The best waterfalls in Costa Rica

Kirsten Powley

written by
Kirsten Powley

updated 06.12.2022

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. 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.

The information in this article is inspired by The Rough Guide to Costa Rica, your essential guide for visiting Costa Rica.

1. Rio Celeste Waterfall — for a bright turquoise fall

This Costa Rica waterfall is named after the river that it flows into, which is known for its incredibly 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.

    Where to stay:

  • Rio Celeste Hideaway - Within walking distance of the national park entrance, this striking property has elegant earth-toned casitas (sleeping up to four), each adorned with handsome dark-wood furnishings and four-poster beds, facing either the garden or the forest. Amenities include outdoor showers, TVs and private terraces. There’s also a pretty pool with its own wet bar, as well as a classy restaurant.
  • Tenorio Lodge. Featuring 2 hot tubs and free parking, Tenorio Lodge is located between the Tenorio and Miravalles volcanoes and only 12 km away from the Tenorio Volcano National Park and Rio Celeste River.
Waterfall and natural pool with turquoise water of Rio Celeste, Costa Rica © Shutterstock

The vivid blue water at the Rio Celeste waterfall comes from the unique mix of minerals reflecting the sunlight © Dudarev Mikhail/Shutterstock

Explore Costa Rica and its compact jungle, tropical beaches, forests, wildlife and national parks with our tailor-made Costa Rica Eco Adventure. The country may be small but it’s a land of stunning natural diversity and the perfect backdrop to a veritable eco-adventure.

2. La Fortuna Waterfall — of Arenal National Park

Located in the famous Arenal Volcano National Park, La Fortuna is one of the most visited waterfalls 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.

    Where to stay:

  • Nayara Springs - Attached to Nayara Resort, Spa & Gardens by a bridge through the rainforest, this stunning, adults-only resort is quite simply one of the most memorable places to stay in Central America. Its vast, secluded villas (sleeping up to two) feature four-poster beds, indoor and outdoor “rain” showers, and their own private plunge pools fed by natural springs.
  • Arenal Waterfall Lodge. Located 5 minutes’ walk from La Fortuna waterfalls and 6 km from La Fortuna Main Square, this eco-friendly hotel features a swimming pool, a garden, massages service and free Wi-Fi throughout.

    What to do:

  • Hike the lava fields and take a (very) refreshing dip in the pool of the Fortuna Waterfall on this day tour from La Fortuna.

La Fortuna waterfall Arenal volcano, Costa Rica © Shutterstock

3. Llanos de Cortez Waterfall — to spend the whole day

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.

    Where to stay:

  • Malekus Mountain Lodge. Located in Aguas Claras, 10 km from Miravalles Volcano, Malekus Mountain Lodge provides accommodation with a bar, free private parking, a shared lounge and a garden. Featuring family rooms, this property also provides guests with a barbecue. The accommodation offers a shared kitchen, an ATM and organising tours for guests.
  • Cataratas Bijagua Lodge. This lodge is surrounded by a natural trail that leads to Miravalles Volcano and Bijagua River. It arranges horse-riding, fishing and bird-wathing activities, as well as shuttle services. Internet is free in public areas.

Llanos de Cortez waterfall - one of the best waterfalls in Costa Rica © William Berry/Shutterstock

4. Montezuma Waterfall — one of the best waterfalls in Costa Rica

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!

    Where to stay:

  • Luminosa Montezuma Hostel. Luminosa Montezuma Hostel is located in Montezuma. Downtown is a 10-minute walk away, while Moctezuma Waterfall can be reached in a 2-minute walk. Proyecto Montezuma is a TEFL, Surf and Spanish School.
  • Hotel Nya is a design hotel encased in a tropical garden that merges into the jungle of Montezuma. With quirky and calming designs by young central American architects, Nya wishes to complement, rather than compete, with the exuberant beauty of Costa Rica's nature, hoping that our clients get to enjoy at its most what nature has to offer in our setting.
Montezuma waterfall in Costa Rica © Shutterstock

Montezuma waterfall in Costa Rica © Shutterstock

5. Catarata de Toro — one of Costa Rica's tallest

Catarata de Toro is one of the tallest of the Costa Rica waterfalls, 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. Note that there's only one bus per day to the area.

    Where to stay:

  • El Silencio Lodge & Spa. Set in Costa Rica’s Central Volcanic Valley, El Silencio Lodge & Spa features 500 acres of private tropical forest reserve. It offers a spa and stylish Suites with stunning mountain views.
  • Altura Hotel. Offering a beautiful mountain setting just 2 km from Poás Volcano National Park, Altura Hotel features rooms with views of Costa Rica’s Central Valley. This charming hotel is set in attractive grounds with gazebos and walking paths.

Catarata del Toro © lvalin/Shutterstock

From paradise beaches, scenic narrow waterways and magical rainforests, Costa Rica has much to offer. Head east and discover the tranquil Caribbean Sea, head west for the tumultuous Pacific Ocean and surfer’s paradise with our tailor-made tour to Costa Rica from coast to coast.

