7 Spectacular Waterfalls in Costa Rica You Need to See
Waterfalls in Costa Rica are just part of the many, many reasons that this gorgeous country tops bucket lists all over the world. It’s renowned for the unmatched adventure and biodiversity, from wild rivers and caves to volcanoes and fascinating wildlife.
Louis F., a world traveler who’s been to over 40 countries, tells us that the Costa Rica waterfalls are truly spectacular. He wrote this guide for us, with details on seven of the best!
If you’ve heard anything about Costa Rica, you probably know this small country is one of the most beautiful in the world, with incredible landscapes. And to really enjoy this rainforest-covered country to the fullest, you need to know where to find the best waterfalls in Costa Rica.
While it covers only 0.03% of Earth’s surface, Costa Rica accounts for nearly 6% of its biodiversity. It’s not at all surprising that eco-tourism, hiking, enjoying the pristine beaches, and natural phenomena like bioluminescence are some of the best things to do in Costa Rica.
When you look at a map of Costa Rica, you’ll see there are stunning waterfalls in every corner of the country. If you’re ready to discover the best waterfalls in Costa Rica, let’s “dive” right in!
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Overview: The Best Waterfalls In Costa Rica
Costa Rica has numerous vastly different waterfalls to discover, from majestic falls to calmer, swimming-friendly cascades.
Since not every waterfall in Costa Rica is suitable for swimming, we’ve noted the ones that are. Skip the traditional sterile hotel pool with its glass fence, and check out these beautiful natural spots!
To completely immerse yourself in nature, consider a hike to work up a sweat before getting to the waterfall!
Here are Costa Rica’s best waterfalls, from north to south, that should be on your list:
- Catarata Rio Celeste
- La Leona Waterfall
- Catarata Llanos del Cortés
- La Fortuna Waterfall
- La Paz Waterfall
- Nauyaca Waterfall
- Diamante Waterfalls
One quick note: the Spanish word for waterfall is catarata, and you’ll often see the names of specific falls used interchangeably. For example, some people say “La Leona waterfall,” while others call it “Catarata La Leona.”
1. Catarata Rio Celeste
Turquoise blue Rio Celeste Waterfall is the main attraction in Tenorio Volcano National Park.
Its bright turquoise water looks like one of those places you’d see in expectations vs reality videos, yet it is real. The reason behind its fiercely blue colour is not the water itself, but the white, mineral-covered, rocky bottom of the lake.
It will take some hiking to reach the waterfall, including descending 250 steps to the bottom of the lake. The trail is well-marked, and you won’t need a guide.
Rio Celeste is part of the Tenorio Volcano National Park, located in the north of the country in the Guanacaste mountain range. It is an outdoor enthusiasts’ paradise, with plenty of trails and a dormant volcano to explore.
The closest town is Bijagua, and it’s worth spending a night there to be among the first people to get to the waterfall in the morning to beat the crowds.
2. La Leona Waterfall
La Leona is another waterfall in the north of the country, but less visited than the popular Rio Celeste. If you’re looking for a waterfall that feels like it requires an adventure to reach, look no further than La Leona Waterfall.
You need a guide to get to this waterfall, so most people opt for a tour. Your guide will take you through caves and the river to reach this incredible swimming-friendly waterfall.
The hike to the waterfall is somewhat challenging, and you will get wet as you’ll have to swim through the river at some points. However, you don’t need to worry about safety, as life jackets will be provided, in case you’re not a good swimmer.
The closest reasonably sized town to La Leona Waterfall is Liberia, just over nine miles (15 kilometers) from the waterfall.
3. Catarata Llanos del Cortés
Llanos del Cortés Waterfall is one of the most picturesque waterfalls in Costa Rica. A wide curtain of water cascades down a cliff into a serene pool. It is one of the best swimming waterfalls in Costa Rica, as the pool at the bottom is relatively large and shallow.
