Llanos de Cortez Waterfall

Last Updated: October 3, 2019

Visiting a waterfall is on almost every traveler’s wish list. But for those heading to the northwestern part of Costa Rica, especially the beaches of Guanacaste, finding one of these magnificent cascades can be difficult. That’s because this region of the country is known to be more flat and dry, not exactly ideal conditions for a waterfall. Luckily though, there are some spectacular waterfalls hidden away. In this post, we’ll tell you about one gem near Liberia, the Llanos de Cortez Waterfall.

Note: Access to Llanos de Cortez recently became a little easier. We’ll let you know about all the changes below.

Llanos de Cortez Waterfall | Two Weeks in Costa Rica

Location

The Llanos de Cortez Waterfall is located near the town of Bagaces, just a half hour south of Liberia and its international airport (LIR). It’s a short drive off the Pan American Highway (Route 1) and less than a two-hour trip from Tamarindo, Flamingo, Playa Conchal, Playa Hermosa, and other beach towns in Guanacaste. These majestic falls are also a convenient stop for those traveling from the mountains near La Fortuna or Monteverde to those beautiful beaches of Guanacaste’s Gold Coast. For detailed directions, see the end of this post.

Tip: If you’re looking for something to pair with a visit to Llanos de Cortez, there’s a wonderful wildlife rescue center just a half hour south near Cañas. Read our post about Las Pumas Rescue Center for more information.

Access

Another draw of the Llanos de Cortez is that it is relatively easy to access. The parking area, which is just an open lot, gets you very close to the waterfall. From there, it is a short 5 minute hike down. Recently, the municipality took over management of Llanos de Cortez. As part of that transition, they built sturdy concrete steps to replace the old dirt trail. Although the steps are well maintained and there is a handrail, they are still somewhat irregular and steep. Most visitors will be fine, and anyone with limited mobility should be too, but they may need a little help.

Stairs leading to Cortez Waterfall
Steps down to the waterfall, there are around 60.

The Waterfall

Once you reach the bottom of the trail, you’ll see why Llanos de Cortez is considered to be one of Costa Rica’s most beautiful waterfalls. The falls are wide and wispy, with thin streams of water tumbling along the mossy rocks. Rocky cliffs are visible through the transparent cascade. To add to the grandeur, thick forest surrounds the falls with many birds and sometimes even monkeys bellowing from the trees.

At the base of the falls is a nice pool that is good for swimming or wading, and there is a sandy area to just hang out and relax. You used to be able to climb behind the falls onto the rocks, but the municipality set up a rope in the pool for safety. This lets you swim only to a certain point, but you can still get fairly close. The rope isn’t very noticable and doesn’t take away from the beauty of the falls. There are now a couple of lifeguards too who sit back on the sand.

Llanos de Cortez Waterfall and River | Two Weeks in Costa Rica

If you’re up for a little exploring, you can walk along the banks of the gentle river to see wildlife like frogs and tadpoles, small fish, and the Jesus Christ Lizard, which got its name because it can run across the surface of the water. 

Tip: Water shoes with good grips would be nice to have here as the the bottom of the pool can be a little mucky and there are a few rocks.

Llanos de Cortez Behind Waterfall | Two Weeks in Costa Rica

Planning Your Visit to Llanos de Cortez

Access and Admission

Shortly after you turn off Highway 1, you will come to small building/gate. This is the official entrance to Llanos de Cortez. The person working will collect your admission fee (see below) and give you a wristband. When we visited in late 2019, someone approched us right when we turned off the highway and told us about another cheaper way to access the waterfall. This is not the official entrance so we don’t recommend it.

Admission Prices

Foreigners – $7 per person adults; $4 per person children; free for children 6 and under.

Nationals and Residents – 2,000 colones per person adults; 1,000 colones per person children; free for children 6 and under.

Parking

Parking is free with admission. The lot is guarded but we still recommend taking your most valuable belongings with you and carrying them in a small bag. The lot is large and during busy times of year, it may be hard for the attendants to keep a close watch on all the cars.

Secure Parking at the Waterfall

Facilities

There is a small, rustic bath house with restrooms (no showers) in the parking lot. Down by the waterfall there are no facilities. 

