Ahh, Costa Rica - no doubt you've already heard about the cloud forests and national parks. People have raved about the wildlife, from sloths to ocelots. Chances are you've listened to stories about hiking up volcanoes. Friends have waxed lyrical about the beaches and surfing. As if Costa Rica (and its travellers!) didn't have enough to boast about, the country is also home to some spectacular waterfalls. Big and imposing, small and serene, ones you can swim under and others with water bluer than the sky, here's our guide to the best waterfalls in Costa Rica.
Rio Celeste Waterfall
This waterfall is named after the river that it flows into, which is known for its incredible bright turquoise-blue colour, enough to conjure magical stories on how it came into being. The Rio Celeste waterfall is located in Tenorio Volcano National Park in the Guanacaste region, and the waterfall is about an hour's hike from the park entrance. As well as the waterfall itself, you'll also find lush tropical rainforest teeming with wildlife, from blue morpho butterflies and dart frogs to all kinds of chattering monkeys. And don't forget the hot springs. Swimming at the base of Rio Celeste waterfall is prohibited (as it is anywhere Tenorio Volcano National Park). The best time to admire it is during dry season, from December to April, as rain can reduce the vibrancy of the blue water.
The vivid blue water at the Rio Celeste waterfall comes from the unique mix of minerals reflecting the sunlight © Dudarev Mikhail/Shutterstock
La Fortuna Waterfall
Located in the famous Arenal Volcano National Park, La Fortuna waterfall is one of the most visited in Costa Rica. Overlooked by Arenal Volcano, the park is an adventurer's paradise and a perfect place to tick off many classic Costa Rican experiences. There are multiple activities you can combine with a visit to La Fortuna waterfall, such as the natural hot springs or the famous hanging bridges (which certainly live up to the nail-biting expectation) or you can get the adrenaline pumping with a morning's zip-lining. Either way, the thundering falls will be a welcome sight: after the short hike, you can cool off with a dip at the base of the waterfall.
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Llanos de Cortez Waterfall
This is definitely one of the best waterfalls in Costa Rica to spend the whole day at, and potentially one of the most beautiful! With a spectacular setting, Llanos de Cortez waterfall (in the Bagaces canton of Guanacaste) has shallow water at the base and a sandy beach so you can bring a picnic, relax in the sun or shade, cool off in the water or climb up the side of the waterfall. There's new development happening in the area as well, making it much more accessible and ideal for a family trip somewhere special with children.
Llanos de Cortez waterfall © William Berry/Shutterstock
Montezuma is a small, charming, low-key bohemian town on the Nicoya Peninsula – a lovely place to visit in Costa Rica in its own right, but made even better because of the three-tiered waterfall nearby. If you want to hike to the top of the falls, take the Sun Trail path (there's a small entrance fee) as it's well maintained. Even so, make sure you bring some non-slip shoes especially if it has been raining. The second waterfall has a swimming hole at the base, and if you dare you can jump off the top. It's a 60 foot drop, so not for the faint of heart!
Catarata de Toro
Catarata de Toro is one of the tallest waterfalls in the country, but that's only one reason it's on our list of the best waterfalls in Costa Rica. Dropping 270 feet into an extinct volcanic crater in Bajos del Toro, this waterfall is one to impress, yet not as popular as Rio Celeste or La Fortuna, so you'll be visiting something still quite under the radar. It's in a private reserve and very well maintained, so your hike to the falls is picturesque with tropical plants and lush scenery at every turn. Once you get to the thundering waterfall you can descend the 200-plus steps to the bottom of the crater. While you can't swim here, you can explore the colourful rocks that line the inside of the crater, and you'll be close enough to feel the spray. There's only one bus per day to the area, so we recommend staying overnight at nearby El Silencio Luxury Lodge.
Catarata del Toro © lvalin/Shutterstock
Located in the South Pacific, only 20 minutes from Dominical, Nauyaca waterfall may not have the impressive drop-offs of La Fortuna or Catarata de Toro, but its layout with the upper and lower cascades make it one of the best waterfalls in Costa Rica. Hidden deep in the jungle, it's not frequently visited and takes a bit of work to get there (a 4km hike each way). The hike is a sweaty one, but it's worth the effort – especially as you can refresh yourself with a dip in the water. There's a cost of about $8 to access the trail, but if you fancy an alternate way to explore the falls, the owners of the property offer horseback-riding tours and truck tours.
It's a long hike to Nauyaca, but a dip in the water makes it all worth it © Wollertz/Shutterstock
La Paz Waterfall
Just an hour and a half outside San Jose, La Paz Waterfall Gardens Nature Park is one of the most accessible places to see a good waterfall in Costa Rica, and ideal after a long flight into the country. The best way to get there is by hire car (you can take a bus and a taxi but it will take you longer). As you might guess from the name, this isn't one specific waterfall but a park that contains five of them, and each are worth the visit (despite the $44 entrance fee). There's La Paz waterfall itself, with its 110-foot drop, as well as Magia Blanca ("White Magic") waterfall, Templo waterfall, Escondida waterfall and Encantada waterfall. There's also an animal sanctuary, walking trails and butterfly garden, so it's a great place to spend the day.