Llanos de Cortés

Waterfall in Bagaces

Image by Kryssia Campos Getty Images

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 the spectacular 12m-high, 15m-wide waterfall, which you’ll hear before you see. 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 its lukewarm waters.

Apart from a portable toilet, there are no services here except for the occasional vendor selling coconuts or ceviche (seafood marinated in lemon or lime juice, garlic and seasonings).

This beautiful hidden waterfall is located about 5km north of Bagaces; head northwest on the Interamericana and go about 7km past the town, then exit the highway after the pedestrian bridge and turn around at the roundabout (the highway dividers make the former left turn impossible). Go about 2km and turn right on the dirt road just before the Río Piedras bridge, and follow the newly smooth road 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.