Directions to Llanos de Cortez 

From the North (Liberia)

Take the Pan American Highway (Route 1) south. Pass through Liberia and continue on the highway toward the town of Bagaces. As you drive south, look for the large pedestrian overpasses. There is one overpass about 20 km (12.5 miles) south from the main intersection in Liberia. Immediately after going under the overpass take a quick right hand turn onto a dirt road. There is a sign for Catarata Llanos de Cortez. Follow the dirt road and you will soon come to an intersection where the entrance gate and building are located. From there, take a right and continue about 5 minutes (1 km) up the road to the parking area. The road is dirt but a 4×4 vehicle is not necessary.

From the South (Cañas)

Take the Pan American Highway (Route 1) north. Drive past the main intersection for Bagaces, staying on the highway. As you drive north, look for a pedestrian overpass about 25 km (15 miles) from the main intersection in Cañas. The turn for the Llanos de Cortez will be on the left side of the highway, at this overpass. Since it is blocked by the highway divider you will need to continue north until the next left hand “U-Turn”, which is only a few minutes. Once you get turned around, go south on Highway 1 until you reach the pedestrian overpass again. Immediately after going under the overpass take a quick right hand turn onto a dirt road. There is a sign for Catarata Llanos de Cortez. Follow the dirt road and you will soon come to an intersection where the entrance gate and building are located. From there, take a right and continue about 5 minutes (1 km) up the road to the parking area. The road is dirt but a 4×4 vehicle is not necessary.

Hours

Llanos de Cortez Waterfall is open daily from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Last entrance: 3:30 p.m.

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The Llanos de Cortez Waterfall is one of Costa Rica’s most spectacular waterfalls and is also one of the easiest to access. Its convenient location makes it the perfect stop while passing by or paired with another activity in Guanacaste. Just an hour or so is all you’ll need to get in a swim in the refreshing water and fully experience the beauty of this stunning natural attraction.

Last Updated: October 3, 2019

Have you visited the spectacular Llanos de Cortez Waterfall or have questions about visiting? Leave us a comment below!

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

  • Costa Rica Rental Car Discount: Accessing hidden attractions like Llanos de Cortez is best done with a rental car. Check out our discount to save 10% and get free extras.
  • La Fortuna: What to Expect – La Fortuna is a great destination to pair with a beach town in Guanacaste. Learn more about its many adventure activities, grand volcano, and natural hot springs.
  • Packing for Costa Rica: The Essentials – Be prepared for your trip with this detailed list of what to bring.

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43 Comments

  1. Very cool Jenn and Matt! Your images are bringing me back to Costa Rica; well done 😉 I recall driving right past the airport when we were visiting Nueva Arenal. We also took a bus into Fortuna, I believe, but may be a bit confused on that one. Since this is a dry, flat area I reckon falls like this are few and far between. You covered a gem today.

    Thanks for the share guys and yes, you have me longing for the tropics!

    Ryan

  2. You can also walk up to the very top of the waterfall. Go around to the left side facing the waterfall and there’s a trail that goes up, it’s a bit steep but it’ll take you right on top and the view is awesome.

    Love this waterfall and great pics guys!

  3. I visited the waterfall just two weeks ago. Beautiful. I would recommend an early arrival, as the falls become shaded by early afternoon. Use a car with good ground clearance to get there!

    1. Glad you enjoyed the waterfall Greg, yeah the road isn’t too long once you get off the highway but it can be rough with some deeper ruts so a higher clearance or 4×4 is definitely the way to go.

  4. Was parking secure? Seems like everyone is cautioning about not leaving valuables in the car but you don’t have a lot of choices when all your junk is in the car when between destinations.

    This seems like a great spot to stop with 2 tweens on our way from Monteverde to the coast.

    1. Hi Crickett, Parking has been secure when we’ve visited. It’s just an open lot in the forest but there’s an attendant there to watch your car. You’ll see these guys all over Costa Rica- in restaurants and at beaches and other attractions. A lot of times they just work on tips but I think at Llanos de Cortes, it’s a set $2 fee. You should be fine leaving your luggage in there if you’re between destinations, but I would always recommend carrying your important valuables on you like passport, cash, credit cards, etc. just to be safe.

  5. We are planning to stop by here on our drive from Liberia airport to San Jose. I was wondering if there is a place to change after swimming. We have a long way to go after swimming at the falls!
    Nice post!

