Visiting the Beautiful Nauyaca Waterfalls

Costa Rica has plenty of stunning waterfalls but probably the most spectacular, in our eyes, are the Nauyaca located in the mountains of the southern zone. With two sets of falls measuring a combined 61 meters (200 feet) tall and a large natural pool for swimming, the Nauyaca waterfalls are indeed a sight to see.

Although the Nauyaca waterfalls are a popular destination in Costa Rica, we were surprised to discover when planning our visit that there isn’t much information about how to access them on foot. This post will provide everything you need to plan your visit.

 

Nauyaca Waterfalls Picture

Location

The Nauyaca waterfalls lie deep in the tropical rainforest in southern Costa Rica. Despite the remote location, the trailhead is located just 20 minutes from Dominical and is surprisingly easy to get to. If you’re visiting the popular destinations of Manuel Antonio or Uvita or Dominical in the Costa Ballena, you can definitely visit the Nauyaca on a day trip. 

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Getting There

Many people choose to arrive via horseback tour but if you’re up for a little hiking, the falls also can be accessed on foot. Either way, the starting point is the office of Don Lulo, the company that owns the property and offers the horseback tour. 

To get to Don Lulo’s office, take Route 243 off the Costanera highway towards San Isidro del General. In about 10 kilometers (6 miles) just before the town of Platanillo, the small Don Lulo office will be on the right. If you’re hiking, you’ll need to stop here to buy your ticket to the falls ($8). To get to the trailhead, take the first road on the right after Don Lulo. The road turns to dirt here and is very steep in places so you’ll need four-wheel drive. The trailhead is about 2 kilometers (1.25 miles) from the main road and there is a parking area where the horseback tour starts.

The Trail

The horseback tour and hike use the same well-maintained trail, first following beside the beautiful Baru River and then ascending a steep hill. If you keep an eye out, you might even see some wildlife, like monkeys or birds. We were fortunate on our visit to spot a Great Currasow, a large, turkey-like bird found only in the tropics, and tons of different hummingbird species.

 

Hummingbird, Nauyaca Waterfall, Costa Rica Picture

 

From the trailhead, the hike is 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) in each direction (about 1-1.5 hrs. each way). The trail is very easy in places, following a rough dirt road, and moderately difficult in others, with a few steep, rocky areas near the falls. It isn’t too difficult or long though and would be fine for children. Just be sure to pack plenty of water as the trail is directly in the sun in many places and temps can get quite hot.

The Reward: The Waterfalls

Once you reach the falls, you’ll be happy you made the trek. The Nauyaca sits in a wide canyon that is covered in lush greenery, made even greener from the constant mist of the cascading water. There are both upper and lower falls with steps leading to both but you’ll definitely want to check out the lower ones first. From below this 18 meter (60 foot) cascade you’ll have the best view of both the impressive waterfall in front of you and the lofty ones above. The lower falls are also where you can take a swim to cool off. There’s a huge pool of blue water with plenty of room for everyone to have their space and relax. If you need to change into a swimsuit, facilities are available right before the steps down to the falls. Tip: The rocks around the lower falls can be slippery so bring some good gripping water shoes if you have them.

After you visit the lower falls, be sure to check out the upper falls which have an impressive 43 meter (140 foot) cliff with several more cascades. Here there are some large, smooth rocks that make for a good spot for picnicking.

 

Nauyaca Waterfalls Photo

 

The Nauyaca waterfalls are definitely an impressive natural attraction that shouldn’t be missed. Their close proximity to popular tourist destinations along Costa Rica’s Pacific coast make them an easy-to-access activity for those looking for some off-the-beaten path adventure. For us, sitting in the cool pools after an invigorating hike really is the perfect meddling of adventure and relaxation. After all, isn’t that what Costa Rica is all about?

Post by: Jennifer Turnbull-Houde & Matthew Houde

 

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69 Comments

  1. This looks like the hike we tried and will be the one we want. Again, do you think sneakers would suffice? We plan to being more of our personal stuff later and I would hate to have to go out buying expensive hiking boots here. About how long was the hike to the falls? I can hike forever but my friend has some minor back issues.

    1. Hi Cheryl,
      The trail has some slick clay spots during the first half (mostly during the rainy season) and then a steep hill to climb which is more like a gravel road. The decent down to the falls from the top of the hill is steep too but they have some steps to use. Sneakers would probably work but take your time and be careful. The hike is about an hour or so each way.

