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Top 12 Waterfalls to Visit in Costa Rica

la fortuna waterfall
View from the Foot of the La Fortuna Waterfall.

Costa Rica’s winding rivers, volcanic tendencies and diverse topography conspired to offer some of the most beautiful waterfalls in the world. Dotting a landmass the size of West Virginia, no matter how remote these moving water sculptures may be, they are still accessible given a bit of determination.

In my short-lived career as a waterfall hunter here in Costa Rica, I have uncovered some of the more remote cascades, while the rest of my list was completed with the help of some well-traveled friends. Without further ado, its time to indulge in this refreshing baker’s dozen of the best waterfalls in Costa Rica, in no particular order:

1. Llanos del Cortez – Set just several kilometers after the turn off for Bagaces along the Pan-American Highway in Guanacaste, the Llanos del Cortez waterfall offers a great day trip with falls as wide as they are tall and a great swimming hole.

2. The La Fortuna waterfall is a favorite of many because it is well known and accessible when traveling to the Arenal Volcano. To get there, I recommend taking a phenomenal horse ride to the top and then climb down about 800 stairs to the actual waterfall. You can still swim at the foot of the falls, though due to its force, there are warning signs advising otherwise.

3. A challenging rafting trip down the Rio Pacuare (the class III-IV section) will take you past a towering thin waterfall that is so beautiful you’d think it could only exist in the wonderful world of Disney. The falls are one the reasons why the Pacuare is one of the top 5 most scenic river rafting trips in the world!

4. Coming upon the waterfalls in Corcovado National park is one of the more rewarding waterfall experiences as the park is so hot and humid, by the time you reach this point you’ll be ready to dive right in. Beware the caimans however! The falls are well shaded and pop up around a bend along the half-day trail section of the park.

5. There are two main waterfalls in Montezuma worth noting. The most commonly visited falls, aptly named the Montezuma Falls, are a quick 20 minute walk up the river past the Hotel Amor de Mar. There is a small parking area and a marked trail head to reach the falls, though the rest of the trail is simply defined by going up river, so be careful in the rainy season, you will get wet and muddy. You will come upon a high narrow falls with a cool watering hole perfect for taking a dip. Come in the early morning if you hope to enjoy the area to yourself! To reach the higher section of the falls, follow the narrow trail up the cliff to your right. A rope is available to help you as the trail descends to two other falls with the furthest falls offering a rope swing.

6. Cocolito Falls are Montezuma’s hidden treasure, well worth the two hour hike from town to enjoy them. The falls drop from a cliff directly onto the beach in a perfect little white sand cove. To get there, walk along the beach, north from Montezuma with the national park on your left for the duration of your journey. You’ll know when you get there.

7. For a tamer journey to a truly tropical setting, you might want to try lounging in the manmade falls at the Tabacon hot springs in the town of Arenal. Naturally heated by the energy of the active Arenal volcanoes, the dual thermal rivers intertwine throughout the Tabacon property where they converge into pools of varying temperatures and settings. You are sure to find your own special spot in this expansive property and it’s not hard too overlook the fact that the rivers follow a manmade route as the landscaping is something right out of Jurassic park with the beautiful volcano as a brilliant backdrop.

8. A family friendly day trip to Catarata Las Musas in San Ramon is a well known journey for many Ticos. It is still a favorite of many in the area and very close to town. Picnic areas, changing rooms and a restaurant have been built up in the region that is known as a natural water park. Come during the week and you won’t see much of a crowd.

9. Another locally known swimming hole in Grecia is popular thanks to the Los Chorros falls. Though difficult to reach by bus, the area around the falls has been turned into a little park with an entrance fee, changing rooms, picnic areas and even a hotel should you decide you never want to leave!

10. The San Luis waterfall is located just outside the Monteverde Cloud Forest reserve and enjoys the same misty climate, adding a degree of mystery to your visit. As you near the Cloud Forest reserve, bare right at a fork in the road and continue on for another 7 kilometers to reach the falls, which are just a short walk from a parking area.

11. The La Paz Waterfalls, near the Poas volcanoes, were some of the most spectacular in the country before a Jan. 8 earthquake devastated the area around Cinchona earlier this year. Eight months later, the reconstruction of roads in the area and the famous La Paz Waterfall gardens are just about finished, resurrecting the area to its original glory, with a few changes. While you can no longer drive past the main waterfall, there is car access to a look out area where visitors can witness its beauty. The 5-star Waterfall Gardens Hotel property has been under restoration since the disaster and is now  open to receive visitors once again.

12. The Rio Celeste falls are one of the most picturesque points in Costa Rica. This natural thermal river runs through the Tenorio National Park in Guanacaste and has a vibrant turquoise glow to it thanks to the natural minerals found in the water. The 30 meter high falls can be reached by hiking along the river or on horseback and are never very crowded – one of the perks of being ‘off the beaten trail’.

*If you have suggestions for great waterfalls I’ve left out, please add them in the comments section below!

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Written by Claire Saylor

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