One of the best things about living in a tropical paradise—and there are many—is easy access to beautiful locations you might otherwise only see in movies or on TV.
International Living Coastal Costa Rica Correspondent Kathleen Evans likes to take full advantage of this in her new home. Below, she tells you of a favorite day-trip of hers to an impressive waterfall that’s popular with both tourists and locals.
One of the quintessential ingredients of living or visiting anywhere in Costa Rica is that you are typically within an hour’s drive of some mysterious landmark, amazing national park, or unusual natural phenomenon that will just knock your socks off. Of course, you most likely won’t be wearing socks, since it is a tropical paradise.
If you are on the Nicoya Peninsula exploring the seemingly endless array of stunning beaches of the Gold Coast, there are numerous day-trips to satisfy your adventurous spirit. One of my favorites is a short, 20-minute drive south from downtown Liberia, the provincial capital, (one or two hours from the Gold Coast beaches) to Cataratas Llanos de Cortés.
This waterfall, in my opinion, is one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the country. From Liberia head south on the Inter-American Highway 1. This section from Liberia has been recently expanded to four lanes and is smoothly paved—making that piece of “superhighway” one of the most comfortable to drive in the country.
The turn off to the falls is in a small town called Bagaces, about 25 miles south, and is easy to miss if you don’t have it mapped on Waze or Google Maps. It is right after a large, pedestrian overpass bridge. There are no big blinking signs warning you. In fact, there is just a hand-painted rock by the side of the feeder road pointing to cataratas (waterfalls).
Once a hidden gem, word got out and tourists began to take an environmental toll on this natural treasure. The good news is that the Bagaces municipality has taken over managing the falls. That means the short road to it has improved, plus they built a proper parking lot and changing/toilet facilities up top. They have also improved the hike down to the falls. Parts of the steep path now have paved stairs, along with natural rocks and some tree roots. The $7 entrance fee goes towards these improvements and a lifeguard on duty.
From the moment you start the 10- to 15-minute hike down, you will hear the roaring power of Llanos de Cortés waterfall. As you further descend, the thundering increases and mist floats through the air. Once you reach the bottom you will breathtakingly witness a spectacular 40-foot-high, 49-foot-wide, waterfall. The falls crash into a tranquil, natural pool with a sandy beach. The water is a comfortable temperature and the shallow sand-bottom pool is fantastic for swimming. Plan to pack a picnic lunch and spend the afternoon.
For safety reasons, you can no longer climb to the top of the falls or dive behind the crashing waterfall as is tumbles down to the boulders underneath it. However, you can swim close to them and feel their incredible power. There are also guides who will take you on a hike through the nearby surrounding jungle. After a 10-minute walk through a muddy, uneven, tree-rooted path, you will be enchanted by a deep, blue swimming hole. Discovering it is almost other-worldly in that it feels like someplace you would imagine “untouched” Costa Rica to look like.
If you arrive early (they are open daily from 7 a.m. until dark), you will beat the tourist rush and have this wonder to yourself. Water shoes or hiking sandals are recommended.
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