      1. We are staying in Manuel Antonio Area in June 2016, can you tell me if we can get to these waterfalls by public transportation?

  2. Hello, should we reserve ahead (coming this weekend), and is this an area where we need the heavy duty bug repellant? Thank you

    1. Hi Ty, If you’re doing the horseback tour, definitely reserve in advance as it’s the high season. But if you’re just hiking on your own, you can show up and pay for admission same day. I don’t remember it being too buggy but it’s always a good idea to bring some repellent just in case.

    1. Hi Jacques, yes, there is a bus that runs from Dominical to San Isidro del General a few times a day. Just ask the driver to let you off at Don Lulo/Nauyaca Waterfalls. Best to stop by the Dominical Info Center or ask at your hotel for bus times when you get here. The way back will be harder because you’ll have to time it right to catch the bus coming back from San Isidro. The folks at Don Lulo can probably tell you around when it passes through though. Have fun!

      1. Thanks so much for your very helpful information! We followed your suggestions about taking the bus and made it to the falls yesterday. Beautiful place!

        1. Hi! We are staying at Cool Vibes Hostel and will be looking to take the bus and hike. Do you know how much the bus trip costs round trip for two people?

  3. Thanks for the post! We really enjoyed the hike over the expensive horses 🙂 we had the place to ourselves for about 45 minutes and it was blissful

  4. We will be traveling to Dominical for the first time in early August and would like to hike the trail. We have 3 teenagers (18, 17, 13) and prefer hiking to horseback. What can we expect as far as seasonal concerns? How far of a drive from town are the waterfalls? And do you happen to know the approximate cost of admission? We have a week and want to use our time for as much adventure as possible. Thank you!!
    mary

    1. Hi Mary, the Don Lulo office where you buy the tickets is about 20 min. from Dominical. There are a bunch of signs now for it so you can’t miss it. In early August, we tend to get a lot of afternoon showers so the earlier in the day you get there, the better. Parts of the trail are clay and can get deep ruts when it’s wet so make sure to wear shoes you don’t mind getting dirty. It’s $8 per per person. Have a great time- it’s well worth it!

  5. The waterfalls look so beautiful and relatively easy to get to! I was wondering how long the trail is open during the day?

    1. Hi Hannah, Not sure of the exact time, but we know the Don Lulo office is open until at least early afternoon because they have tours running. You’d definitely want to get to there by then anyway to buy your tickets so that you have time for the hike and to enjoy the waterfalls without hiking back in the dark. It gets dark here around 5:30.

  6. Hi Jenn & Matt,

    I wanted to thank you guys for this awesome blog! It’s helped me plan the itinerary for my trip to Costa Rica in August.

    I’m going to be staying right next to Manuel Antonio, but we didn’t rent a car.

    Is there a bus we can take from Manuel Antonio or should we take a taxi?

    Thanks!

    1. Hi Betty, A taxi would be fairly expensive since it’s about a 45 min. ride. There is a bus that goes from Quepos (next to Manuel Antonio) to San Isidro del General a few times a day. Just ask the driver to let you off at Don Lulo/Nauyaca Waterfalls. You can use this website to look up bus times: http://thebusschedule.com/cr/index.php. The trip will take around 2 hrs. Depending on how big your group is, it might make sense to rent a car for a day because it will be much faster/easier. We get a discount through Adobe Rent a Car in Quepos. A 4×4 (necessary to reach trailhead) is around $50-60/day, depending on when you’re visiting. There’s more info on our site here or just let me know if you’d like me to get you a quote.

  7. Hello! My boyfriend and I have really enjoyed reading up on your blog as we are hoping to travel to Costa Rica next January. Do you by chance know how old you have to be to rent a car in Costa Rica? Thanks!

    1. Hi Joan, The minimum age varies by company. Usually they have the info on their website. In general, the minimum is 21. The company that we usually recommend and get a discount through, Adobe, is 23. If you’re younger than that, I think Poas Rent a Car lets you if you’re 18 or older by paying an additional $8/day fee. Hope that helps. Have a great trip!

      1. My family and I are staying in Manuel Antonio. We plan to go to the Falls in a rental car. But would you happen to know who rents scooters and what the minimum age is to rent them?

