Costa Rica’s landscape offers it all- from smoking volcanoes to tropical beaches, lush rainforests to dramatic waterfalls. In fact, there’s hundreds of waterfalls to explore throughout the country, which are not only gorgeous, but often provide awesome opportunities for hiking, swimming, and other outdoor adventures.
So if you want to get up-close-and-personal with Costa Rica’s incredible natural beauty, look no further- here’s 6 amazing waterfalls in Costa Rica to add to your bucket list.
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1. Rio Celeste
Rio Celeste may just be one of the most famous waterfalls in Costa Rica, thanks to its eye-poppingly electric blue water. Local legend holds that God painted the sky blue and cleaned his paintbrush in the river that feeds the waterfall, leaving behind the unbelievable color. Science, however, suggests a different story- there’s a mineral composed of aluminum, silicon, and oxygen that coats the rocks at the bottom of the river here, which is perceived by our eyes as an electric blue color.
No matter what gives Rio Celeste its incredible appearance, there are few sights more magnificent than its vibrant water cascading down a 90 meters (295 ft) cliffside, covered with lush greenery, and into the pool below.
Can you swim in Rio Celeste:
While you can’t swim under the waterfall itself, you can swim in the very same water that flows through Rio Celeste right outside the national park (located here) where you’re free to cool down in that lovely azure water.
Cost: $12 USD for adults or $5 USD for children under 12
Where is Rio Celeste located:
It’s located in Tenorio Volcano National Park, about 40 minutes east of the small town of Bijagua de Upala. The national park is actually a really convenient halfway stopping point between Liberia and La Fortuna, if you happen to be landing at Liberia Guanacaste Airport and heading to explore La Fortuna.
How to get to Rio Celeste:
You’ll notice this is a common theme throughout this article, but there’s no public transportation that you can take to Tenorio Volcano National Park. So you’ll likely need a rental car (which is inarguably the best way to get around the country)- given that the roads are well-paved here, any ol’ passenger car will do. Alternatively, there’s some Rio Celeste tours that will take you here from various destinations in the northern portion of the country, like this tour or this tour.
From the parking lot, you’ll need to hike 1.4 km (0.9 miles) to the waterfall itself along an easy to moderate trail through an absolutely beautiful rainforest- keep an eye out for coati (which are basically Costa Rica’s version of racoons) and if you’re super lucky, a tapir!
And if you want to see more along this trail, you can hike an additional 1.3 km (0.8 miles) past the falls to see a shockingly colored turquoise pool, bubbling hot springs, and the exact spot the Rio Celeste turns from its murky brown color to a brilliant electric blue.
Where to stay near Rio Celeste:
- Finca Amistad Cacao Lodge: Want to live on a real working cacao farm for a day or two? This incredible lodge, nestled in a verdant rainforest, offers just that- plus rustic, yet cozy cabins.
- Celeste Mountain Lodge: This ecolodge offers two volcanoes nearby, incredible bird-watching, and yummy cocktails.
2. Nauyaca Waterfall
Nauyaca, tucked away in a lush canyon, has not one, but two spectacular drops. And unlike some of the other waterfalls in Costa Rica, the curtain of Nauyaca’s lower falls is quite wide, with several streams spanning the massive cliffside it cascades down.
This waterfall is pretty remote and less touristed than some of the other falls on this list- so while you’re visiting, you’ll mostly just hear rushing water, the songs of the tropical birds overhead, and other incredible nature sounds from the luscious rainforest that surrounds you.
Most visitors hang out in the enormous pool at the foot of the 20 meters (65 feet) tall lower falls, with plenty of rocks to lounge around on and take in the views, but make sure to also climb up the stairway and explore the upper falls- they’re literally over twice as tall as the lower ones (45 meter (147 feet))!
Just make sure to wear shoes with good traction (my husband, Justin, and I wore our Tevas hiking sandals almost the entire time we were in Costa Rica- here’s the ones he wears and these are mine) cuz the rocks up here get super slippery!
