King Louis Waterfall in Cabo Matapalo

If you’re visiting the Puerto Jimenez area on Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula, you’ll want to check out the King Louis Waterfall. This gorgeous, little-known cascade is near the end of a rugged dirt road. Also known as the Matapalo Waterfall, this waterfall is reasonably easy to get to if you’re up for some adventure. It is important to know, though, that access has changed recently. In this post, we’ll tell you more about the King Louis Waterfall and give some essential information on how to get there.

King Louis Waterfall Osa Peninsula

Orientation

The King Louis Waterfall is near the very southern tip of the Osa Peninsula on Costa Rica’s southern Pacific coast. This is one of most remote regions of Costa Rica. Much of the Osa Peninsula remains wild and jungle covered. Corcovado National Park encompasses much of the land.

The closest major town to the waterfall is Puerto Jimenez, about 40 minutes north.

After you pass through Puerto Jimenez, you’ll follow the dirt road south along the coast. Spread out on this stretch are a few houses, ecolodges, and farm fields. But most of the land remains pristine rainforest.

Drive to Cabo Matapalo
The scenic drive south from Puerto Jimenez to Cabo Matapalo

Continuing down a very rocky, bumpy side road (4×4 vehicle required), you’ll come to Cabo Matapalo. This is a well-known surfing area that is popular with locals. Shortly before the road ends at Playa Matapalo, you’ll find access to the waterfall trail. See full directions below.

Background on King Louis Waterfall

King Louis Waterfall is seasonal, meaning that it dries up during certain times of year due to lack of rainfall.

Rainy season ends on the Osa Peninsula in mid-December. Dry season, when there is little-to-no rain, starts after that. It depends on the year, but King Louis Waterfall usually still has water into February and then is dry from mid-February/March until around April when the rain starts up again.

If you’re coming in February, March, or early April, it is best to ask a local before going to make sure it’ll be worth the trek.

We visited in January 2023 and the waterfall was flowing strong.

Accessing King Louis Waterfall

Trail Options

Old Trail through River

From the parking, directly in front of you will be thick rainforest. Here, you’ll find a small trail with a sign that says “Catarata/Waterfall.” If you take this, it will lead you to the river that goes to the waterfall.

Previously, most people accessed the waterfall by taking this trail and then walking through the riverbed, along the rocks. That is not the case anymore.

We talked to a local, and he explained that a big storm in 2022 changed the river so that it’s much harder/dangerous to go that way.

Now, you can take a new dirt trail above the river.

New Trail to King Louis Waterfall

To get to the new trail, from the parking, go left and keep walking past the other trail entrance. Part of this road/driveway has concrete. You’ll soon reach the new trailhead on your right (unmarked as of January 2023).

Trailhead Matapalo Waterfall
The unmarked trailhead

This trail is short, but extremely narrow in places. We did the hike with our two young boys (ages 7 and 3) and were nervous that one of them would fall down the steep hill. If you take a wrong step, you could easily tumble down the ravine into the river. We don’t recommend the hike with young kids. You should be in good physical condition.

Dirt trail King Louis Waterfall
Narrow trail with steep drop off to the right

When you’re close to the waterfall, you’ll need to cross the river. To make it a little easier, there’s a rope you can hold at the bottom. You’ll then quickly wade through the water and climb on some rocks and boulders on the other side. It’s not too difficult but was challenging for our youngest son.

Rope Access to Waterfall
You hold a rope (look closely at picture) to get down this last steep spot before the river

During rainy season (May through end of November), the river levels may be high if there has been a lot of rain so use caution. It’s best to avoid the hike in bad weather, as the trail may get slippery.

The walk to the waterfall takes about 15 minutes.

The Waterfall

Once you arrive, you’ll get to take in the grandeur of the King Louis Waterfall.

This gorgeous cascade drops steeply from a rainforest-covered hill. The water flows along the rock face, with moss and lush greenery all around.

King Louis Waterfall
The beautiful waterfall

To the right of the waterfall pool is a nice area with some large rocks for sitting.

You also can cool off in the refreshing water. The pool wasn’t very deep, but you can sit under the waterfall as long as it’s not strong. When we visited, there were a couple of locals enjoying a natural shower.

