Catarata El Encanto: Esparza’s Charming Waterfall

Costa Rica has thousands of amazing waterfalls. Some are famous tourist attractions while others remain hidden deep in the rainforest or on private properties. In this post, we’ll share an impressive cascade that is off-the-beaten path but popular with locals. Catarata El Encanto is tucked into the countryside between Puntarenas and San Mateo. It offers an authentic experience with beautiful surrounds. In this post, we’ll share everything you need to plan your visit.

Catarata El Encanto

Location

Catarata El Encanto is located in the small town of El Baron. El Baron is about 15 minutes south of a bigger town called Esparza and 25 minutes west of San Mateo. From the port city of Puntarenas or Caldera, the waterfall is roughly 30-40 minutes away. See below for directions. 

Arriving at Catarata El Encanto

After a drive through the countryside and the town of El Baron, you will arrive at the entrance to El Encanto Waterfall. Here, you’ll find a restaurant where you can park, as well as the owner’s home, some bathrooms, and a stable/field with horses, cows, and chickens.

Parking Waterfall El Encanto
The parking area in front of the restaurant

The restaurant was closed during our visit but is usually open on weekends and holidays. They serve traditional Costa Rican dishes.

The restaurant/house is where you normally pay the 2,000 colones (about $4 USD) per person entrance fee, but we didn’t see anyone around. Instead, we followed signs for the trail and later met up with the owner’s son to pay.   

Handmade Sign
Handmade sign near the restaurant

The Trail and Stairs

In total, the walk from the restaurant to the waterfall is only about 350 meters (0.2 miles). While short, it is best to wear sneakers or at least sturdy strap-on sandals because of the steep, uneven terrain.

From the restaurant, a narrow 4×4 dirt road leads downhill toward the river. This trail is rocky but easy.

At the end is the start of a large, rustic stairway. Here, the owners have built concrete steps with metal railings. There are 185 steps down to the river’s edge.

Stairs El Encanto
Stairs down to the waterfall

Roughly halfway down the stairs is a viewpoint that overlooks the waterfall. This is a great spot to take a break when coming back up and to snap some pictures.

El Encanto Waterfall Esparza
Viewpoint from the stairs

The River

At the bottom of the stairs, you will find the Rio Paires (Pairs River). This is a swift, rocky river but has some nice pools to wade in when conditions are right. The river is set in a wide valley and has lots of mature trees surrounding it.

River Esparza Waterfall
Scenic river

From here, you’ll walk to the right to get to the waterfall. There is a faint trail at first but then a lot of giant boulders and smaller rocks to traverse to get there.

Hike to Catarata El Encanto
Trail to the waterfall

Catarata El Encanto: The Charming Waterfall

After a little work getting over the rocks, you can enjoy the grandeur of Catarata El Encanto (the Charming Waterfall).

The impressive cascade drops 23 meters (75 feet) down a sheer rock cliff.

Scale Catarata El Encanto
You can get a sense of the waterfall’s scale when someone steps into the picture

It’s a very wide cliff so the water comes down in all different places, making sheets or curtains of water. This waterfall has a similar look to a famous waterfall called Llanos de Cortez in Guanacaste Province.

When we visited at the beginning of the dry season (mid-January), there was still a good amount of water coming over the falls.

Water Level January
Water still flowing in mid-January

At rainier times of year, the flow at El Encanto can be very heavy. And during the height of dry season, there can be no water at all.

For this reason, it’s important to time your visit. More on this in the Planning Your Visit section, below.

Natural Swimming Pool

At the base of El Encanto Waterfall is a giant natural pool roughly 46 meters (150 feet) wide and 8 meters (26 feet) deep at its deepest spot.

We weren’t sure about swimming here at first, but as we arrived, we met the owner’s son and his friends that had just been in the water.

While a bit murky, we decided to at least take a quick dip and float around on the rubber tubes tied to the rocks. This was a lot of fun for the kids and adults alike.  

Swimming in Esparza Waterfall

Tip: Many locals visit this waterfall on weekends and holidays, setting up picnics and spending the entire day. We went during the week so there was hardly anyone around.

Planning Your Visit

When to Go

As we mentioned above, it is important to time your visit to El Encanto Waterfall because of seasonal waterflow changes. The owner was interviewed about this in a video. It’s in Spanish but breaks downs like this:

June to Mid-October

With rain, the river and waterfall can be forceful and have muddy/cloudy water. With a few days of better weather, the pools can be swimmable again. During these months, access may be closed on certain days due to heavy rains. Check their Facebook page or call ahead (info below).

November to Mid-January

Nice waterflow with cleaner water and good river levels for swimming (this was when we visited).

Mid-January to End of February

Typically, not much water comes over the falls because it’s so dry, but the river is still nice for swimming and picnicking.  

March to End of May

Access to the waterfall is usually closed because there is no water coming over the falls and the river is stagnant and not pleasant to swim in.

Entrance Cost

2,000 colones per person (about $4 USD). We were not charged for our four-year old.

Contact

Catarata El Encanto Facebook page.

Phone: (506) 8568-6061. We recommend using WhatsApp. It’s what all the locals use to communicate.

Restaurant

As of this writing, the restaurant is open Friday to Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Directions to Catarata El Encanto

From Route 131, which connects Esparza and San Mateo, take the turn for El Baron and head west. Continue left at the turn (restaurant Soda La Cueva/Danna). At the next fork, go to the right past the soccer field and church. Continue on this road for another 5 minutes or so until you see the waterfall entrance (Restaurante El Encanto) on your right.

Here is a link to Google Maps with the exact location for the entrance/parking.

Sign El Encanto Waterfall
Sign for the entrance

Conclusion

We were thrilled to have found Catarata El Encanto on a recent visit to San Mateo. It was a short adventure hiking down to the falls and taking a swim, but we could have easily spent more time picnicking and relaxing next to the river. If you are in the area, we definitely recommend it.  

Have a question about visiting Catarata El Encanto or want to share your experience? Leave a comment below.

Looking for more information to help you plan your trip? Check out these posts:

San Ramon: Close to Culture – If you are looking for a small local city with an authentic feel, San Ramon has a lot to offer.

Bajos del Toro: Costa Rica’s Land of Waterfalls – Some of the country’s most impressive waterfalls are found in this small town.

Rental Car Discount – If you are into visiting hidden waterfalls and other lesser known attractions, a rental car is a must. Use our discount to save and get free extras.

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