If you’re visiting Montezuma on Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula, chances are you’ll be heading to the Montezuma Waterfalls at some point during your trip. This set of three waterfalls is one of the area’s biggest attractions and for good reason. Not only are the falls themselves beautiful but you can swim in the refreshing pools and even jump from some of them if you dare. In this post, we’ll tell you more about the Montezuma Waterfalls and the two best ways to access them.
About the Montezuma Waterfalls
The Montezuma Waterfalls are a set of three different cascades.
The Top Waterfall is the smallest at only about 15 feet (5 meters) tall, but dumps into a nice deep pool that is perfect for swimming and jumping. How high the jump is depends on where you stand on the rocks, but varies from about 5 feet (1.5 meters) to 15 feet (5 meters). There is also a rope swing on a tree here, so you can hurl yourself into the pool that way too. This is a great place to swim and hang out for an hour or so.
The Middle Waterfall is hidden between the Top Waterfall and the Lower Waterfall. You actually have to swim across the pool of the Top Waterfall to see it. Once you do, you can look down at the roughly 40 foot (12 meter) drop. People do jump from the top of this waterfall—we saw someone do it—but there have been accidents where people have died so we don’t recommend it. It’s cool to see from above, though. Just watch your step when peeking over the edge as sometimes the rocks are slippery.
The Lower Waterfall is the biggest at about 80 feet (25 meters) and also the most visited. This waterfall has a nice pool to swim in while gazing up at the cascading water. During our visit, it hadn’t rained for months so there wasn’t much flow and the water in the pool was quite murky. Still, it was very pretty and there are smooth rocks to relax on and some trees for shade. It’s not safe to jump from the top of this waterfall because of the dangerous rocks, so if you’re looking for a thrill, plan to visit the upper falls.
Note: While researching our visit to the waterfalls, we were a little confused about how to best see all three. To clear things up, we visited them twice by two different access points to see how they differed.
Accessing the Montezuma Waterfalls: The Two Options
There are two main options when hiking to the Montezuma Waterfalls, the Riverbed Trail and the Canopy Tour Trail.
The Riverbed Trail
Note: This is the easiest way to get to the Lower Waterfall, which is the biggest cascade and the one that most people visit. Getting to the other two from this direction is a hard hike up some very steep stairs.
The Riverbed Trail is probably the best one if you just want to visit the Lower Waterfall. This waterfall is popular because it is the biggest, has the shortest hike, is free (except parking), and is closer to town. You don’t need a car to get here if you’re staying near downtown Montezuma. Here’s how it works:
From downtown Montezuma, walk or drive about 0.3 miles (0.5 km) south to the small bridge that crosses the Rio Montezuma. Just after the bridge there is a trail and parking area on the right. Parking costs ₡1000 (about $2), otherwise there is no entrance fee. The trail is dirt at first but soon enters the rocky riverbed. During the dry season, there are plenty of different ways to walk along the boulders and rocks or next to them, but when it is rainier and the water levels are higher, the hike can be much more difficult. At a couple of tricky spots, there are ropes along the riverbank to help you pass. Some of the rocks are also very slippery so be sure to bring footwear with good tread that you don’t mind getting wet like Keens or Tevas. After hiking for about 20 minutes, you will reach the Lower Waterfall and pool.
To access the two upper waterfalls from the riverbed, look for a rustic set of stairs about 100 feet (30 meters) before the lower waterfall on your left. This is a steep climb with around 200 stairs and best described as moderate to difficult. After about 20 minutes or so, you’ll reach a small structure at the top. An employee from Sun Trails (the zip-line company that owns the property) may ask for a fee of ₡1000 ($2) per person to keep going (no one was there at the time of our visit in April). After the structure, there are about 80 more steps going down to the river (5-10 minutes). You’ll come out at the Top Waterfall and then can swim to the Middle Waterfall if you want.
Tip: While there is a very rustic and somewhat vertical trail to the right of the Lower Waterfall that also leads to the top, we recommend taking the stairs. The other trail is very extreme and somewhat dangerous.
Canopy Tour Trail
Note: This is the easiest way to access the two upper waterfalls. Getting to the Lower Waterfall from this direction takes more effort because you have to climb down and back up a very steep set of stairs.
