Looking to explore something off-the-beaten path near San Jose, Costa Rica? Catarata del Toro, a breathtaking waterfall that towers some 90 meters (300 feet) overhead, is an incredible hidden gem, tucked away in the lush jungle of the Central Valley.
So if you want to experience one of the tallest waterfalls in Costa Rica all to yourself, hop in the car and let’s hit the road- here’s everything you need to know about visiting Catarata del Toro.
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Pssst… visiting La Fortuna? We have a ton of information-packed content to help you plan your trip to this area, including:
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What is Catarata del Toro?
If you’re researching visiting this area, you’ll know that exploring waterfalls is one of the most popular things to do in La Fortuna. That being said, when I originally started researching traveling to Costa Rica, I was a bit confused what exactly Catarata del Toro is, so let me break it down for you.
Catarata del Toro is one of the most stunning waterfalls in Costa Rica, pouring out of an ancient volcanic crater and tucked away in an impossibly green rainforest. The waterfall is not only impressive due to its height but also because of its unique coloring- parts of its cliffs are striated with vibrant red and orange colors, thanks to the rock’s volcanic origins.
To reach this incredible waterfall, you need to hike through a private ecological reserve that also happens to be called “Catarata del Toro” or “Catarata del Toro Adventures”, which actually includes several more stunning waterfalls, pools, and other features to explore, beyond just the eponymous fall.
And somehow, despite how otherworldly gorgeous the reserve is and proximity to other attractions in Costa Rica, it’s seemingly pretty under-the-radar- during our visit, there was usually, at most, one other group around while we were exploring the park’s sights.
How to get to Catarata del Toro
The property is located here in the tiny remote town of Bajos del Toro, just 71 km north of San Jose or 73 km east of La Fortuna, making it the perfect detour to include in your Costa Rica itinerary if you’re headed from the airport to explore the Arenal area.
The best way to get around Costa Rica, including to Catarata del Toro, is renting a car; while the road to reach the preserve is steep and potholed in some areas, you don’t need a car with 4WD so long as you drive carefully and slowly. There’s no public transport that reaches the falls and hiring a taxi here would be quite expensive.
The reserve is open Monday through Saturday, 7 AM to 5 PM. You can either purchase a ticket for admission to just the main waterfall ($15 per person), which also gets you admission to a beautiful garden of tropical flowers, or alternatively, a combo deal to also add on the Blue Falls, located a bit further northeast on the property ($25 per person).
I would highly, highly recommend purchasing the package to both waterfalls– not only are the Blue Falls absolutely stunning, but there’s also several other points of interest near them that you can visit as well, like the Poza Azul (a brilliant blue pool filled with refreshingly cold water to swim in on a hot, sticky day) and several other turquoise waterfalls. If you’re interested in learning more about this other section of the park, we wrote an entire post with everything you need to know about the Blue Falls.
My husband, Justin, and I arrived at the preserve around 9:30 AM and expected to be done seeing both the Catarata del Toro and the Blue Falls in a couple of hours. We were having so much fun taking photos, playing in the water, and observing the beautiful wildlife here that we literally skipped lunch and stayed until about 4 PM, when we had to start heading back to La Fortuna before it got dark. And we didn’t even get to see close to everything on the property!
Once you purchase your tickets, you’ll pass through a small open-air lodge area that serves limited snacks, as well as offers bathrooms before you hit the trail.
What to Expect when hiking to Catarata del Toro
Length: 2 miles (3.5 km)
Elevation gain: 465 feet (141 meters)
You’ll hit the trail to Catarata del Toro immediately from the back portion of the lodge, stepping onto a dirt path carved through an incredibly lush jungle. Not more than 15 meters or so into the trail, you’ll reach the first viewpoint of the waterfalls thundering down the cliffside, which provides the best view into the volcanic crater itself.
From here, you’ll continue to wind deeper and deeper into the rainforest, with the trail surrounded by impossibly grand trees, ferns, and colorful tropical flowers. Hiking under the thick canopy makes you feel like you’re in an Indiana Jones movie! And while there’s a few forks along the trail, they’re all very well-marked- just follow the signs for the “Catarata” or the signs marked with a blue dot (the green dot is for the garden, which is also absolutely worth a stop on the way back up!).