        1. Hi Jim,
          There may be others but the only company we know of in Manuel Antonio/Quepos that rents scooters is Hertz. Their minimum age is 25 but you can pay an additional daily fee for drivers 21 and older.

  8. Hello! Lovely article.. We are going to rent a car and drive ourselves to the waterfalls, but I was wondering if there was parking near the main entrance prior to the steep drive down to where the trail begins? I read somewhere that we can actually walk it if we don’t have a 4×4. We would much rather walk down than do it with the car.. but need to make sure there is a place to park the car! Any suggestions?

    1. Hi Jen, You can park at the Don Lulo office where you buy your tickets right on the main road. They have a little parking right out front and we’ve seen people park on the other side of the road too. It is a long hike to get to where the trail starts from the road and can make for a lot of walking when combined with the regular hike so keep that in mind.

  9. We would love to stop here since we are going right past it. We have a rental car and we will have all our gear and stuff with us. Is it a safe area? Or should we worry about keeping all our stuff in the car?

    1. Hi Lori, It is a safe area but you never know. We always advise against leaving things in sight in a rental car. What you could do is ask whoever is in the office at the Nauyaca if they’ll keep your bags behind the desk. You can pay them a little to do it. Usually the locals are really chill and try to make things work so we think they will probably go for it. Make sure to take out your valuables and passport so that they’re on you.

  10. Hi!

    Thank you for this post, it is really helpful! I would like to do the hike tomorrow and was wondering how long the walk from the road to the trailhead will take before the actual hike starts.

    Thank you in advance!

    1. Hi Britt, We might be too late since you said you were going the other day, but it’s about 2 km (1.25 miles) from the main road to the trail head. It’s a pretty steep road and is sunny in spots so make sure to bring plenty of water. We also heard that they started offering a service where they will bring you down to the falls in a truck. It’s a lot cheaper than the horse tour if you don’t want to hike the whole way.

      1. Thank you, really helpful again! Luckily still on time, because I’d decided to do whale watching this weekend and the waterfalls next weekend 🙂 Someone also told me that it’s easy to hitchhike to the trail head, so maybe I’ll try that as well. Thank you for the quick response though! Pura Vida!

  11. Great Blog. I am meeting another family in San Jose over Thanksgiving. We are planning to rent a car – a van that seats 9 persons and driving to Manuel Antonio. I have seen many posts that say we will need a 4×4 but I don’t want to rent 2 of them for all of us to get around.

    Is the 4×4 just a general guideline? If we go the VAN route, are there good parking places at or near the Don Lulo office so we can walk in to the trailhead? I am normally quite good at navigating rough terrain. But, maybe the rental agreement don’t even allow you to drive on non-paved roads. Do you know?
    Thanks a ton!

    1. Hi Brent, You don’t need 4×4 everywhere in the country. It really depends on where you’re visiting. We have some general info on areas where you need it in the FAQs section of our rental car page. If you know exactly where you’re going, you could also read our post on Road Conditions on Different Routes. If you’re staying near the Nauyaca, many of the vacation rentals and some hotels are located in the hills and 4×4 only. But not all are.

      There is limited parking right out front of the Don Lulo office. If you get there early, you can probably snag a spot. From there you can walk to the trailhead or we heard that Don Lulo is offering a new service where they take you in a truck to the falls.

      Insurance varies and depends on the company you go with and if you are planning to use your credit card for coverage. Be sure to talk to the rental company about what is covered and your credit card company if you plan to rely on that (we have heard that some exclude dirt roads and other things). Most companies offer a full coverage option that many people opt to get.

  12. We will be staying in Uvita in March, and would love to fish one day with a local, any referral would be appreciated. We are not interested in bill fish, but would like grouper, dorado, tuna, wahoo etc.

  13. Hello, I’m wondering if the falls are full of water for swimming in April- isn’t that the end of the dry season? Would it be a waste to plan on visiting these falls at that time? Thanks!

  14. Hi, my brother and I will be in Dominical next week and were wondering if the Don Lulo entrance was accessible via taxi or a local bus, rather than an actual tour? Thanks!

    1. Hi Natalia, Yes, you can have the bus drop you off at Don Lulo’s office on the main road. Read our response to Jacques who asked this on February 11, 2015. From the office, it’s a decent walk to the trailhead (about 1 mile and is hilly). A taxi could take you all the way there. It’s about 20-25 min from Dominical so would be a little expensive, maybe around $25 each way.

