballena

Level of Difficulty: Difficult

 

Tucked away in the middle of the jungle is the remote Diamante Waterfall and Caves. While many people believe that the Diamante are the largest falls in Costa Rica at 183 meters (600 feet), the caves are what make the Diamante so special. After a rigorous 2-3 hour hike up the mountain, you’ll arrive at a set of two waterfalls rushing over an enormous cave. If you’re up for some adventure, we highly recommend staying the night. Local tour operators have set up raised beds in the cave, a makeshift kitchen, and even bath houses with flushing toilets and pedestal sinks. The falls are on private property and you can only visit on a tour.

Cost: $89 for day tour. Read our separate post for more information and to arrange a tour.

Montezuma Waterfalls

 

Montezuma Waterfall | Two Weeks in Costa Rica
Photo Credit: Casey Atchley

 

Location: Montezuma (Southern Nicoya Peninsula)

Visit from Montezuma, Santa Teresa and Mal Pais, or Tambor

Level of Difficulty: Moderate

 

Just outside the chill beach town of Montezuma is a set of three spectacular waterfalls. The Montezuma falls are hidden in the jungle but can be accessed by following a trail south of town for about 20 minutes. The hike is moderately difficult, as you have to cross a riverbed and use a rope at some points. Wear water shoes if you have them. Most visitors stop at the first falls, which you can jump from if you’re careful, but it’s worth continuing on higher to the other two if you can. Beware that the hike becomes more difficult after the first waterfall. If you’re looking to make the trip a little easier, a local tour operator has built sturdy stairs at the top, which you can use for a small fee.

Admission via the lower falls: Free. Parking: $2.

Admission via the upper falls through tour operator: $4.

For more information about the two ways to access these falls, read our post:  Montezuma Waterfalls: Best Ways to Access.

Los Chorros Waterfalls

 

Los Chorros Waterfall | Two Weeks in Costa Rica

 

Location: Grecia (Central Valley)

Visit from San Jose, Alajuela, Grecia, Atenas, or other locations in the Central Valley

Level of Difficulty: Easy

 

Los Chorros are the only waterfalls on our list in the Central Valley. We discovered these falls while on a short trip to Grecia and were so glad we did. We were the only foreigners around and it really felt like we had discovered a secret locals spot. Los Chorros are located a few miles south of the main square in Grecia. Access to the waterfalls is via an easy, ten minute hike from a main parking area through the woods. There are a few picnic tables if you want to pack a lunch and spend the day in this peaceful, rustic spot.

Admission: $6. Parking: $4.

For more information about Los Chorros Waterfalls, including detailed directions, check out our post.

Map of the Best Waterfalls in Costa Rica

Did we miss one of your favorites? What’s your favorite waterfall in Costa Rica? Let us know in the comments below.

 

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46 Comments

  1. Hi Jenn and Matt,

    Fab images! We missed Fortuna when we visited Nueva Arenal for a month. We were so busy soaking up the endless beauty around the lake! Each day we walked down to it, and did a mini lap or so, getting in our cardio and enjoying the stunning scenery around the area. From the volcano in the distance to the hills, to the greenery, it’s about the prettiest place we’ve visited on earth….and we’ve seen plenty of pretty places 😉

    Thanks Guys!

    Ryan

  2. What a great list. Sadly, I have only been to one of these. I guess we have some traveling to do.

    I am particularly interested in Rio Celeste and Llanos de Cortez – they both look incredible (and photogenic).

    1. Those are two excellent choices, Greg. Make sure you go to Rio Celeste during the dry season because the water isn’t as blue after a rainstorm (the water dilutes the natural chemical effect that turns it that crazy blue). Enjoy!

      1. Also make sure to visit Llanos on a weekday, not in the weekend. In dry season it can be a llittle crowded. However it’s still beautifull !

  3. Thank you so much for these pics! We are headed to Playa Negra the beginning of August and I can’t WAIT to visit some of these waterfalls. The main problem is deciding which ones to go to. I’ll give feedback after we’ve had a chance to go see them. So excited!

    1. Hi Ambur, we are heading there n September, please share any “need to knows”! We want to see some waterfalls too,molts of hiking without spending a fortune on guides!