This waterfall is great for families and one where you can easily spend a whole day. The sandy beach on the banks of the waterfall lake is great to soak in the sun while admiring the waterfall, with plenty of picnic spots.
Llanos del Cortés waterfall is located in the north of the country, and the closest town is Bagaces. Be aware there is an entrance fee to get to the waterfall.
4. La Fortuna Waterfall
La Fortuna is one of the most visited waterfalls in Costa Rica, and at nearly 250 feet (75 meters) high, one of the highest. Despite the steep drop and strong current, it is possible to swim in the pool at the bottom of the waterfall.
To get to the pool, you’ll need to go down 500 steps. Don’t be intimidated by that; there are plenty of stops to rest along the way. However, if you just want to see the waterfall without swimming, the best view is from the lookout at the top.
The waterfall is within Arenal Volcano National Park Costa Rica. Because of that, the entrance fee to visit is on the expensive side — but it’s worth it, as you’ll see the trail is well-maintained and safe. The national park and waterfall are in the center of the country, close to La Fortuna town.
5. La Paz Waterfall
We’re getting into waterfalls around San Jose, starting with La Paz Waterfall. It is part of the La Paz Waterfall Gardens & Peace Lodge, the largest private nature park and animal sanctuary in Costa Rica.
The park actually covers an area with five different waterfalls to visit along the river, with La Paz waterfall being the most famous one. The trail to the waterfall is well-maintained, and you don’t need a guide to explore.
La Paz waterfall is about 13 feet (34 meters) tall and rather strong, so swimming is not advised. However, there are other swimming spots along the way, and there is a cool trail leading behind the waterfall for a unique experience.
La Paz waterfall is located about one hour outside of San Jose, great for a day trip.
6. Nauyaca Waterfall
Featuring a unique two-level drop, Nauyaca Waterfall is one you shouldn’t miss! The first drop is a freefalling 148-foot (45-meter) high waterfall, while the second is a 65-foot (20-meter) high cascade. At 213 feet (65 meters) altogether, it is one of the highest waterfalls in Costa Rica.
The waterfall is located about 5km from the entrance of Manuel Antonio National Park, so a visit to the falls includes a rainforest hike.
While Nauyaca Waterfall is an undoubtedly stunning sight, it is also popular as one of the best swimming waterfalls in Costa Rica. The pool at the bottom of the waterfall is one of the country’s biggest. Well deserved refreshment after a 3-mile (5 km) hike!
You will find Nauyaca Waterfall in the south of the country, just over six miles (10 km) from the beach town of Domical. It’s also just over an hour from popular Quepos, highly regarded as one of the best tropical vacations in the world.
7. Diamante Falls
We close this list with the highest waterfall in Costa Rica, Diamante Falls. At over 600 feet (nearly 200 meters) high, it is almost double the height of the second-highest waterfall – San Luis Waterfall in the Monteverde Cloud Forest.
You will find Diamante Waterfalls in the heart of the luscious rainforest, dropping from the impressive 600-foot-high cliff. The Falls are made of two parallel waterfalls, and the view from the top is breathtaking.
Despite being the highest and the most impressive among Costa Rica waterfalls, as the name suggests, Diamante is still considered a hidden gem. It is located on private land and is only accessible on tour. You can choose a day trip or an overnight tour. Adventure enthusiasts will love the latter, as there is a hidden cave behind the waterfall where you will spend the night!
The Diamante Waterfall is located in the small village of Tumbas, about 93 miles (150 km) south of the capital.
Summary: 7 Best Waterfalls In Costa Rica
Whether you’re looking for impressive waterfalls to admire or you want to swim in tropical waterfalls in Costa Rica, you’ll find exactly what you’re looking for.
It’s no surprise this tropical country is becoming more and more popular with tourists!
With stunning waterfalls throughout the country, you can add a waterfall day to your itinerary regardless of your route. From famous waterfalls to off-the-beaten-path hidden gems, Costa Rica has something for every type of traveller!