    1. Hi Pria, Unfortunately we don’t think there are any changing facilities- the whole area is pretty rustic. What you could do, though, is stop at a little restaurant afterwards off the highway and grab a drink or something and change there. The small city of Canas just to the south has quite a few places.

  6. I am visiting Tamarindo in mid May. I know that other waterfalls in Costa Rica are not present in dry season. My question is in mid May will this one have flowing water?

    1. There isn’t much right around the waterfall, so yes, Liberia is your best bet. A few good options right around the city are Hotel Las Espuelas (budget option) or Hilton Garden Inn. There are some small resorts near Rincon de la Vieja National Park a little farther away if you wanted to spend a couple of nights: Hacienda Guachipelin and Hotel Borinquen Mountain Resort. They’re in a nice setting in the country and are close to hot springs, mud baths, and the volcano.

  7. Stopped here on our way from Tamarindo to Alajuela yesterday. Fantastic! I was surprised at the number of people there on a Monday. Either way, it was great. We swam up to the fall and climbed the rocks behind. Do be careful with the kids (as Jennifer pointed out). My boy slipped and fell. He’s OK, but with those sharp rocks, it could have been bad.

    If you’re interested, we did the Three Crosses Hike in Escazu a few weeks ago. Would be happy to write up a blog post out of gratitude for all your info. I have a video on Youtube.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGZ4i20fTs0

    1. Hi Trent, Glad you enjoyed the waterfall and especially that your son didn’t hurt himself. Water shoes like these are always a good idea for kids in Costa Rica and you will find many uses for them.

      Thanks so much for the offer on the guest post. We do all our own writing, but know who to talk to if we ever do that hike in Escazu. Cheers!

  8. I am wondering about what kind of vehicle to rent while there. We are not planning on off roading, but would like to visit this waterfall. I have read both that the road is in good condition and would not require a 4X4 and also that a 4X4 would definitely be required to get back to the falls from the highway. Could you give some advice on this?

    1. Hi Barb, We visited this waterfall last April and they were completely redoing the road. It’s still dirt but was leveled off and smooth. We used to recommend 4×4 but it was more for the clearance. We think now you would be fine in a regular car all times of year. If you are visiting in the rainy season, we would just be careful after a big storm.

  9. Hi Jen and Matt! Would there still be a good size waterfall at the end of February? I know it’s the middle of your dry season.

  10. Great information! Most helpful was the photo of the path to get to the base of the falls. We have a 4-year old and are going to try it… seeing the photos helped confirm that I think he can make the trek down with our help… and that of our 15-year old daughter! Much appreciated and love your posts.

      1. Hi, I have already booked a trip for the beginning of Sept to Playa Portero in Guanacaste……now I read that September is the rainiest month…. does this mean it rains all day? Or just every day, at certain times. We were planning on doing lots of exploring, so maybe we should reschedule?

  11. Hi, I will be visiting in December and will *NOT* have a car rental. I am flying into Liberia and would like to do this before heading into Santa Elena.

    I am having a hard time trying to locate tours from Liberia that do this. Does anyone have any info on: A) can you book on to a tour from Liberia to the waterfalls?, B) can you just hire a driver in Liberia to take you out for, say, half a day?, C) is there a bus that will get you pretty near the waterfalls?

    Thanks for any info you can pass along.

    Cheers!
    Kevin

    1. Hi Kevin, You can probably arrange for one of the tour companies in Guanacaste to pick you up in Liberia. Their clients come mostly from the beach but Liberia is on the way. That’s probably your best option unless you rent a car for the day. This is worth considering because it might actually be less expensive since you can access the waterfall with a regular 2wd sedan (see our Rental Car Discount). Negotiating with a taxi is also possible but it is about a half hour from Liberia so would probably be quite pricey for both ways. There are buses running south along Highway 1 but then you would have to walk for quite a while (around a couple of miles each way).

  12. Thanks for the info. We visited the waterfall today (Jan 5, 2018) and found that we had to park at the intersection where I think the school donations would be collected. There was no collection of money for the school, maybe because schools are closed for break? The gate across the road was locked, so we walked in the 1.3 km down the road to where the trail starts. The fellows at the parking area charged us $2000C for parking, and it was busy! Probably around 100 people there at the time, between those on the road and those at the falls. Beautiful spot regardless, and we got to see the monkeys!

