Jaw-dropping waterfalls are among the most coveted natural delights Costa Rica has to offer. Unlike many other destinations the world over, many of the waterfalls in the country are actually springboards for fantastic adventure sports like abseiling and canyoneering so there’s more to waterfall-chasing here than simple visual feasting.
Although the most famous waterfalls are world-renowned and featured in every guide book (who hasn’t heard of the iridescent hue of the Rio Celeste fall?!) you’ll be happy to know that the country is home to plenty of hidden gems not many have even heard about – gorgeous waterfalls just itching to be discovered. You’ll need to get off your feet (literally) to reach and enjoy our list of hidden waterfalls, part of the appeal is that unlike the most famous options, these are off the beaten path, some requiring a decent amount of hiking to reach. All of this, in our humble (and adventurous) opinion, make them all the more unforgettable.
The most magical hidden waterfalls in Costa Rica – just 101 more reasons to plan an adventure vacation to the land of tropical rain-forests, spectacular wildlife and drop-dead-gorgeous beaches!
Catarata de Uvita, Puntarenas
The most well-known of the hidden waterfalls in Costa Rica still doesn’t see the crowds of La Paz or La Fortuna and that’s because it’s nestled in the wilderness of the south Pacific coast. This waterfall is pure fun and gorgeous place in which to spend an entire day. A natural slide and rocky platforms offer oodles of fun, with a sweet local bar serving tacos and cold drinks all day long. The ease of access and amenities make Uvita ideal for families too and the sheer choice of pool levels means that if the bottom one looks crowded you can just climb a bit further up to find your little private oasis.
Catarata Nauyaca, Puntarenas
Halfway between Uvita and Manuel Antonio is where you’ll find Nauyaca, yet another hidden waterfall treasure in the south Pacific. This multi-tiered cascade is absolutely gorgeous, especially if you opt to walk through the verdant jungle (about 3.5 miles) just so you can really enjoy a refreshing swim when you arrive. Nauyaca is on private property and, as is the case with so many of Costa Rica’s waterfalls, the land-owners run a small tourist business. You can choose to visit the falls on horseback or by road transport (on a converted truck) although your time at the falls is limited if you choose anything other than walking. You can, of course, simply hitch a ride there and then walk back. The walk is beautiful and well worth the effort.
Catarata San Luis, San Jose Province
This compact and wild region south of the capital is a real waterfall haven and you’ll no doubt discover plenty more hidden treasures whilst you’re out chasing the ones on our list. So let us stir you to San Luis, one of the least known yet most beautiful of all. Set amidst outstanding rainforest displaying a wide array of exotic flora, San Luis is like a present from the gods, especially given you’re likely to meet very few fellow visitors. Way off the beaten path, San Luis is that blissful retreat you need when you just want to take a stroll in unspoiled nature, a refreshing swim on a hot summer’s day and only listen to the call of exotic birds and monkeys.
Catarata El Santuario, Alajuela
Boasting one of the most arresting settings of all, the mighty ‘Cathedral’ is a fairy-tale sight to behold. Set in the heart of a canyon amidst the peaks of the Upala Mountains in Costa Rica’s north-west, El Santuario is probably one of the hardest to reach yet among the most memorable of Costa Rica’s hidden waterfalls. Anyone with a decent level of fitness can complete the guided hike required to access this incredible place and we can also organize a horseback ride to make the whole trip even more memorable. El Santuario can be visited on a day-trip from various hubs in the north-west, including Playa Hermosa, Tamarindo and Liberia.
Catarata Llanos de Cortez, Guanacaste
It’s probably not surprising to know that these glorious falls are set to be the ‘next big thing’ in waterfall-chasing tours in Costa Rica. Their proximity to the Liberia Airport means it was just a matter of time before developers started to take a keen interest in developing the area for tourism. This spells great news for those who are short on time (you can easily fit in a visit on a day-trip from Tamarindo or Playa de Coco) although you’d better make your visit soon: the crowds are bound to descend!
