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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.