While Costa Rica may conjure images of long sandy beaches, the waterfalls in the country are some of the most striking natural landmarks. With near-tropical climates all year round and the bulk of Costa Rican residents living inland, waterfalls are not only a source of fresh water, but a good place to cool off, relax, and swim with friends. Whether you’d like to jump into a cool pool of water after a long day’s hike or snap a photo of striking turquoise waters, Costa Rica is home to many beautiful waterfalls worth exploring on an extended stay in the country.
Located in a nature park with walking trails and a wildlife sanctuary, La Paz Waterfall (or the Peace Waterfall) is an excellent day trip from San Jose. Despite being close to the big city, you’ll spot an amazing amount of biodiversity in the park. On a clear day, you’ll get views of the Poas Volcano, and the walking trails will take you through the mountainous rainforest.
The waterfall is an easy walk from the parking lot and has five different falls. The most visited and lowest is La Paz, but keep following the trail and be treated to a more secluded view of the rushing white river and other falls. Over 100 species of animals call the forest home and visitors to the park have spotted sloths, tropical birds, monkeys, and more. Consider overnighting at The Peace Lodge, which is also located in the park and makes for a luxurious nature retreat close to the airport.
Las Pilas or Tres Piscinas
This waterfall near Parrita (in between Jaco and Quepos) is a secluded spot frequented by Ticos (Costa Ricans) who want to spend a day hiking, picnicking, and cliff jumping. On the property of a local farmer, head to the grassy parking lot and pay $5 USD at the small house. It doesn’t look like much, but a few words of Spanish or gesturing should get you a ticket and directions to the waterfall.
You’ll walk for about a mile on a grassy trail through fruit trees where monkeys are known to frequent. You’ll then cross a river and find yourself at the first pool. It’s a bit of a steep climb to get to the second two pools but the views and calming waters are worth it for the more agile. The higher two pools are a favorite spot for cliff jumpers. Even if you don’t want to partake in the adrenaline rush, it’s fun (and a little terrifying) to watch others take the dive. There are no facilities in this park so bring snacks and water.
La Fortuna Waterfall
La Fortuna waterfall is popular with tourists—and for good reason. Located just outside La Fortuna town and not far from the main entry points to Arenal Volcano park, this waterfall requires a bit of fitness to access. You’ll walk down almost 500 steps to arrive at the rushing waterfall, which is around 200 feet high. The waters at the outer edge of the pool are calm enough for a dip, but there’s also a quieter pool for swimming near the foot of the waterfall with gorgeous jade colors. If you look closely you can even see little silver fish darting around. To distract yourself on the walk back up, keep your eyes open for sloths, toucans, monkeys, and other birds that call the rainforest canopy home.
Rio Celeste Waterfall
Ask any Tico and their eyes will light up at the mention of Rio Celeste. Its light blue color (which is dependent on rainfall) is truly breathtaking. The waterfall is about a 5-kilometer walk each way from the parking lot. In the dry season, the walk is flat and easy for most abilities, but in the rainy season the path can get muddy so bring good boots and account for some extra walking time. You’ll take in the mighty blue river as you wander toward the rushing sound of the waterfall and as you pass underneath rainforest canopy, you’ll have the chance to spot wildlife. To preserve the color and clarity of the water, swimming is prohibited, but you can still enjoy the view and will find some bathrooms and food stalls near the entrance.
Catarata del Toro
In between San Jose and La Fortuna, some would call Catarata del Toro the most beautiful waterfall in the country. This waterfall has one of the biggest drops in Costa Rica and falls into an old volcanic crater; the surrounding landscape is fascinating with old volcanic rock supporting a lush rainforest. To arrive, you’ll follow a flat jungle trail where you might spot monkeys and hummingbirds, and then descend close to 400 steep steps. There is an on-site restaurant with views of the falls and even if you aren’t keen to go up and down the stairs, you can still see the streaked rocks caused by lava flows and the crater’s unique formations.
Waterfall Ciudad Colon
Just outside Ciudad Colon on the road to the UN Peace University, this unassuming waterfall is a great place to cool off, swim, and do some cliff jumping. There’s no sign for the waterfall but you’ll hear the river running and see a small trail on the side of the road. This is a public waterfall so there is no entrance fee, but there are also no facilities so make sure to bring your own water and snacks. Once you get down to the water, despite the occasional traffic sound, it feels far from civilization. If you’re visiting Ciudad Colon or looking for a relaxing day trip from San Jose, this is a great option. Visit the Conservatorium Restaurant and Cafe for some post-swim coffee and cake or a meal of fine dining.
Kayla Kurin is a travel, health, and fiction writer from Canada. She is the author of Where Can I Find Wifi? Work Anywhere, Travel Forever: Tales of a Digital Nomad and The Nomadic Art of Budget Travel...
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