    1. Interesting, thanks Monica! Schools are out of session until February so that could be why no one was there. Did it seem like the original parking area was closed because of damage from the tropical storm a few months ago? We have heard that and also that you now need to take a different trail to access the waterfall but no one has confirmed either.

      It makes sense that it was busy because a lot of the locals were still on for Christmas/New Years. The beaches near us were really busy then too.

      1. We didn’t see any damage to the road that would prevent driving into the parking lot, and as far as I could see there was no damage in the parking area either. We were a bit baffled when we got there why it wasn’t available for use. I can’t comment on whether there is a new trail but we did find one fairly well established trail to the top of the waterfall, and then another one down the slope from the parking lot to the bottom area. Again, we didn’t notice any obvious damage to either area but we weren’t looking that hard either. The fellows at the parking area were promoting themselves as (paid) guides into the falls, and in hindsight part of their message may have been that things had changed (we don’t speak very good Spanish so may have missed that point).

    1. Hi Gina, We haven’t been to the waterfalls since the storm, but have heard that it damaged the parking area and you now need to walk in for about 1 mile to reach the falls. If you end up going, please let us know how it was so that we can spread the word.

  13. Thank you! I love reading your posts. My family of five with 3 teens is planning April 1-April 9, flying into Liberia, 3 nights in La Fortuna, 2 at guachipelin in Rincon de la Vieja and 3 at the Riu Palace in Ocotal. Our final day, we are staying in Liberia and plan a day trip to these falls. This is a dream trip come true! ❤️

  14. Thank you so much for this article on waterfalls! It was very helpful in figuring out which waterfalls would work the best as far as location and accessibility! We visited here – also a family of 5 with 3 young adults who loved it! I have bad knees but really wanted to go to a waterfall where we could get in and swim and this was perfect! We went Jan 2, 2018 and paid $2000C to park and then were directed to a flat gravel road that we walked down (about 1 km) and then about 50 steps down to the waterfall with some handrails and boulders to hang on to (and my husband!). There were about 50 people there – I think mainly Costa Ricans. The water was cold but felt great as the gravel road was not shaded! The steps up were easier on my knees and we enjoyed some cold coconut water after our walk out! Then went to a nearby town and had a nice meal at a soda (and changed in their bathroom) We did this on our way from Playa Hermosa where we stayed the 1st 1/2 of the week to La Fortuna where we stayed the 2nd 1/2. Thanks again!

  15. Thanks so much for the blog, it has helped us many times in our two week Costa Rican vacation. We just came from the Catarata waterfalls. Your directions were perfect and made it very easy to follow. There no longer is a school donation group, but instead there is a shack with a guard collecting admission. Two dollars for locals, seven for foreign, per person. The 1km walk others mentioned is now a drive back to the parking lot which is much larger than before (we were here about four yrs ago), and has changing rooms. The walk down the hill is now mostly concrete steps and I could see a few posts were there may have been a handrail, but the rail is gone. Also new is a lifeguard down at the falls. Pura vida!

    1. Hi Jen, Thanks so much for the report. It sounds like there are a lot of changes happening right now. We will be sure to update our post once it seems like the changes are finalized. Pura vida!

  16. I read on a couple of other sites where you can’t get close to the actual falls now, you can only wade in the water up to a point. Is that true?

    1. Hi Trey, We have heard mixed reports about if you can still get close to the falls and swim behind them. Some people have said you can’t now that there’s a lifeguard, while others who have gone recently have said that they did it. Maybe it depends on when you go and who’s working? If you go, let us know what your experience is.

      1. We were there in mid-April. There was a lifeguard on duty who wouldn’t allow swimmers to get too close to the falls. You could probably swim/wade to within about 30-40 ft before he started blowing his whistle and signalling you to move away. ‎Despite that, it’s still a spectacular place to visit. I may not have discovered this place if it hadn’t been for your review. Thanks so much.

  17. I appreciated to find this page a month before to arrived in CR with my boyfd! Tks for sharing this incredible experience. I am planning to visit Liberia region (including Llanos de cortez waterfall and Rincon de la Vieja National Park). Do you have any other suggestion in this area ? Or any particular tip ?

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