If your Tamarindo vacation is in the planning stages now, that means you’ll most likely be visiting us in our green season, and the green season is the best time to visit Costa Rica’s waterfalls! You have lots of choices throughout this mountainous country of unbelievable natural beauty. Some waterfalls are easy hikes, some are more difficult, and some offer the option of riding through the forest to the falls on horseback.
If we were to tell you about all of the waterfalls in Costa Rica, this post would be an encyclopedia, so we’re going to focus mainly on the ones with the closest proximity to your Tamarindo vacation rental. The coast of most of Guanacaste is surrounded by gentle rolling hills that, as you can imagine, are not exactly the place where spectacular waterfalls are found. For really amazing waterfalls, you need mountains, so your trip to the waterfalls will start off with a drive of two hours or more. It’s ok! You can make your waterfall visit part of a full-day adventure package that includes other family fun like zip-lining, rafting, and a volcanic mud spa, or you can make a waterfall like the one at Rio Celeste an additional destination on your Costa Rica vacation after leaving Tamarindo. There are plenty of fun things to do in Tamarindo, but don’t get so caught up you forget to go out exploring some of the rest of the country!
Los Llanos de Cortez
The Los Llanos de Cortez waterfall is a local favorite. Holidays and weekends are a great time to go and not only enjoy a refreshing swim in the cool gentle pond at the bottom of the falls, but also to participate in a real Costa Rican cultural event. Families bring picnic lunches and spend hours swimming, playing, napping, and eating in the shade. The hike from the parking area at Llanos de Cortez to the actual falls takes only about 15 minutes and is not terribly rigorous. It’s a great place to bring a blanket or some beach towels, some sandwiches and some cold drinks. Wear your bathing suit and comfy shoes. You might want to throw your favorite insect repellent in the bag too just to be on the safe side.
Los Llanos de Cortez is a great place to spend a hot afternoon
Rincon de la Vieja National Park, located about two hours north of Tamarindo, is an excellent place to go for waterfall-exploring adventures because within the park there are four popular falls. Plan a day trip with a local tour operator, or just drive on up to the park entrance and begin your explorations. Here is a sneak peek at the four waterfalls in Rincon de La Vieja National Park:
A trip to the Cangreja Waterfall starts with a 3-mile hike through the Rincon de la Vieja national park. Keep an eye out for howler monkeys, white-faced monkeys, and coatis as you go. Howler monkeys are more common in Guanacaste than white-faced monkeys, but mountainous regions receive more rain than the coastal lowlands and are more attractive to this timid species. Coatis are curious members of the raccoon family that live all throughout Central America.
The La Cangreja waterfall contains the blue-colored mineral called cobalt which it picks up as it flows through this volcanic region. The cobalt in the water creates the stunning blue color of the pool at the bottom of the falls. Bring your bathing suit if you’re up for a swim!
Las Chorreras Waterfall
Las Chorreras is located close to Hacienda Guachipelin, an adventure center just on the edge of Rincon de La Vieja National Park. Guachipelin offers horseback rides to the falls, or you can simply hike–either the short 20-minute trail or the longer 40-minute one for more scenery and a better chance of catching a glimpse of wildlife.
We know you weren’t born yesterday, but just in case you weren’t born hiking through the forest, here’s a jungle hiking tip: BE QUIET. For a better chance to see all types of birds and animals, stay away from noisy groups of hikers, and talk quietly or not at all. See if you can get through the forest without it noticing you.
Two waterfalls cascade into a refreshing cobalt-colored pool Las Chorreras. It’s a great place for a swim and some seriously dreamy jungle relaxation before you begin the trek back to civilization.
The Victoria Waterfall takes a 115-foot drop into a canyon inside Rincon de la Vieja national park. This is no stroll-through-the-forest-with-a-picnic-basket waterfall; this is the falls that summons only the adventurous! Tour operators offer a variety of experiences at the Victoria Waterfall.
You can hike through the forest to the canyon, then carefully pick your way down the steep descent to the foot of the falls, or you can opt for a horseback ride that will take you to the place where you will repel down the canyon wall through the spray of the falls. How adventurous are you? Either way, when you get to your destination, there will be plenty of time to relax, swim, and feel the power of the pounding falls before you begin the trek back.
The Oropendola Waterfall is a short forest hike from the entrance to the Rincon de la Vieja National park. You can drive to the park entrance, or, if you’re spending the day at the park as a guest of one of the various tour companies, you may be offered the option of a horseback ride in place of the drive. Either way, this 82-foot waterfall is something you don’t want to miss. Enjoy the forest greenery on the way in, and take a refreshing swim in the cool, pristine mountain water.
Photo property of www.guachipelin.com
All waterfalls will obviously be fuller and more powerful during and just after rainy months. River currents will also be stronger, so be careful as you enjoy cooling off in the water. During dry months, due to the lower volume of water, volcanic mineral concentrations–like cobalt which gives a stunning blue color–will be higher, so unique colors in the water will be easier to appreciate.
Speaking of unbelievable cobalt-colored waterfalls, there is one in the Tenorio National Park (about 3 hours from Tamarindo) that is so stunning, the river that dives over the falls is named after the color: Rio Celeste. Because getting to the Tenorio National Park is a bit of a trek, we recommend that you spend at least one night in the area. La Carolina Lodge is a popular rustic mountain lodge that combines roughing it with luxury accommodations and is only a short drive from the park.
The Rio Celeste waterfall. Photo property of www.tripadvisor.com
Rio Celeste receives lots of visitors, and the trail from the park entrance to the falls is maintained to keep it relatively easy to traverse. The last segment that takes you down to the falls is a long and rather steep flight of stone stairs set into the mountain. Take it slow so that you don’t slip. For fit hikers who are up for a challenge, take the longer hiking trail either to or from the falls and enjoy a few extra kilometers of the beauty of Guanacaste’s mountain flora and fauna.
Rio Celeste is not one of the waterfalls with a swimmable pool. The rocky area that surrounds the brilliant blue pool is slippery and difficult to navigate, with no natural beach area that makes getting in and out of the water a safe option for the general public. In order to avoid potential injuries at this remote location, swimming is not permitted. A simple slip on the way into or out of the water that produces something as non-life-threatening as a twisted ankle does create a logistical nightmare for the park service and is thus rigorously avoided.
As you can see, no matter what time of year you take your Tamarindo vacation, one of the best things to do in Tamarindo is get out of town and explore the waterfalls. There are lots more falls throughout Costa Rica–these are only the ones closest to home!
Photo by Seth Doyle
Contact our expert concierge to get the inside scoop on which falls are the best ones for the abilities and interests of your group, and get your adventure excursion on the books starting now!