  4. Hello. Love all your great information. I am going with my husband and an athletic 11 year old between 12/29 and 01/14. We want to go to Arenal, rio Celeste y Monteverde. We will also want to visit the Pacific Coast. What would be a good one: Jaco, Manuel Antonio, Las Catalinas, Tamarindo??? Should we rent a car or should we take public transportation?? Where will be best to be for New Year’s Eve?? Thanks so much for your advice.

    1. Hi Paula, The week between Christmas and New Years is the busiest time of year in Costa Rica. The beaches are especially busy so try to schedule your time inland that week. As for which Pacific Coast destination, those are all good ones that people like. Jaco and Tamarindo are the most developed. Manuel Antonio is developed but not too big. Las Catalinas isn’t really a destination but has been built up with a new development. Personally we would lean towards Manuel Antonio or the region south, the Costa Ballena or Drake Bay. Our Destinations Summary Guide compares all the different towns in CR and might help you decide.

      Renting a car is the best and easiest way to see the country so we would recommend that. The public bus takes a lot longer and shuttle vans for three people would cost about the same as getting a car. Here is a link to our rental car page if you decide to go with a car. We get a discount through one of the companies here. Make sure to reserve your car and book your hotels soon since things for those dates are already booking up. Hope your family has a great trip!

  5. Do you have any information on the waterfall near Dominicalito Beach called Pozo Azul? I heard this a local waterfall that is easy to get too? Can you send more information. Thank you

    1. Hi Stefanie, Sure, Pozo Azul is easy to get to as long as you know what road to take off the highway. It’s a decent size waterfall with a nice sandy area for swimming. Very popular with the locals. Here are some directions. It’s only about 5-10 min off the highway and a quick 3 min or so walk from the parking area.

      Directions: If you’re coming from the north (Dominical), take the second entrance to Dominicalito. This is not the road to Canto Del Mar. Pass that and look for a sharp left (there is a newer looking bus stop and a blue sign for Dominicalito). Follow that road through the small neighborhood. Go over the bridge. After the bridge, follow the road to the right up to the parking area. Sometimes there is an attendant there to watch your car but don’t leave anything in it anyway. The road is dirt but you shouldn’t need 4×4. The walk down is a little steep but there are stairs for part of it. Have fun if you go!

  6. You did not mention the five Waterfalls at La Paz Waterfalls gardens near the Poas volcano. The last two are visible from the highway and for the rest there are trails and stairs. It is easiest to walk from the top to the bottom although the end is 180 m of “up”!

  7. I’m taking my mother to Costa Rica. She is 75, with lung cancer. She wants to see waterfalls. I plan to bundle her into a folding wheelchair as much as possible, because she’s not up for hiking through the jungle. Please tell me if any of these are at all accessible for her. We’ll be staying in Escazu, outside San Jose, and I’m renting us a car.

    1. Hi Heidi, Waterfalls may be tough, but there are a couple of good options. At Catarata del Toro, you can see the waterfall from the top of the property, behind the restaurant. I think you could get the wheelchair through for part of the way, and if she can walk a little bit, she can get a decent view from above. One of the waterfalls at La Paz Waterfall Gardens (not in the list but still pretty) can also be seen from the road on Route 126. There’s a scenic pull over.

      Those are on only waterfalls we can think of, but there are a lot of other natural attractions that would work. The path to Poas Volcano is paved and Carara National Park (known for good birdwatching) has a paved trail. If you need more ideas, we actually did some writing for another website about travel in Costa Rica for seniors and people with limited mobility. Here’s the link. Hope you and your mother have a wonderful visit!

      1. Hi, your blog is terrific! We are leaving Austin for Costa Rica today and are so excited! My 80 yr old father in law will be with us and I was excited to see the link above but it appears to be broken. Would you mind linking to your article again? Thanks!

        1. Hi Amy, It looks like that website isn’t around anymore, unfortunately. Here are some more ideas for things to do with seniors: visiting the museums in San Jose, coffee or chocolate tours, Zarcero’s Topiary Gardens, the Botanical Orchid Garden near Alajuela, Sarchi for oxcarts, Guayabo National Monument, visiting wildlife centers, birdwatching,
          Wilson Botanical Garden in the Southern Zone, and maybe hanging bridges like the ones in Monteverde.