Llanos de Cortez is a true visual feast and, when the flow is decent, looks like a dreamy oasis encased in pristine jungle. There’s a modest entry fee and short but fun trail leading to the base of the stunning falls. Make sure you pack your swimmers and have plenty of time on your side: frolicking in the refreshing pool under the falls is out of this world. Adventurous folks can take the narrow and steep trail to the top (just watch out for the slippery bits!) and soak up the resplendent views from above.
We’re now going to guide you to a very special place and one of the most overlooked little gems in the country: Bajos del Toro. The small town is renowned for being a bit of a ‘wet’ place to visit and that’s because its surrounding wilderness comprises gloriously fertile cloud forests. Nestled between the much more famous (and crowded) Poas and Rincon de la Vieja national parks in the central highlands, Bajos del Toro is normally overshadowed by its much more famous neighbors and, as such, receives much fewer visitors. Considering the sheer number of hidden waterfalls to discover here, as well as loads of activities and walking trails, this should be reason enough to plan a visit. Head here if you’d love to enjoy nature at its most authentic (and underdeveloped).
The next three waterfalls will be waiting for you to visit!
Catarata del Toro, Alajuela
The main draw here is the namesake waterfall of Bajos del Toro. It plunges nearly 300 ft into an extinct crater volcano and is framed by dramatic rocks and the kind of verdant wilderness one only really sees where volcanic soil is present. You can seriously spend an entire day in this reserve, chasing some of Costa Rica’s most hidden of waterfalls.
Waterfall Hidden Treasure (Tesoro Escondido), Alajuela
Don’t you just love when a treasure hides in plain sight? And so it is with Tesoro Escondido (which literally translates to ‘hidden treasure’) another exquisite fall you can discover in the Bajos del Toro reserve. The hike to reach it is considerable and some sections require a bit of rock scrambling but, when you get there, you’ll be overwhelmed at the sheer spectacle of it all. Discovering Hidden Treasure is a real adventure of its own accord, let alone the fact that the falls are simply magnificent. We probably wouldn’t recommend you take children along for the hike but there are quite a few more hidden gems in the area if you are planning a family adventure vacation.
Catarata Rio Agro, Alajuela
The ‘sour river’ waterfall is a force of nature that needs to be a lot more well-known although its anonymity is part of the appeal. The hike to reach the falls from the park’s entrance should take you under an hour at slow speed (given the outstanding landscape) but do come prepared to deal with some muddy sections, especially if it’s been raining. Don’t forget to factor in an extra hour to also visit the ethereal celeste pools (poza celeste)!
Catarata Los Chorros, Alajuela
Offering an easy hike, plenty of swimming space and a stellar setting, Los Chorros ticks all the boxes for an all-day excursion. A popular local hangout on weekends, Los Chorros is that authentic and laid-back destination that seems so far off the tourist path, you’ll probably feel as if you’ve taken a wrong turn at some point! Head here with a guide (so you don’t get literally lost) and enjoy your day out exploring the unspoiled wilderness and discovering the various waterfalls. It’s merely a 15-minute drive from Grecia to reach the entrance to the trail and there are a few gorgeous picnic spots to boot. Why not do this the local way? Bring a packed lunch and a change of clothes and just come enjoy this corner of paradise for the day.
Cascada El Pavon
The last offering on our list is yet another southern belle, often overlooked due to its remote location. El Pavon is actually a small-sized waterfall but the uniqueness of its rocky frame makes it a stunning and very photographic gem. Plus, this is so off the beaten path that it doesn’t even incur any kind of entry fee – nor any significant number of foreign visitors. Much like Los Chorros, this is a local’s secret hiding playground. Various swimming areas, gorgeous rock-scrambling and an unreal setting make this one of our favorites, by far.
Chasing waterfalls is totally a thing in Costa Rica! Check out our adventure vacation tours or let us design a bespoke journey through this fun and waterfall-filled paradise – we can design a personalized itinerary for you and your loved ones and include as many waterfall side-trips as you’d like. Simply contact us to know more.