Catarata del Toro: A Hidden Gem in Costa Rica

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, Costa Rica

Location/Hours 

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.

Getting There

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.

 

Trail Catarata del Toro
Trail leading to the waterfall

 

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.

 

Base of Catarata del Toro

The Hummingbirds

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

 

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43 Comments

  1. Gorgeous!! The green in the cliffs surrounding the waterfall is a site to see. I agree about the $10 being steep but if it comes with a trail caretaker and restrooms (esp impt for us gals) then I’ll pay anyday. Can’t wait for more pics!!

    1. Yeah the $10 isn’t bad considering you could spend the day there exploring the trails and hanging with some cool hummingbirds. Totally worth it in our book. Thanks for reading, Becca!

  2. So pretty, and I love its name! The green cliffs really remind me of some Hawaii landscapes I saw.
    So steep for Costa Rica! But yes, there’s definitely merit to it with the upkeep and sanitorios 🙂

    With it being the rainy season, did you have any issues there or in Poas?

    1. Hey Julie, we were worried about driving on the road between San Miguel and Poas but it wasn’t as bad as we expected. It was nicely paved, and although very narrow and steep in places, wasn’t too bad. We wouldn’t want to drive it in the rain though, that’s for sure! We ended up not being able to see Poas because it was clouded over (funny post on that experience coming soon), but it was still a cool place to visit.

  3. That is a great reward after a strenuous hike. I love working up to a great view. I think it makes it all the more special.

    Victoria Falls in S. Africa was one of my favorites. We walked it one day and took a helicopter the next, which gave a great perspective of the scope, without any of the spray!

  4. I just went there today. Big bummer since the access closed on SUNDAYS. Open from Mondays through Saturdays. Really? A tourist place that closes on Sundays?! At least I had the plan to also visit Hule lagoon, which is 45 min away. Pretty awesome view.

    1. Hi Andres, yikes, thanks for the info. Just updated our blog so that it doesn’t happen to anyone else. Glad you were able to make the best of it though with a visit to that lagoon. Sounds intriguing…can’t wait to see your pics from it.

    1. Maria, if you love hiking and waterfalls, you have to come to Costa Rica. We’re even thinking of starting a new category on our site for waterfalls because there are so many awesome ones. Thanks for reading!

  5. Is it possible to do Catarata del Toro and Poas in one day? Google indicates an hour between them, but I don’t know if they are accurate. Thanks!

    1. Hi Jen, It is definitely possible. We would recommend doing Poas in the morning to maximize your chance of seeing the crater, and then heading to Catarata del Toro after that. Both are the types of places you only need 1-2 hours for, and they’re about 1-1.5 hours apart (use Bajos del Toro as the starting point to get a better estimate on Google Maps).

  6. Just curious about the admission prices on a lot of these places. When it says $10 is that per person, including children (I have 5) or is it per car load like in the U.S.? By the way, I can’t thank you guys enough for your awesome posts.

    I know you have some affiliate links to the car rental place (which I’ve searched but unable to find a vehicle for 7). Do you have an affiliation with hotels or vacation rentals (VRBO or AirBNB type places. If so, I’d like to book through your site as a token of my gratitude.

    Oh, I got your books from Amazon and they are very helpful.

    1. Hi Trent, The price for parks, waterfalls, etc. is per person in Costa Rica. For Catarata del Toro, children 6-15 are $5 instead of $10. We’ve heard that national parks and reserves give discounts for kids but it is never posted so we’re not sure and will see next time we go to a park. That’s really nice of you to want to support us. Right now for hotels, we’re affiliates for booking.com and get a small commission if you book a stay through one of our links. We have links in some of our Destination posts or you can just click this one to make your reservation. We don’t have anything for vacation rentals at this time.

    1. Hi Gloria, No, unfortunately you can’t swim there, possibly because the water is very acidic. Here is a post we did with the different waterfalls in Costa Rica that might be helpful. You can swim at many of them. There’s also a map so you can find on close to where you’re visiting,

  7. Hi again! So interested in the hummers while in this area, and possibly seeing the waterfall. However, I can’t hike – so do I read this correctly that you can see the waterfall still just by parking at the restaurant – and also see the hummers there?
    Thanks a lot!
    We may have to make it a stop after La Paz and Poas…
    PS I would be curious on your take of LaPaz – if you could email me privately I’d love that, thanks!

    1. Hi again Sue, Yes, that’s correct. You can see the waterfall by walking just behind the restaurant. There are also some trails that start next to the restaurant that are fairly flat where you might see more birds. The hummingbird feeders are along the edge of the restaurant too.

      On your question about La Paz, we can answer that and any additional questions you have about the places you’re visiting through our itinerary review service (more info here). We have already answered a few questions from you, and while we were happy to do so, we have many more from other people that we need to get to. We offer paid services if you would like more help. Just respond to this comment if you’re interested and we’ll be in touch soon 🙂

      1. Thanks! We’ll be staying there, as it turns out, for a night at least. And I believe our itinerary is SET. Thanks again.

  8. This looks beautiful! I’m planning a visit in July and definitley want to fit this in! Could you let me know how long this hike took you? Both my boyfriend and I are frequent hikers and active, hopefully you could give us a general time for this?