  8. Going to be in Jaco, but picking someone up at the San jose airport a little later in the trip and wanted to do some hiking and waterfall seeing when we are out there! I was curious what the best place to hike, swim, and jump is within about 2.5 hours from San Jose? Thanks love the page!

    1. Hi Reilly, A lot of the waterfalls around San Jose you can’t swim in, but there are some good options. Take a look at Los Chorros near Grecia. You can swim there, but not jump I don’t think. There’s also Las Minas, which are hidden waterfalls and swimming holes near Atenas. We cover them in this post and give directions. Hope that gives you some ideas. I’m sure there are other smaller places too.

  9. One of the best waterfalls is the Tres Pescinas Waterfall on the pacific coast between Jaco and Manuel Antonio. Is on private property but can pay fee to park and hike in about one mile. Has three levels with a huge pool at bottom and can jump from level to level. Is one of the greatest in Costa Rica. Can view it on You Tube.

    1. Hi Kim, Puntarenas is a city spread out along a peninsula so doesn’t have any waterfalls. The closest would be in Jaco, up in the Central Valley, or if you take the ferry, the Montezuma Waterfalls. All are day trips and Montezuma is better with an overnight since it takes longer to get to.

  10. The Uvita Cascade is another great waterfall. As you are driving south on Coast Road 34 turn left at the first intersection in Uvita. You will see the bank and the B&M market on the corner. Proceed less than a half mile down the road and take the third left. Go up the hill. Best to have a four wheel drive. You will see the admission building for the waterfall on your right about a quarter mile up. The waterfall is privately owned. I think admission is about $2.00. The main waterfall is about 30 feet high. When river conditions are right, you can actually slide down the waterfall. There is a large pool beneath the falls which is great for swimming. You can hike up and down the river from this point and find lots of other pretty pools to swim in.

    1. Hi Daniel, Thanks for the recommendation! The Uvita Waterfall is really nice. It’s small but pretty and great for swimming in the pool and river. For anyone visiting, the road is bumpy dirt but that stretch is passable in a regular car at all times of the year.

  11. Thank you so much for the Los Chorros recommendation . We are staying close by so it was a short drive. My son had wanted to swim in a Costa Rican swimming hole. We could not get down to the second falls. The trail was washed out and what remained of the bridge over the water was kind of like an Indiana Jones prop. The current was a bit too much to get to the pool by the falls safely, being rainy season. We did swim in cool off in the water near the picnic area. The falls are just gorgeous. It’s so peaceful there. We were the only ones at the water as it was a weekday. Luis, the man at the entrance, could not have been any nicer. He even had cold waters when we came out. It was an easy hike but I would definitely not do it in flip flops. The trail is slick. A must visit place!

    1. Hi Dee, Thanks for sharing your experience! We can imagine that the falls were ripping this time of year since we’ve been getting a fair amount of rain. Glad it was still beautiful and that you had a good time!

  12. Have you heard of Las Musas waterfall in San Ramon (on the way from SJ to La Fortuna) or of Viento Frescos on the way from Lake Arenal to Monteverde? We heard those are good to stop at, but are they both worth the time if we will be seeing La Fortuna and Montezuma? We will be going mid December. Thanks!

    1. Hi Lyndsay, We haven’t been to La Musas yet, but Viento Fresco is very nice. It’s also fairly easy to access the waterfalls there, since you just have to hike up and down the stairs. So it would make a good stop between destinations. We have a post about Viento fresco here. We’d probably just pick one. You can also go to La Fortuna Waterfall easily.

  13. Hello, we’re going to Mata Palo beach in November. We would like to see the Arenal Volcano. I’m not a fan of heights would you suggest this tour? We would also like to see the La Fortuna. How far are these attractions from our location and should we rent a car or shuttle in your opinion?

    1. Hi LaWanda, You can’t hike to the top of Arenal Volcano because it’s still active so you just walk around the base. So heights aren’t an issue. If you’re going to the Playa Matapalo in Guanacaste, Arenal is about 3 hours away. It’s doable as a day trip but we recommend people spend a night since it’s a long drive. The easiest thing if you want to do a day trip would be to arrange a tour that includes transportation. Let us know if you’d like any help with this – here’s the link to our tour booking service page.

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