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  • Writer's pictureLisa Cappello

Chasing Waterfalls in Costa Rica

Updated: Sep 10, 2023

Costa Rica receives an average of 100 inches of rain each year, with some areas receiving even more. Welcome to life in the tropics! And all that rain has to go somewhere! Lucky for us, much of it finds its way to some spectacular waterfalls! We want to share some of our favorites with you, because there’s nothing better on a hot day than feeling the spray from a majestic wall of water, or soaking in one of the refreshing pools that form at its foot. While too numerous to list them all, these are some of our favorite waterfalls.

La Fortuna Waterfall

This might be our favorite waterfall! La Fortuna Waterfall is in an area managed by a non-profit organization established in 1969. whose goal is to preserve and benefit the La Fortuna area through infrastructure projects, education, promotion of the local culture, community beautification efforts and more. The biological reserve where the waterfall sits is within a 210 acre area of tropical wet forest and is part of the Arenal Volcano National Park. The falls are 70 meters high and are stunning. There are 530 steps to reach the waterfall, and there are several scenic vantage points where you can sit and rest along the way. You'll want to be sure to take a dip in the cool waters before you begin the walk back up. We promise it's worth it! If you are staying in the Arenal area, we have several Arenal tours that include a waterfall hike. Several of our vacation packages include a volcano hike and a trip to the waterfall with lunch included. Check out our Naturalist Tour, our Ultimate Girl's Trip to Costa Rica, and our Costa Rican Luxury Tour.

El Santuario (Cathedral) Waterfall

Located in Upala, on the northern slopes of the famous Rincon de la Vieja volcano, El Santuario will take your breath away. A 20 minute walk will take you to the volcanic cave that is home to one of Costa Rica’s most beloved waterfalls, and until recently, one of its best-kept secrets. All the majesty and mystery can be felt once you enter the cave. The waterfall is around 25 meters (82 feet) high. The water’s astounding turquoise color comes from sunlight which refracts off the volcanic minerals suspended in the water. Wading and swimming are possible during much of the year. You will want your camera or phone with you for some epic photos. Anyone with a moderate fitness level can complete a guided hike to and from the waterfall. It makes a great day trip from many of Guanacaste’s beach towns. Because of the remote location, a tour is the best way to enjoy this hidden treasure. Click here for a day trip option that includes El Santuario, a delicious lunch and a visit to Kiwanda Maji, a sustainable farm with a magical blue mineral-enhanced lake.

Viento Fresco Waterfalls

Viento Fresco waterfalls are located about 7 miles from Tilaran, roughly halfway between two popular destinations – La Fortuna and Monteverde. If you are visiting either of these locations, it’s worth considering a side trip to Viento Fresco. The road conditions in this area can change throughout the year. We always recommend a 4x4 car if you are renting and want to explore. Viento Fresco translates roughly as “Fresh Breeze,” and is made up of four waterfalls! Sturdy shoes are needed if you wish to visit all four, as you will need to navigate 400+ steps which consist of both paths and stairs. Fortunately the first waterfall is located just 100m from the parking area. The falls range in height from 66 to 312 feet. Depending on your interest, fitness level, and amount of time you have to spend, you can choose how many falls to visit. Each of them have their own unique character, from the Serena River Falls, to the Hidden Waterfall with a massive boulder sitting atop it, to the Rainbow Waterfall, with the tallest single drop of 247 feet, and finally El Tobogán (The Slide), where the water literally slides off the mountain and tumbles down 312 feet. Bring your bathing suit, but you may be surprised at just how refreshing and cool the “fresh breezes” are, even without getting wet. Click here for a day trip option from Guanacaste beach towns that combines a visit to the Monteverde Cloud Forest with a side trip to Viento Fresco Waterfalls.

La Paz Waterfall Gardens Nature Park

La Paz Waterfall Gardens Nature Park is a bucket list adventure. Its reputation as the most visited ecological attraction in Costa Rica makes it worth considering when planning what to do on your Costa Rican adventure. About an hour from San Jose, the park boasts the largest animal sanctuary in the country, making it a fabulous place to see sloths, monkeys, various elusive jungle cats, birds, and reptiles. They also have a magical butterfly observatory. But back to waterfalls! The park is located in a mixed mountain rain and cloud forest, and features well maintained hiking trails. A trail map will guide you to four of the waterfalls - Escondida, Encantata, Magia Blanca, and Templo. To view the fifth, La Paz, the most famous of the five, you can catch a quick shuttle bus. La Paz is also visible from the main road, making it a popular photo stop. The park offers something for everyone, and is also home to one of Costa Rica’s top rated hotels, The Peace Lodge. Wedding packages are available if your dream wedding includes waterfalls, butterflies and sloths - and whose doesn’t to be honest? One of our vacation packages, our Naturalist Tour, features a visit to La Paz, and also La Fortuna Waterfall. Check out the itinerary here.

Rio Celeste

The turquoise waters of the Rio Celeste waterfall are the result of minerals from the Tenorio volcano that refract light and create a magical experience. On days when the weather doesn't cooperate, or after heavy rains, the water isn't always turquoise, but it is always magnificent. Located in the lowland area of Guanacaste, it is popular with travelers staying in the beach towns of Guanacaste. To visit the waterfall, you will hike a fairly strenuous 3.5 miles in and out. This includes descending 250 paved stairs. The climb back up can be challenging, but we recommend you take frequent breaks to enjoy the scenery. We offer a tour that includes both Rio Celeste and Llanos de Cortes, for a waterfall-filled day! Learn more here.

LLanos de Cortes

The Llanos del Cortes Waterfall is about a half hour drive south of Liberia, making it an approximately 1.5 to two-hour drive from many of the beach towns in Guanacaste. When you arrive, it is just a five-minute walk from the parking lot, making it accessible to people of all fitness levels. The road is also usually in pretty good shape, without a lot of hilly terrain and can be accessed without a 4x4 car, and it is only a 10 minute drive once you get off the Pan-American Highway. These features, along with the absolutely beautiful and refreshing falls - with a nice area for swimming that also has lifeguards - make a trip to LLanos del Cortes truly enjoyable. These falls have gained in popularity in recent years, so if traveling there on your own, bear in mind the following things so you can enjoy the falls without a crowd. Arrive early! The falls open at 8:00a.m. Weekdays are best, especially midweek, and Saturdays are better than Sundays if you go on a weekend. Avoid holidays, especially Costa Rican ones! These include Christmas and New Year’s weeks, Semana Santa (Easter), Costa Rican Independence Day (September 15th weekend), and the “Winter Break” for schools in Costa Rica, which is the first two weeks of July. For a fun day trip, check out our Rio Celeste, Llanos de Cortes, and Sloth Tour. You'll visit two waterfalls and an animal sanctuary for a memorable day.

For information about all of our services, visit our home page. And if you want to build a vacation around waterfalls, we can do that (and what a great vacation idea)! Just complete our custom itinerary form and we'll get to work!


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