Can you swim in Nauyaca Waterfall:
Yes, but only in the pool beneath the lower falls. And be careful if you’re not a strong swimmer- the pool drops pretty quickly to 6 meters (20 feet) deep in some areas.
Cost: $10 to hike, $32 for a standard 4WD shuttle to the falls, or $80 for a premium 4WD shuttle to the falls (which includes extras, like lunch and a guide)
Where is Nauyaca Waterfall located:
The Nauyaca waterfalls are located here, right outside the small fishing village, Dominical, or about half an hour north of Uvita, a backpacker mecca known for its stunning beaches and as one of the best places for whale watching in Costa Rica. Otherwise, it’s about 160 kilometers (100 miles) south of San Jose.
How to get to Nauyaca Waterfall:
It’s worth noting that, before you head to Nauyaca, you’ll need to make a reservation- if you’re planning on going by yourself, then you need to book through the company that owns the property this waterfall sits on (check out their website here) or, alternatively, with a separate tour company (like this one from Manuel Antonio). Reportedly, the ticket office has turned away folks that have shown up without reservations, due to the waterfall being too crowded.
Once you have your reservation in hand, you’ll need to figure out how to get there. Since you can’t get here via public transit, you’ll need to drive yourself or, if you don’t have a car, ask your hotel to book you a driver for the day. Alternatively, there are a few tours, like the one linked above, that will take you here from other popular destinations.
Once you’ve arrived at the ticket office, you can hike a 4.6 km (2.7 miles) one-way trail to the waterfalls along an occasionally steep and slippery path. While the trail isn’t overly difficult, it can get quite hot and humid in the jungle, so bring plenty of water (Justin and I each tote these giant Nalgene bottles with us everywhere to stay hydrated and avoid making a ton of waste by buying single serving plastic bottles).
Where to stay near Nauyaca Waterfall:
- Tropical Sands Dominical Eco Inn: A family-run inn, with cozy and secluded cabins (with hammocks!), just a few steps from the beach
- Villas Rio Mar: An eco resort where you’ll have your very own patio, two sparkling pools, AND free breakfast!
3. La Fortuna Waterfall
Take one look at La Fortuna’s incredible landscape and it’s no wonder its name literally translates to “The Fortune.” Between the lush rainforests and the rolling Arenal Mountains, it looks exactly how you’d picture Costa Rica.
The La Fortuna Waterfall is one of the most popular things to do in La Fortuna, adding to its incredible beauty. The waterfall emerges from an impossibly dense jungle to plummet down a 75 meters (200-ft) cliff into an emerald pool- even the cliff it cascades down is beautiful, dripping with impossibly green ferns and vines.
Can you swim in La Fortuna Waterfall:
Yes, but it’s FREEZING and pretty challenging to swim around, given the immense power of the waterfall. If you’re looking for a relaxing swim, there’s a shallow stream a hundred meters or so downstream that’s a much warmer and calmer place to splash around in the Costa Rican jungle.
Cost: $18 USD per adult or $5 USD for children
Where is La Fortuna Waterfall located:
La Fortuna Waterfall is located in (surprise!) La Fortuna, in the northwest corner of the country. It’s one of the most popular tourist destinations in Costa Rica- and for good reason. Between its rainforests, the Arenal Volcano, and the abundant hot springs here, you could easily spend weeks exploring this area and not run out of things to see and explore.
How to get to La Fortuna Waterfall:
The La Fortuna Waterfall is conveniently located here, in the locally-owned and operated Ecological Reserve Fortuna Waterfall. It’s just 5 km outside of La Fortuna’s bustling downtown, close enough to bike to or take a fairly inexpensive Uber (around $10) from most hotels in the area. Alternatively, if you’re driving, there’s a paved road leading here (no need for 4WD) and a large parking lot. Or, if group tours are your jam, there’s plenty of La Fortuna tours, like this one, that offer a stop at this waterfall.
From the parking lot, you’ll hike 0.5 km down to the waterfall, which is mostly along several stairways (totaling 480 steps, to be exact). Much ado has been made about these stairs (moreso about going up rather than down), but so long as you’re reasonably in shape and take plenty of breathers, you can totally do it!