6. Nauyaca Waterfall — hidden deep in the jungle

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.

Looking for more challenging trails? Explore our guide to the best hikes in Costa Rica.

    Where to stay:

  • Hotel Villas Rio Mar. A quality restaurant, spacious tropical gardens and an outdoor pool are available at Hotel Villas Río Mar, situated amidst a tropical garden, right on the banks of River Baru. It is also walking distance from the the Village of Dominical, which is 900 m away.
  • Paradiselodge Temple. Boasting garden views, Paradiselodge Temple offers accommodation with a terrace and a kettle, around 700 m from Nauyaca Waterfalls. Guests staying at this lodge have access to free WiFi, a fully equipped kitchen, and a patio.

    What to do:

  • Travel to Nauyaca Waterfall from Manuel Antonio with this group tour. Hike through the forest and go up to the top of the waterfall. Stop for a delicious lunch.
Nauyaca waterfalls with a deep swimming hole and large rocks in the south pacific of Costa Rica Shutterstock

It's a long hike to Nauyaca, but a dip in the water makes it all worth it © Wollertz/Shutterstock

Visit volcanoes, take a dip in a hot springs, drift lazily along the country’s waterways and seek out wildlife in tropical lowland forest with our tailor-made tour to tropical Costa Rica.

7. La Paz Waterfall — easily accessible

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.

    Where to stay:

  • Peace Lodge - Luxurious option, where the handsome rooms feature handmade canopy beds, stained-glass windows, private bathrooms, hot tubs and balconies with views over the gardens (and up to Volcán Poás). Staying in the lodge entitles you to entry to the gardens outside the official opening hours, when you can explore its lush expanses away from the otherwise constant crowds.
  • Casa Volcano. Featuring garden views, Casa Volcano Panoramic View features accommodation with a garden and a balcony, around 20 km from Poas National Park. This holiday home provides free private parking, room service and free WiFi.

    What to do:

  • Prefer a tour packed to the brim with new experiences and adventures? Visit La Paz on a day tour from San Jose, while also soaking in the views of the Arenal volcano, La Fortuna town and relaxing in the nearby hot springs.
La Paz Waterfall located just outside San Jose Costa Rica © Shutterstock

La Paz Waterfall located just outside San Jose Costa Rica © Shutterstock

8. Los Chorros Waterfall — and the cute town nearby

For a half-day excursion of craft shopping and sightseeing around typical Central Valley coffee towns, head north through Alajuela toward Sarchí, stopping en route at Grecia fi. This little place is renowned for its tidiness, claiming to be the cleanest town in Latin America. Compared to most towns in Costa Rica, it certainly is remarkably well kept.

It is definitely worth taking a stroll around the Central Park and visiting local mountains that offer a wonderful playground full of forests, rivers and waterfalls, including these two beautiful waterfalls: the Los Chorros waterfalls.

    Where to stay:

  • Villa San Ignacio. Offering an outdoor pool, tropical gardens and a restaurant, Villa San Ignacio is located just 8 km from San José International Airport in Alajuela. Free WiFi access is available.
  • Xandari Resort & Spa. Set amid a tropical forest and offering stunning mountain views, Xandari Resort features a spa village, yoga lessons, outdoor pools and hot tubs and 4 km of natural trails. This eco-friendly hotel grows its own organic fruit and provides free WiFi access.

    What to do:

  • Take the Doka-Grecia and Sarchi tour for a relaxing, yet very enjoyable tour, to learn about history and tradition. Discover art, architecture, history, and the flavor's of Costa Rica.
Los Chorros waterfall in tropical rainforest in Costa Rica © Shutterstock

Los Chorros waterfall in tropical rainforest in Costa Rica © Shutterstock

A trip to Costa Rica wouldn't be complete without a visit to one of its many beautiful beaches- don't miss our guide to Costa Rica's best beaches here. And if you're going to Costa Rica for the first time, read our list of travel tips for Costa Rica to be prepared.

If you prefer to plan and book your trip to Costa Rica without any effort and hassle, use the expertise of our local travel experts to make sure your trip will be just like you dream it to be.

Ready for a trip to Costa Rica? Check out the snapshot of The Rough Guide to Costa Rica. If you travel further in Costa Rica, read more about the best time to go, the best places to visit and best things to do in Costa Rica. For inspiration use the itineraries from The Rough Guide to Costa Rica and our local travel experts. A bit more hands on, learn about getting there and getting around the country once you are there.

We may earn a commission when you click on links in this article, but this doesn’t influence our editorial standards. We only recommend services we genuinely believe will enhance your travel experiences.

Kirsten Powley

written by
Kirsten Powley

updated 06.12.2022

Planning your own trip? Prepare for your trip

Use Rough Guides' trusted partners for great rates

Ready to travel and discover
Costa Rica?

Get support from our local experts for
stress-free planning & worry-free travels

Plan my trip ⤍