  15. We were at the falls on May 13, 2017 and they are magical. We rented a big van that fit 8 of us comfortably (drove from Manuel Antonio on great roads all the way), and it was able to drive down the steepish dirt road from the main ticket office to the trail head. It would be better in a 4-wheel drive, but our rental van made it.

    The hike up to the falls was a bit steep but fine for the fairly fit, even though we had to boulder hop some wet spots due to recent hard rains. The falls were roaring due to the rains though, so we couldn’t safely swim in the pools. Your photos above are mere trickles compared to my experience. It was so beautiful, like being in a magical land of constant mist and green and falling water. So it was a much more powerful experience than I had expected, but that just made it so much more special.

    Highly recommended. Thanks for your great blog. Your writing convinced me to go when I was leaning towards skipping this magical, unspoiled, and beautifully raw but quite accessible spectacle.

    Pura Vida!
    Tom

    1. Hi Tom, Thanks for the beautiful account of your visit. The falls are a lot different after a big rainstorm. That’s too bad that you couldn’t swim, but glad you still really enjoyed it. We have been several times now, and every time, we still find it to be magical place. Pura vida!

  16. We want to take our family to Costa Rica over thanksgiving. Is there a better part of the island for sun during this time of November?

  17. Hello, I will be hiking to Nauyaca Falls in Jan., 2018. Is there a safe spot to leave my backpack with my camera, etc. when I swim? Thanks for your blogs, they are the most informative I’ve found.

    1. Hi Mark, Most people leave their bag in a spot on the rocks where they can watch it while they’re swimming. There is no secure spot so it’s the honor system but everyone has to do it and we have never heard of any problems. Just don’t flash your camera around before leaving it there, maybe save the photos for after you swim. And try to leave as much back at your hotel as you can.

  18. Hi, i’m going to Costa Rica in February and i was wondering if the horseback riding would be a problem for young children (4 and 6) ?

    Thanks

    1. Hi Yannick, The horses are quite tame and very well-trained. Your 6 year old would be fine and we think the 4 year old too, if they would be comfortable riding a horse. You could also take him or her on the horse with you. Let us know if you need any help making the arrangements. We work with this tour operator and could ask what they think about your youngest going alone. We don’t charge anything extra for our booking service. Email us at bookings(at)twoweeksincostarica(dot)com with your preferred date and we can help.

  19. My wife and girls ages 7 and 9 did the hike in and it was super easy. The cost was $35 including parking and it was really easy to find the office, buy tickets and drive to the trail head as described. We stopped off at the fruit stands just before the ticket booth and had the most incredible mangos. MM MM good. The hike is moderate, and about half way up is a resto you can buy some powerade. They have a ton of monkeys that were being fed, and so that was cool to see also.
    We got to the falls towards 11 ish in the morning, and the timing was good, as the “main” larger group who took horseback were thinning out, and so we then had the place to ourselves almost. You can only jump if you do the tour – their guides put up a rope and supervise, then take the rope down when they leave. We weren’t disappointed. It was still very beautiful, fun to hike up, and great to swim in the hole.
    A definite highlight of our trip. (Ok, we stopped for more mangos on the way out too – you got me).

  20. Hello
    We are a family with young kids and headed to Uvita. There were reports on TripAdvisor of men with machetes mugging tourist on the waterfall trails and general warnings over being robbed.
    Please you you provide some color?
    Thank you

    1. Hi Natasha, There were some reports of robberies on the road to the Uvita Waterfall (off Highway 34 in Uvita), but we have not heard about anything near the Nauyaca, which is in a completely different area in the mountains near Dominical. We also heard that the guys who were doing the Uvita robberies have since been apprehended by the police so hopefully there will be no more problems.

      1. That’s so good to hear as I really wanted to do this and had originally allowed four days in the area but have shortened to two because I became nervous after being warned by this story and others. (gave us two extra days down in the Osa penisular though so not end of world!) Glad to hear it wasn’t here and glad to hear they have been caught!
        Thank you Jenn and Matt for such a great website,it has been so useful and helpful for planning our 3 week trip in January. I have booked a few accommodations from your links/recommendations and once I have decided on car hire or whether we need a combination of both (as 3 weeks 4WD is getting expensive!) will be in touch for some tour/trip bookings for while we are there!

