Many Costa Rica tourists visit a famous waterfall such as La Fortuna or Rio Celeste, dealing with crowds, high entrance fees, and (most of the time) disappointment. Instead, we found a fantastic Costa Rica waterfall tucked away in a gorgeous jungle oasis. This secret cascade is also swimmable, affordable, and uncrowded!
If you visit only one Costa Rica waterfall, THIS should be it!
The waterfall I speak of is called Llanos De Cortes, located just outside of Liberia. Although it’s a popular local picnic spot, especially on the weekends, this waterfall is relatively unknown by tourists. When we went, we shared the space with six locals. Go on a weekday, early in the morning or late in the afternoon, for a chance to have this jungle paradise all to yourself!
The roads in Costa Rica are terribly maintained and getting directions can be a huge hassle. That being said, renting a 4WD vehicle is still the best way to get around. Costa Rica has yet to develop street names for the majority of the country’s roads. Directions are more likely to involve points of reference. “Turn left at the Soda and continue straight until you see a fence, then turn right.” Luckily, reaching Llanos De Cortes is relatively easy.
Heading south from Liberia on the Interamericana highway, go about 14 miles until you see a sign on the right side of the road that reads “Catarata” or waterfall in Spanish. If you hit the town of Bagaces, you went 2 miles too far. Turn right on the dirt road behind the sign. Follow more signs until you reach the parking lot (about 1 mile). NOTE: a high clearance vehicle is strongly recommended for this drive! Park in the lot, grab a coconut and hike down to the waterfall (1/2 mile hike).
Entrance Fee / Costs
Although there is no entrance fee to see Llanos De Cortes, a local official will ask for a donation. I’m told all donations go to a local school. $3 USD or 2000 colones per person is enough. Once you park, it’s common practice to tip a local for “car security.” Basically, this means he won’t let anyone mess with your car. There should be someone standing around, waiting to do the job. Tip 2000 colones (or $3 USD) per car for car security.
There are no changing rooms and no real bathrooms. This is basically a public swimming hole. Come prepared! If you have to use the bathroom while visiting, there is a porta potty in the parking lot.
Can I swim?
Yes! Unlike Rio Celeste and La Fortuna, you can swim up to Llanos De Cortes. Some people even climb up the rocks and jump in, but the water is not very deep (maybe 10 feet at the deepest when I visited). Make sure you swim behind the waterfall, perch on a rock and enjoy your secluded utopia!
Tips for visiting Llanos De Cortes
- Swim behind the waterfall. It’s absolutely worth it!
- Bring a waterproof camera
- Look for monkeys. Howler monkeys are known to frequent the area.
- Spot the “Jesus Christ Lizards.” Also known as common basilisk. These lizards can run on water (thus the name)!
- Watch for motmots. More on the best ways to spot beautiful Costa Rica birds.
- Wear decent shoes. The hike down is treacherous in flip flops.
- Bring your own towel, lawn chairs and sun lotion.
- Purchase a coconut from a local. What could be better than sipping a cold coconut and floating under a Costa Rica waterfall?
- Come with your bathing suit already on. Again, there are no changing rooms.
- Wear insect repellant. This goes for all of Costa Rica!