While popular tourist towns have a lot to see, Costa Rica also has hundreds, if not thousands, of smaller attractions hidden in the middle of the countryside. In this post, we’ll tell you about one that we particularly enjoyed. Catarata El Salto de Gamalotillo is a beautiful waterfall and swimming hole, most frequented by locals. About 30 minutes off the main highway near Parrita, it is a perfect place to spend the day relaxing or exploring the property’s rustic hiking trails.
The rural farming town of Gamalotillo is located about 30 minutes outside the town of Parrita on Costa Rica’s central Pacific coast. Its location in the mountains is far removed from most tourist traffic. However, it is still a reasonable 45-minute drive from beach towns like Esterillos Oeste or Bejuco. From Manuel Antonio and Quepos, the drive to the waterfall is about one hour. See below for driving directions.
The drive out to the waterfall will take you through the quiet Costa Rican countryside. You’ll see tiny churches and schools among a scattering of houses and farm fields. There are some really nice valley views as well.
Accessing Catarata El Salto de Gamalotillo
Once you arrive at the waterfall, you can park your car near the entrance, right on the main dirt road. There are also a few parking spots inside the gate.
Since the property is on private land, the owners will ask you to sign a liability waiver when you enter and pay the admission fee.
At the time of our visit, the waterfall was only open to the public on Friday through Sunday. On other days of the week, they open only if you call ahead (details below).
From the parking area, the walk to the waterfall is flat and easy. It took us less than five minutes.
As you approach El Salto de Gamalotillo Waterfall, the trail widens into an open area with a few benches and some small tables. Locals like to spend the day here and usually bring along a cooler with food and drinks. This can make it a fun cultural experience.
The Waterfall and Swimming Hole
Catarata El Salto de Gamalotillo is a beautiful cascade about 20 feet (6 meters) tall. The cool mountain water spills into a deep round pool. The pool can appear brownish at times, due to the dirt/sand bottom. But it is still very pretty.
The owners of the property have made the pool a little deeper by stacking rocks and boulders along the bottom edge. These rocks serve as great sitting spots too. You will likely see people hanging out in this area on your visit. Just be careful as some of the smaller rocks can be sharp.
We didn’t test the depth of all parts of the pool, but some areas were over six feet (1.8 meters) deep.
There is a nice shallow area for wading right near the rocks as well.
Behind the pool is the river that the waterfall flows into. This is a good spot with little kids. Our almost two-year old enjoyed walking around here and checking out the water running over the small rocks.
To the left of the waterfall (behind the benches) is a short, but steep, trail that leads up to the top. Some people jump from there. There is a rope to hold onto as you descend to the right jumping off spot.
We did see one local do it when we were there without any problems. A couple of others assessed the situation, decided it was too risky, and came back down on foot.
Behind the top of the waterfall is another pool that you can see if you use one of the ropes to move around the upper rocks. It didn’t seem like you could easily access this area, though.
Important: We don’t recommend jumping off the waterfall since it can be dangerous. You are in a very remote area, far from medical facilities, if you get hurt. If you do decide to do it, make sure to watch someone else first. That way, you know the best place to jump from and the deepest part of the pool to jump into.
Along with the tranquil waterfall, there are some rustic hiking trails to explore on the property.
The main trail starts to the left of the waterfall and meanders up a steep hill before going left and making a large loop to the right. It eventually leads back down the same way you go up.
The hike is about 1.5 hours going at a slow pace. Green trail markers lead you in the right direction.
Along these trails, you will be able to see a second waterfall cascading down a canyon. There was supposed to be a third waterfall as well, but we think that you need to walk the riverbed to find it.
At the highest point of the trail, you have a nice mountain valley view. Interesting trees and plants can be seen in the thick rainforest as well.
The trail is very simple and a bit rugged. In some places, it is a little dangerous too. Especially when it runs along a steep ravine. The owners have put up some railings made of tree branches but watch your step on the loose dirt.
In steep areas, you’ll find some hand-dug steps that make the climb a little easier.
Overall, we would consider the hike moderate in difficulty, since it has some steep sections and lots of uneven terrain.
When we visited, there was no one else hiking the long trail, so we used a walking stick to rustle the leaves and watch for snakes.
Though we didn’t see any, we did get to see some cool birds. One was a Yellow-throated Toucan and the other was a Crested Guan. Both were spotted lower on the trail near the river.
Planning Your Visit to El Salto de Gamalotillo Waterfall
Foreigners: ₡2,000 adults. ₡1,000 children (ages 3-12). Free for children under 3.
Nationals and Legal Residents: ₡1,500 adults. ₡750 children (ages 3-12). Free for children under 3.
Friday to Sunday, 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Monday to Thursday by reservation. Call: (506) 8709-1198 or (506) 8950-5796.
Note: We would recommend calling ahead in rainier months (September through end of November) to make sure they are open as well, even on weekends. The climate can be cooler this time of year so waterfalls tend to be less popular with locals.
The main entrance to the waterfall up to the picnic area is handicap accessible. It is a smooth dirt trail with no roots and few rocks. You can enjoy a nice view of the waterfall from the picnic area.
The hiking trails are not handicap accessible.
What to Bring
We recommend bringing a picnic lunch, sunscreen, insect repellant, swimsuit, and towel. There is no bathroom or changing room so be sure to wear your bathing suit under your clothes.
Also bring some water shoes or sandals for the sharp rocks. We actually cut our foot on something inside the pool.
The walk from the main area near the benches and tables to the waterfall pool can be difficult too without shoes, since this area is covered by tiny sharp rocks.
Those interested in hiking should wear sturdy, closed-toe footwear like hiking boots. Also be sure to bring plenty of drinking water as this area is usually very hot.
From Route 34 near Parrita, turn onto Route 239. This road is wide and paved at first. Then it turns to a mix of pavement and dirt, and becomes quite narrow. It is a secondary road, but connects the central Pacific coast to San Jose eventually so is well traveled.
Follow Route 239 for approximately 11 km (6.8 miles) and take a left down the dirt road towards the small town of Gamalotillo. The road is directly across from a big blue, concrete water tank (low to the ground). Follow the smaller dirt road for approximately 3 km (1.85 miles), mostly downhill.
The waterfall entrance will be on the right-hand side at the bottom of the hill.
The road is dirt and sometimes steep, so we recommend a 4×4 vehicle to get back up. There was one section of this road that had been repaired from a large washout. It may be more dangerous to visit in the rainiest months (September-November), when washouts are more common.
GPS coordinates: 9˚36’19”N 84˚26’01”W
Finding spots that aren’t well known like El Salto de Gamalotillo Waterfall make our job fun and exciting. Everyone in our family enjoyed the refreshing swim in the waterfall after the moderate hike. We are already looking forward to going back.
Have a question about visiting Catarata El Salto de Gamalotillo? Have you been? Leave us a comment below.
Looking for more information to help you plan your trip? Check out these posts:
7 Off-the-Beaten-Path Things to Do Near Manuel Antonio – Looking for more activities like this one? Check out our popular post about some lesser-known things to do near Manuel Antonio.
10 Daypack Essentials for Costa Rica – Wondering what you may need in your backpack while exploring the remote countryside? Check out this post for our personal recommendations.
Rental Car Discount – Exploring sights like El Salto de Gamalotillo Waterfall are only possible when you have your own wheels. Check out this page for a special rental car discount.