Growing up I would always heed the warning “Don’t go chasing waterfalls.” Sure the cautionary tale came from a TLC song, but it stuck. In Costa Rica I disagree with this conventional pop culture wisdom. Costa Rica is exactly the place to go chasing waterfalls, or cascadas as they are called in Spanish. In fact, below are the best places to chase waterfalls in Costa Rica.
Rio Celeste Waterfall
Probably the most photographed waterfall in Costa Rica is the Rio Celeste Waterfall. It is an impressive turquoise waterfall near La Carolina Lodge. (In Spanish, Celeste means light blue.) Although this waterfall is stunning, and an absolute must see, and the hike to it and hike after it is all amazing, I feel like I should warn people that you aren’t actually allowed to get in the beautiful teal water when you reach this waterfall, as it is not allowed in the National Park. You can access the river outside the park nearby at Piruri Cabinas. They charge around $6. It is about a 2 minute drive from the Rio Celeste Waterfall Parking Lot.
To get to the Rio Celeste Waterfall, map to Rio Celeste Waterfall Parking (at Tenorio Volcano National Park). After you walk the trail to see the waterfall, you can keep hiking a short distance and see other vistas like the Tenorio Volcano on a clear day. This path is uphill, but it is an easy trail. You have to pay to play at this waterfall. It costs around 2,000 colones ($3.50 US) for parking, and around $12 US per adult to get in the park. Children are $5. It is worth every penny.
La Paz Waterfalls
Up in the hills of Alajuela, the La Paz Waterfall Gardens and Peace Lodge are a fantastic stop because you can also pack in viewing the waterfalls, butterfly garden and animal sanctuary all in one beautiful well maintained location. Sure, it is a tourist attraction, but it balances traditional Costa Rican charm while managing the expectations of an international crowd.
The terrain here is very steep, but outfitted with sturdy stairs that are easy to manage, however if you suffer vertigo or have a young child that is afraid of heights, you may want to stay on the main path or just see the top falls instead of going all the way down to the bottom to take the bus back up. And the waterfalls aren’t the only thing that is steep, so is the pricing. But I still highly recommend it. I believe it may be free or discounted for people staying at the Peace Lodge.
The Belén Waterfall is about 25 minutes outside of Nicoya, Guanacaste. It isn’t a giant tall waterfall, but a smaller, wide one that you can get closer to for photos. I recommend this waterfall because it’s easy to get to, is free with free easy parking and the views on the drive down the dirt road to get to it are amazing on a clear sunny day. If you are driving to Nosara from Liberia, this waterfall is on the way.
La Fortuna Waterfall
The Lat Fortuna Waterfall or Catarata La Fortuna is a great stop if you are planning to visit La Fortuna or the nearby Arenal volcano. It is an easy 8 minute drive from the city of La Fortuna, Alajuela. At this waterfall you have to pay an entry fee, but the path is well maintained, and there is a restaurant, bathrooms and orchid garden available. And, the best part, is once you hike the short 15 minute hike to get to the waterfall, you can jump in the frigid water to cool off. The admission cost is $18 for tourists ($9 for Ticos) and children under 8 are free.
Cascada El Pavón
Cascada El Pavón in Puntarenas is a short drive up a dirt road. If you map to it, it is on the left before you get to Rico Tico Safari Lodge. This waterfall is free. You park on the dirt road and it is about a 2 minute walk down a path that dead ends at the waterfall. It is great because it is not as crowded as other waterfalls, probably because it isn’t as well known by tourists. But it has an area where you can get in the water, and my kids enjoyed sliding on the rocks a few meters downstream. Also the rock wedged the middle of the waterfall is stuck, and sometimes after a heavy rain in rainy season, you can’t see this rock at all as the water falls over it.
The closest tourist destination to this waterfall is Ojochal, Uvita or further north is Dominical. On your dirt road drive to this waterfall, stop by and get a smoothie or snacks at the restaurante that claims to have the biggest tree in Costa Rica. Is this true? Who knows, but I watched them pick fresh fruit off a tree to make my smoothie and my kids had fun running around in the garden behind the restaurant, so that’s really all I need to know to give them a thumbs up as a noteworthy stop.
Llanos De Cortez Falls
Llanos de Cortez is an easy to get to waterfall just south of Liberia, Guanacaste. It is about 20 minutes south of the Ponderosa African Safari Adventure Park, and around 25 minutes from downtown Liberia, and about 35 minutes from the Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport (LIR).
Although it’s a close drive to civilization, there isn’t much at the falls other than bathrooms at the parking lot. It has a beach area to hang out, so this is definitely a waterfall you’ll want to take swimsuits, towels, water and sunscreen. Other websites call this the most beautiful waterfall in Costa Rica. …I think those people either had one too many vino de coyol or simply haven’t been to the other waterfalls in Costa Rica. Most beautiful waterfall in Costa Rica might be overselling it, but I would call it the Best Waterfall in Costa Rica to Hang Out All Day, assuming you have provisions. Maybe even give it the title, Closest Waterfall to an International Airport in Costa Rica, or even dub it The Best Waterfall in Costa Rica for Kids to Swim In.
There is a fee for parking at Llanos de Cortez. I believe it is around $2 to $7. Cash only.
The best part about all of the above waterfalls is that they are near travel destinations or other things to do and see in Costa Rica.
*As always, all of my opinions and advice are my own. I am not receiving compensation to promote businesses or attractions.
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