  21. Just did the hike to Nauyaca Falls, I saw all sorts of wildlife, Great Curassow, agouti, white faced monkeys, several basilisk lizards, frogs, toads and what appeared to be anoles. I hike all the time and I am glad the lady at the front desk talked me into driving down to the parking lot. I would have hated to have had made that climb from the parking lot back to main rd. 243. You don’t really need 4 wheel drive. I had 4 wheel drive and didn’t use it. I find the off road driving much smoother without 4 wheel drive. I dig that the falls are family owned and have not been commercialized like so many other places. It rained on the way back but was still comfortable. I would recommend decent hiking shoes.

    1. Hi Randy, Thanks for the trip report. Glad you had a good time and cool that you saw a lot of wildlife. Yes, during certain times of year, you don’t need a 4×4 for the drive from Route 243 to the trail head/parking area. But we live not far from the Nauyaca, and road conditions can change suddenly with a big rainstorm. We recommend 4×4 for the rainy season (May to November), but people with a non-4×4 can always ask at the office how the road is to see if they could make it in a regular car. Pura vida!

  22. Hi! I am planning a trip to the falls in July of this year, I am wondering what the weather will be like- and what our likelyhood of being able to swim in the falls will be?
    Thank you!

    1. Hi Kaylee, It really depends on how much rain we’ve gotten right before you get here. Early July is usually drier but later in the month, it can get rainy again. In general, July isn’t crazy rainy, though. September and October are the peak of rainy season.

  23. Hi Jenna,
    do you know if there are shuttles from Uvita or Dominical to the waterfalls of Nauyaca? If so do you have the website so I can ceck the time?
    Thanks a lot,
    Noemi

    1. Hi Noemi, There are no shuttles from Uvita/Dominical to the Nauyaca, but there is a local bus that passes by periodically. You could at least take that on the way there, then take a taxi back after (catching the bus at the right time can be tough since it doesn’t run that often). Here’s a link with a bus schedule- double check with your hotel that the times are still accurate. You would want either the bus from Uvita/Dominical to San Isidro de El General. Keep in mind that you’ll have to hike down to the trail from the main road (2 km) or you could try and catch a ride with someone.

  24. I visited the Nauyaca Falls with my teenage son and daughter last week and found the falls to be visually stunning and the pool of water extremely refreshing after the 2.5 mile uphill hike to the falls. While the trail is not difficult from a technical standpoint, it is an almost constant uphill grade from the parking lot to the falls. The good news is the return hike is much less strenuous due to being mostly downhill. Nauyaca Falls was my favorite experience during our week in Costa Rica. A definite must see if you are in the area!

  25. I’m going to hike/ride to the falls at the end of May. What type of clothes do people usually wear -long pants to keep the bugs and rain off them or shorts with bug spray? Not sure what type of weather to expect within the forest. Also, would the cheap rain/water boots have enough traction, or should we just get our hiking boots wet and muddy? thanks!

    1. Hi Jules, It shouldn’t be too rainy at the end of May. You could either wear lightweight hiking pants or shorts with insect repellent. If it’s hot, shorts might be better. It’s not super deep in the forest for the hike to the Nauyaca. We always wear hiking boots for comfort but some people prefer rain boots. Here’s a link to our packing post with specific recommendations for clothing and gear.

  26. Thank you for the wonderful information. We are coming from Boston in a couple weeks and staying near Manuel Antonio and hoping to drive and hike to the falls. Is there anything else you would recommend seeing/doing along the drive? Also, my son loves cliff jumping. We prefer not to do a tour, but read that we may need to in order to jump, is that true? Thanks!!

    1. Hi Karen, There are some small beaches to check out on the way to the Nauyaca (our favorite is Playa Linda – unmarked, between Matapalo and Hatillo, look for the dirt road where there are 2 cell phone towers) if you have some time or you could go to the Whale Tail in Uvita after if the timing with the tide is right. Honestly, the cliff jumping looks really dangerous to us, whenever we’ve seen someone do it. You have to free climb up the wet, slippery rocks and there’s no defined path. If you go with a tour, the guides will sometimes have a rope to help, though.

      1. Thank you so much! Keeping my boys from climbing the falls may be impossible, so may need to avoid it all together or go with the tour. I was looking at the whale tail just yesterday, so glad you mentioned it as well.

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