Matapalo Waterfall pool
The shallow pool

Since this area abuts the pristine Corcovado National Park, you can see some wildlife too. We saw a big troop of howler monkeys passing through the trees along the hillside.

Mono Congo
A howler monkey near the waterfall

The scenery at the waterfall is so peaceful and serene. When we were there in the height of high season in Costa Rica, we only saw two other groups the whole time. It’s a great off-the-beaten path spot.

Directions to King Louis Waterfall

You need a four-wheel drive vehicle with good clearance to access the waterfall at all times of year.

Follow the main road south of Puerto Jimenez along the coast. When you get to Playa Pan Dulce, take a left onto the side road. If you get to Lapa Rios Lodge, you’ve passed the road and need to turn around.

Follow this “road” all the way to Playa Matapalo/Cabo Matapalo.

Keep in mind that the road is more like a trail and not for the faint of heart.

Once you get off the main road, the road is narrow in places and has lots of huge rocks to navigate. You’ll have to go slowly and find the best way over the rocks in some places to avoid bottoming out.

There are also some streams to cross. In January, these streams were small, but they would be much bigger in rainy season (May through end of November). If you aren’t sure if your vehicle can make it across, you can carefully walk through beforehand to check how deep it is. Or watch a local cross first in their car so you know the best route to take.

Road to King Louis Waterfall
The rough road to the waterfall

Right before you reach Playa Matapalo, take a right instead of going towards the beach where there are a couple of cabins/small hotel. This is the parking area for the waterfall.

When we visited, there were no signs about the waterfall on the way or for the parking. Here’s a picture to give you an idea. There’s really only one parking spot but you could make it work if there is already a car there.

Where to Park Matapalo Waterfall
People park on the right side here

Parking is very informal. There’s no guard like at other waterfalls in Costa Rica so be sure not to leave anything inside your car.

Here’s a map with the approximate location for the parking.

This area is very remote, but there are usually surfers coming and going in case you get lost. Locals often call the waterfall Catarata Matapalo.

What to Bring

Since the trail is very narrow, wear hiking boots or good-gripping sneakers. Also bring some repellent in case of mosquitoes.

There are no amenities in the area so be sure to bring everything you’ll need for food and drinks. The Osa Peninsula can get extremely hot so make sure to have plenty of water.

After the hike, we recommend checking out Playa Matapalo or Playa Pan Dulce. These are gorgeous, secluded beaches with a very wild feel.

Playa Pan Dulce Osa
The secluded Playa Pan Dulce

Conclusion

If you’re looking for a fun day trip on your visit to Puerto Jimenez, the King Louis Waterfall is a great option. Visiting is definitely an adventure. From the rough roads and river crossings to the sketchy trail, you’re sure to have some good stories to tell!

Have a question about visiting the King Louis Waterfall or have you been? Leave a comment below.

Looking for more information to plan your trip to Costa Rica? Check out these posts:

Puerto Jimenez: An Outpost to the Osa – Our destination guide to the small town of Puerto Jimenez. Learn about more things to do and what it’s like.

Manuel Antonio Trip Planning: Manuel Antonio can be a great stopover on your way to Puerto Jimenez and the perfect place to get in adventure tours that aren’t available in the Osa.

Daypack Essentials for Your Trip to Costa Rica: When doing remote hikes like this one, it’s best to have a medical kit and some other key items. Check out our post for more information.

2 Comments

  1. We also visited this waterfall in January 2023. It was great and only a few other people there. We did notice the new trail but chose to walk up the riverbed. It was totally possible to take this route but it was a huge adventure and had some tricky spots. To be honest it added to the experience because it was fairly adventurous. We did it with our kids , 10,13, 17… but they all live rock climbing (which came in handy). This is a great place to visit if you are in the area.

    Also, I’d highly recommend the Osa Peninsula. By far our favourite spot we’ve visited in CR. Very rustic, and wild with no electricity (solar only). Not many people and tons of wildlife.

  2. I hiked to the waterfall Friday December 22nd 2023. The road to Matapalo requires a 4×4 and drive very slow!
    The trail is unmarked and I could not find it on Thursday so I ended up paying a local to take me down the trail once I drove us there. Well worth it, such a beautiful waterfall and an amazing experience!

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