If you’re visiting Poas Volcano or the northern lowlands around Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui, be sure to take a day trip to the stunning Catarata del Toro. We happened upon this little known waterfall on a recent road trip and were so pleased we did. It’s the largest waterfall we’ve seen in Costa Rica, with a 90 meter (300 foot) drop, and definitely one of the most interesting as it flows into an extinct volcanic crater. Below is everything you need to know to plan your visit.
Catarata del Toro is located near the tiny town of Bajos del Toro in the remote mountains north of Costa Rica’s Central Valley. The waterfall abuts Poas Volcano, but due to road conditions is best accessed from the north. This makes it a good stop if you’re traveling to or from Tortuguero or Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui and Arenal Volcano.
Tip: Be sure to visit Monday through Saturday as access to the waterfall is closed on Sundays. Hours: 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
The turnoff to the falls is located between the towns of San Miguel to the east and Venecia to the west. Coming from Route 140, take Route 708 south towards Bajos del Toro/Sarchi Sur. Signage is not great, but there is a small sign for the waterfall near the turnoff. The 14 kilometer drive on Route 708 is along a beautiful, mountainous road (duration: about 25 minutes). This area of Costa Rica gets a lot of rain, and although the road is paved, it is steep in places and does get washed out, so be careful.
The Hike to the Waterfall
Like a lot of waterfalls in Costa Rica, access to Catarata del Toro is through private property so you have to pay to visit ($14). The upside is that someone is maintaining the access trail and there are facilities/bathrooms and parking available. You can leave your car safely in their lot, hit the trail, and even grab some food or a drink at the on-site restaurant afterwards.
The waterfall is part of a huge 250 acre (100 hectare) reserve of primary rainforest. The main trail meanders through the jungle, taking you to a few viewpoints where you’ll want to grab some shots of the waterfall at different angles. You’ll probably see some wildlife too because this area sees very little foot traffic. On our short visit, we saw an armadillo, blue morpho butterfly, and lots of birds.
After about 15 minutes of hiking on fairly flat terrain, you start to go down—and fast. There are 375 steps to the base of the waterfall. The first set are sturdy concrete, but they get rougher the farther you go, turning into uneven earthen steps by the end. We were happy that we wore our hiking boots, but heavy duty sandals like Keens would be okay too.
Tip: This hike is difficult, especially coming back up. There are a lot of steps and they’re not all even. It took us about an hour to get up and down but would take longer if you need to take a lot of breaks. Not sure about the hike? Don’t fret. The view of the falls from right outside the restaurant is great too so you can just as easily enjoy it while kicking back with a lemonade.
If you do make it to the bottom, you’ll be rewarded with a close view of the 90 meter (300 foot) waterfalls plummeting into an extinct volcanic crater. The unique rock formations and streaks of color caused by old lava flows and the strange chemical composition of the water are even more remarkable from this vantage point.
The waterfall is reason enough to visit the reserve but another awesome feature are the hummingbirds. The owners of the reserve have set up hummingbird feeders along the edge of the restaurant that attract hundreds of these tiny birds. We were amazed at the number on our visit, all zipping around within a few feet of our heads. If you’re into bird photography, you will be in heaven here!
Check out this short clip to see what we mean.
Catarata del Toro claims to be Costa Rica’s best kept secret and it delivers. We’ve seen a lot of waterfalls in Costa Rica, and while the Nauyaca are still probably our favorite, this one is a very close second. So if you’re looking to get off the beaten path in Costa Rica and have a couple of hours to spare, be sure to take a detour to Catarata del Toro. You won’t regret it.
What’s the most spectacular waterfalls you’ve ever seen?
Post by: Matthew Houde and Jennifer Turnbull-Houde