The Canopy Tour Trail for accessing the Montezuma Waterfalls requires a car or at least a ride. This way brings you through the property of Sun Trails, over two of their hanging bridges, and then to the Top Waterfall. From there, you can climb on the rocks and then swim across the pool to see the Middle Waterfall. If you want to see the Lower Waterfall from this direction, you will have to make a steep climb (almost 300 steps each way) or access the Lower Waterfall on a separate occasion using the Riverbed Trail.
We did this trail carrying our four-month-old son, but only to the upper falls. We didn’t do the treacherous stairs. This way was better, in our opinion, because we didn’t have to climb on the slippery rocks of the Riverbed Trail with him in the baby carrier. The trek to the two upper falls would also be great for older kids who can do some moderate hiking on their own. Here’s how it works:
To get to the canopy tour company, drive south from downtown Montezuma about 0.4 miles (0.6 km), crossing the bridge, and take a right after Hotel Amor del Mar. Go up the steep hill (4×4 recommended), past the Butterfly Garden until you reach the Sun Trails Canopy/Zip-line on your right. Pay the entrance fee for the self-guided hike ($4/pp) and they will explain about the trail.
This way starts out with a couple of awesome hanging bridges where you can walk along the treetops and look down at the forest. From there, the trail meanders downhill, with some uphill and flat portions, for about 20 minutes before reaching the Top Waterfall. There are lots of rustic steps and tree roots along this trail but it is only a moderate hike. Along the way, we saw a lot of birds like the Turquoise-browed Motmot, Scarlet Tanager, and several Long-tailed Manakins. Sun Trails also has put out some signs that help you learn about the local flora and fauna.
After you have checked out the two upper falls, if you are up for it, you can climb the almost 300 stairs down to the lower waterfall. This is definitely a challenge, especially on the way back, so only do it if you are in pretty good shape.
Other Helpful Information
- Sun Adventures is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. if you want to access the waterfalls via the Canopy Tour Trail. They also offer a zip-line tour that includes time at the waterfalls for $45/pp.
- You can access the falls by the Riverbed Trail at any time; there are no hours.
- Don’t visit the waterfalls too late as it’s no fun trying to get back in the dark. Sunset is around 5:30 every day in Costa Rica.
- Bring plenty of water and snacks for the trail. It can be really hot and you’ll definitely burn some calories on the hike.
- Don’t forget the footwear. We recommend something like Keens or Teva hiking sandals that you can get wet.
- Be careful of high waters and strong currents. River conditions can change quickly because of rain so if you notice a sudden change, it’s best to get out of the water immediately.
- If you are visiting during the rainy season (May through November) and planning to take photos, think about if you want a LifeProof case for your phone or a dry bag to keep things safe and dry. A GoPro or regular waterproof camera (we love our Olympus Tough) is also fun to bring to waterfalls and you don’t have to worry about it getting wet.
- Most importantly, don’t jump from the waterfalls unless you are 100% sure it is safe. Ask a local, follow someone’s lead, or play it safe and don’t jump if you aren’t sure. The bigger hospitals are hours away and getting an injured person out on the rustic trail is no easy feat.
No matter how you access the Montezuma Waterfalls, the experience getting there is very rewarding. The area is beautiful, surrounded by thick jungle and amazing wildlife, and there is nothing like swimming in a refreshing pool after a strenuous hike!
Have you visited the Montezuma Waterfalls? Leave us a comment below with your experience (Email subscribers click here to post your comment online.).
Looking for more info for your trip to the Nicoya Peninsula? Check out these posts:
- Montezuma: A Bohemian Beach Town – Our Guide to the best restaurants, hotels and other activities that you won’t want to miss on your visit to Montezuma.
- Taking the Puntarenas-Paquera Ferry – Going to the Nicoya Peninsula from San Jose or the Central Pacific? Read this post to learn how you can cut off some driving time while you relax on a ferry across the gulf.
- Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve – This was Costa Rica’s first nature reserve and when you visit you will realize why it’s so important. We saw some spectacular wildlife along the moderately difficult trails here and you can swim at the secluded beach too!