Where to stay by La Fortuna Waterfall:
- Nice Place Hostel: Imagine if a hostel and a hotel had a Costa Rican love child. Nice Place Hostel offers private rooms with a communal feel, plus close proximity to La Fortuna’s downtown.
- Princesa de la Luna Ecolodge: For something more mid-range, check out this ecolodge, which feels totally secluded in a rainforest but offers more luxe amenities, like a pool and jacuzzi..
- The Springs: This property is absolutely stunning, with spectacular views of the Arenal Volcano. With one of the best hot spring complexes in La Fortuna and bougie touches, like swim-up bars, this is hands-down one of the most luxurious places to stay in La Fortuna.
4. Llanos de Cortez Waterfall
Llanos de Cortez is one of the most breathtaking waterfalls in Costa Rica, with several wispy streams of water tumbling down the cliffside. The rockface itself is quite a sight, with jagged layers draped in moss and ferns. Add in the incredibly dense rainforest which completely surrounds the waterfall, with tropical birds and even monkeys in the canopy above, and it’s hard to imagine a more majestic sight.
Can you swim in Llanos de Cortez Waterfall:
Yes, the pool beneath 28 meter (92-foot) tall falls is perfect for swimming or just wading around and there’s a little sandy area to bask in the sun if the cool water gets to be too much for you.
Cost: $7 per adult; $4 per child
Where is Llanos de Cortez Waterfall located:
It’s located near the town of Bagaces, about 36 km southeast of Liberia or about 100 km from most of the beach towns in Guanacaste, like Tamarindo. This would be the perfect detour if you’re driving from Liberia to either La Fortuna or Monteverde- it’s basically right on the way!
How to get to Llanos de Cortez Waterfall:
As with all of the other waterfalls, the best way to get here is to drive yourself or go on a group tour, like this one (that stops at Rio Celeste too!), departing from some of the most popular beach towns along the northern Pacific coastline. While there’s no direct public transit to the waterfall, you could theoretically take the bus from Liberia to the town of Cañas and walk approximately 3-4 kilometers (2 -2.5 miles) to the falls.
One super awesome thing about the falls is its accessibility- unlike some of the other ones on this list, you just need to walk 100 meters (a little over 300 feet) and down about 30 steps to reach the waterfall.
Places to stay near Llanos de Cortez Waterfall:
- Hostilita El Greco: This funky hotel/hostel hybrid is located just a short distance from the waterfall. With a lush garden and plenty of tropical birds roaming around the property, this is the perfect place to crash if you’re stopping by the waterfall en route to another destination in Costa Rica or to just take it easy for a day or two.
- Rio Perdido Hotel & Thermal River: If you’re, instead, looking for more of a destination in and of itself, consider a stay at this incredible four-star resort, which has a ton of onsite activities, from yoga to ziplining and white water tubing. There’s also plenty of swanky amenities, like a swim-up bar in one of the many thermal pools and a world-class restaurant serving up exquisite eats and creative cocktails.
5. Catarata del Toro
Of all the waterfalls in Costa Rica that we visited, Catarata del Toro is probably my favorite. Ringing in at 82 meters (270 feet) feet tall, this waterfall looks like something straight out of Jurassic Park, with a curtain of water streaming out of an extinct volcanic crater and crashing into a pool below. The cliffs are also incredible, striated with vibrant red and orange colors, thanks to the rock’s volcanic origins.
And with its location deep within a sunken bowl, a hundred-plus feet below the floor of the thick jungle, it feels even more dramatic- while you’re standing at the base of the waterfall, you’ll be completely surrounded by craggy cliffs, festooned with green ferns and moss.
Interested in learning more about our favorite waterfall in Costa Rica? Check out our blog post with everything you need to know about Catarata del Toro.
Can you swim in Catarata del Toro:
No, the current is too strong here. But check out the Blue Falls (on the same property as Catarata del Toro) below, where you can splash around in.
