If you have time to visit only one waterfall in Costa Rica, make it Llanos de Cortés. Scramble down a short, steep trail to reach this spectacular 12m-high, 15m-wide waterfall, which you’ll be able to hear as soon as you get out of your car. The falls drop into a tranquil pond with a white sandy beach that’s perfect for swimming and sunbathing. Go ‘backstage’ and relax on the rocks behind the waterfall curtain, or shower beneath the lukewarm waters. Apart from a portable toilet, there are no services here except for the occasional vendor selling coconuts or ceviche.
This beautiful hidden waterfall is located about 3km north of Bagaces; head north on the Interamericana, turn left on the dirt road after the Río Piedras bridge, then follow the bumpy road (4WD required) for about 1km. Turn right at the guarded gate where you’ll make a donation (US$2 will do the job) in exchange for your admission. Continue down the dirt road about 300m to the parking area. Although the lot is guarded, it’s not wise to leave valuables exposed in your car.
If you don’t have a car, any bus traveling this part of the Interamericana can drop you at the turnoff, but you’ll have to hike the 1.5km to the falls. On weekends this is a popular Tico picnic spot, but on weekdays you’ll often have the waterfall to yourself.