    Thanks!

    1. Hi Ella, It took us about an hour total (both ways), but it depends on how fast you can get up the steps. If you take a lot of breaks, it will take a little longer. Fine for the reasonably fit, though, so you should be fine. Have fun!

  9. Hello,

    I have really enjoyed reading your posts. If we just stop to see the waterfall from the restaurant is there still a fee? Or is the fee only if you do the hike down to the waterfall.
    We would like to stop here on the way to La Fortuna, but it would only be a quick visit and maybe grab a bite to eat and a drink. All depends on how my 3 kids are feeling after we land.

    Thank you,

    Arlene

    1. Hi Arlene, You can see the waterfall (from a distance) right outside the restaurant so there shouldn’t be a charge for that, assuming you eat there. It’s worth a quick stop if you can swing it- it’s gorgeous and a lot different than La Fortuna Waterfall if you’re planning on visiting that.

  10. hi!

    plan on staying here my first night in Costa! actually first heard of the place from your page! the part about roads are better coming from the north makes me worried! i will be arriving from SJO. what should i expect? we will have a driver, but still want to know if need to be worried.

    1. Hi Caitlin, We have never driven from the south so aren’t sure, but if you have a driver taking you, don’t worry. They will go a safe way. You could always ask the people who run the lodge at the waterfall too. They do have some information about getting there on their website.

  11. Hi
    I saw on your page about the Poas Volcano NAtional Park being shut since April last year. I’m presuming this situation is still the same, but do you know whether this affects visiting Catarata del Toro?

    Thanks

  12. Any way to go to Grecia (or another nearby town) by bus and then find someone to hire to take me to the Catarata del Toro site? I am travelling by myself, and can certainly walk several Kilometers, but don’t have time to stay overnight there.

    1. Hi Thomas, Yes, taking a bus to Grecia then hiring a taxi to take you the rest of the way would work. Or depending on where you’re coming from, it may be easier to catch a bus to the Poas Volcano area (Vara Blanca, Poasito, or San Miguel) and grab a taxi from there.

  13. Hi Jenn, thanks for the useful post. Do you think the hike will be fine also during the rainy season? I will be visiting at the end of August. Do you recommend going in the morning? Thanks!

    1. Hi Susy, It might be wet at the end of August but we’d still go. Just be prepared for the rain (see rainy season section of our Packing post and go slow on the stairs if they’re slippery and you will be fine. Yes, going in the morning is usually the best way to avoid the rain. Hope you have a nice visit. It’s a beautiful waterfall!

  14. Hi, would you do this hike with a 5 month old in an ergo carrier? We have visited most of the popular waterfalls in Costa Rica (before baby), but we haven’t seen this one yet! Also, is it safe to leave our luggage in the car of the parking lot or should we drop off at the hotel first? What about the Poas parking lot? As a rule we never leave anything in the car in Costa Rica, but you mentioned that it was a private lot and it would save us a trip if we didn’t have to check out of the airport hotel and check in at another hotel before visiting the waterfall and the volcano.

    1. Hi Caroline, Yes, the hike down to Catarata del Toro would be fine with a 5 month old in a carrier. It’s not too long, there are just a lot of steps. The parking lot wasn’t guarded when we were there. If there’s not a guard, you could ask the people who own the lodge if they could hold your bags for you. As far as we know, Poas Volcano hasn’t been reopened yet but there is talk that it will happen soon. Here’s a link to the official national park’s Facebook page. You could monitor the reopening on there. For Poas, it would be best to not leave any bags in your car since that’s such a popular, busy park.

  15. You mention that the travel to this waterfall is best from the north. I’m going to have to come in from the south (Hwy 708)….I have a 4×4, but is the road really that bad?

    1. Hi Daniel, We have never taken Route 708 before but it looks like the people who own the waterfall property list it as a possible route to take. Here’s a link to their website with different options for directions. I think it’s the one for From Naranjo via Sarchi.

  16. Hello, do you know if there’s an age requirement? I saw something on another website about Bajos de Toro and Blue Falls that said no one under 10 is allowed. Also, we were going to do this and the Poas volcano on our way to Arenal, but that means we will have all of our luggage with us. I know it is not advised to leave things in the car – would you advise not stopping at these two places since we won’t have anywhere but the car to leave our luggage?

    1. Hi Katherine, It looks like the people who own the property have added more info to their website and are recommending the Catarata del Toro self guided hike for people 4 and up. The Blue Falls hike is a tour through them and that is 10 and up like you said, probably because it is a more difficult hike. Poas is closed again as of today due to volcanic activity so be sure to check on that before setting out. We wouldn’t recommend Poas anyway with all your stuff in the car since it has a huge parking lot so is more vulnerable. But you would probably be ok doing Catarata del Toro or Blue Falls. Just put your valuables like cash, passport, electronics, etc. in your backpack and carry them with you.

  17. Sure missing this place, and wishing we would have done the hike to the waterfall! We ended up doing ATV’s as well as the Arenal Sky Adventures tour while near the Arenal area, so gorgeous there!

    We appreciate your article and look forward to seeing more.

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