Cost: $14 USD to visit just Catarata del Toro
Where is Catarata del Toro located:
Catarata del Toro sits in an ecological reserve of the same name, located here in the tiny remote town of Bajos del Toro, just 71 km (44 miles) north of San Jose or 73 km (45 miles) east of La Fortuna, making it the perfect detour if you’re headed from San Jose Airport to explore the Arenal area.
How to get to Catarata del Toro:
There is no public transit or even tours to Catarata del Toro, so pretty much the only way to get here is via your own vehicle (or a very pricy taxi!). While you don’t need a 4WD (unless you’re visiting on a particularly rainy day), the road is pretty potholed and steep in some areas, so I would recommend taking it slow and driving here only in the daylight.
Once you arrive at the ticket office and pay your admission fee, you’ll hike 1.7 km (1 miles) through a rainforest, with countless tropical flowers lining the trail and birds flitting about. Eventually, you’ll hit a stairway with some seriously steep steps (389, to be exact!), that will lead you down into the bowl this waterfall sits in.
While the rest of the hike isn’t particularly challenging, these stairs are killer (especially on the way up)- so be forewarned this hike might not be for you if you’ve got any kind of knee problems. Once you conquer the stairs, you’ll continue to wind along the bottom of the canyon’s walls until you reach the foot of this massive waterfall.
Places to stay near Catarata del Toro:
- Hotel Alto Palomo: Very basic, but affordable accommodations, with magnificent views of the surrounding forest.
- El Silencio Resort & Spa: On the other end of the spectrum, this resort offers all the luxury you could want, with a bougie spa, Costa Rican cooking lessons, and a whole adventure park.
6. Blue Falls
The Blue Falls of Costa Rica is one of its most unique, comprised of two separate (but just as gorgeous) cascades. On the right side is a waterfall with robin’s egg blue water, dramatically spilling over the top of the cliff, while, on the left side, is a waterfall tucked back into a fern-covered canyon, whose cascade has more of an emerald tint. The water from each of the falls converges and forms a spectacular turquoise colored river that tumbles over enormous rocks.
While the waterfalls alone are quite the sight, the area also just so happens to be COVERED with hummingbirds. While I was wading around in the left waterfall’s canyon, there had to be about seven brightly-colored hummingbirds flitting around my head!
Can you swim in the Blue Falls:
Yes, although, fair warning, the pools beneath both of the falls are rather shallow and rocky (and FREEZING). But you can definitely awkwardly wade about in them!
Cost: You can either visit the Blue Falls by itself for $15 or purchase a combo ticket to also see Catarata del Toro for $25. While the Blue Falls in and of themselves are worth purchasing the combo ticket, there’s tons of other things to see in this section, like the Poza Azul (a bright blue pool filled with refreshingly cold water to swim in on a sunny day) and several other waterfalls.
Where is Blue Falls located:
The Blue Falls are located in the exact same ecological reserve as Catarata del Toro, in Bajos del Toro.
How to get to Blue Falls:
Since I detailed how to get to the Catarata del Toro reserve above, I won’t bore you with that. So on to the waterfall!
While the Blue Falls are located in the Catarata del Toro reserve, it’s actually located in a totally different part of the property. From the ticket office, you’ll walk down a paved road for about 500 meters (about 0.3 miles) and then turn right down a dirt path. From here, you’ll hike about 1.5 km (1 mile) up this trail, which will eventually become rockier and transition into a more forested setting (again, I highly recommend at least wearing hiking sandals, like these for men or these for women).
Here, you’ll reach a set of a few metal steps that are STEEP- we saw an older woman who couldn’t make it down these and had to wait here while her husband went on to see the waterfalls- so again, if you’ve got knee problems, you may want to skip this one. The stairs will take you to a series of metal catwalks across the river and right up to the foot of the falls.
Places to stay near Blue Falls:
- Bosque de Paz Reserva Biologica: Didn’t get your fill of hummingbirds at the Blue Falls? Stay at this biological reserve/bird-watchers’ paradise.
And there you have it- all of the most spectacular waterfalls in Costa Rica. Do you have any questions about them? Let me know in the comments below!