About 0.5 miles in, you’ll pass one more viewpoint of the falls to your left off in the distance before you make your descent to the rainforest floor. From here, you’ll reach a series of steps- about 389, to be exact!
Most of them are concrete, although towards the end of your climb, they’ll transition into stairs made of dirt and wood. They’re quite steep and, when wet, can be rather slippery. So walk down them very carefully and wear shoes with decent traction, like hiking boots or hiking sandals. Given the amount of steep stairs here, I wouldn’t recommend this trail for anyone with significant knee issues.
Eventually, you’ll reach the floor of the bowl the waterfall is tucked in- be sure to look up and take in the spectacular ferns and moss clinging to the dramatic cliffs above. As you walk along the dirt path that will take you to the waterfall, you’ll reach a third viewpoint with some wooden benches- this would be a great place to stop and have a picnic while taking in the epic views. The final steps down to the waterfall are along a rocky dirt path that’s constantly saturated from the fall’s spray- it’s super slick here, so be careful!
From here, you can gaze up at the enormous curtain of water cascading down the cliffs and the lush canyon walls teeming with greenery- the entire scene looks like something straight out of Jurassic Park and the scale of it all is rather humbling, putting into perspective how truly tiny we are as compared to our big, beautiful planet. Given how powerful the falls are, it’s too dangerous to swim here (I’m just being super extra in these photos, cuz that’s what I do), but there’s still plenty of spray to cool off under the Costa Rican sun!
Once you’re done soaking in the views, you’ll retrace your footsteps to the lodge- so get ready to have your butt kicked by climbing back up those stairs! Once you make it back to the lodge, treat yourself by taking a breather at one of the beautiful live-edge tables and watch the countless hummingbirds flit around the feeders surrounding the lodge.
What to bring to Catarata del Toro
You don’t need a ton to enjoy Catarata del Toro, but there are a few things I’d make sure are on your Costa Rica packing list to bring along to the falls:
Seriously, between the intense stairs, the roots, and the rocks along the trail, I would strongly recommend against hiking here in flip flops or any kind of shoes without traction. While Justin and I wore full-blown hiking boots, you could certainly get away with wearing hiking sandals. In fact, for almost all of our time in Costa Rica, Justin and I both wore our Tevas sandals (men’s here and women’s here) and it worked out pretty great- they double as hiking sandals, water shoes, and just regular ol’ shoes to wear around town!
Listen, the ecological reserve is so lush and green because it’s in a rainforest- meaning there’s a decent chance it may rain while you’re there! So don’t let a little moisture ruin your waterfall adventure and bring along a rain jacket (like this one for women and this one for men), just in case.
While the property has a few snacks, they’re pretty limited (it was mostly hot dogs during our visit) and the snack bar is open intermittently. And given the remoteness of the property, there really aren’t other restaurants to eat here. So be better planners than Justin and me, fend off being hangry, and pack yourself some snacks!
Did I mention there’s 389 steep stairs you’ll need to climb up? So bring plenty of water– to be kind to the planet and to cut down on wasting money on bottled water, Justin and I both have giant Nalgene bottles that we take everywhere, from RVing around the Pacific Northwest to hiking in Costa Rica. And bonus- the water in this area of Costa Rica is generally safe to drink (not to mention DELICIOUS!).
Where to Stay when visiting Catarata del Toro
If I have one regret about visiting Catarata del Toro, it’s that we didn’t have enough time here– I really wish we had arrived at 7 AM and been able to see all of the amazing things the property has to offer. Plus there’s several other spots in the area I’d love to check out, like Poas Volcano National Park.
So, if you have time while you’re in Costa Rica, I’d highly recommend staying near Bajos del Toro for the night. Consider:
- Hotel Alto Palomo: Very basic accommodations, but offered at an affordable rate and with absolutely spectacular views of the surrounding forest.
- Bosque de Paz Reserva Biologica: If sleeping in a biological reserve covered with hummingbirds sounds up your alley, this hidden gem is perfect for you.
- El Silencio Resort & Spa: If you’re looking for something straight-up bougie, this resort certainly has it all- luxurious spa, Costa Rican cooking lessons, even an adventure park!
Now go forth and explore that waterfall! Was Catarata del Toro one of the most stunning waterfalls during your visit to Costa Rica? Sound off in the comments below!