8 Secret Waterfalls You Can’t Miss in Costa Rica

June 13, 2023

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We can all agree that waterfalls are undeniably captivating, but the quickest way to ruin the magic is when they are overflowing with people. As the country has grown in popularity for travelers, some of the most well-known waterfalls in Costa Rica can feel a little… well, crowded.

To help you find a more authentic and unique experience, we have curated a list of our favorite hidden gem waterfalls tucked away from the masses.

1. Diamante Waterfall

Location: Perez Zeledon, Costa Rica – approx. 35 minutes from Dominical

Difficulty: Difficult (guide required)

Key Features: Impressive height, a cave behind the waterfall, and an opportunity for an overnight stay.

Diamante Waterfall is an awe-inspiring natural wonder that demands attention with its impressive height (estimated 600 ft or 182 meters). What sets it apart is the fully furnished cave that is discreetly tucked behind the cascading water. That’s right- you can actually spend the night behind a waterfall. Though one of the most difficult hikes on our list, it’s also one of the most rewarding. Prepare for a 2.5-hour hike along a trail that while well maintained, includes sections that are a slippery mix of loose gravel, mud, and clay, with plenty of stairs in between. Hiking boots or rubber boots are essential on this one. Pack a raincoat, insect repellent, a bathing suit, towel, flashlight or headlamp for overnight stays and ample water to stay hydrated.

2. Uvita Waterfall

Location: Uvita, Costa Rica

Difficulty: Easy

Key Features: very laid back with easy access and a platform for jumping.

While not much of a well-kept secret, this waterfall is a local favorite but an uncommon stop for most visitors. There are two entrances, each privately owned. Both entrances provide parking facilities, bathrooms, food & drinks, and direct access to the waterfall. Both charge an entrance fee of about $4. While it can get busy on the weekends, it never really feels crowded and during the week you can usually find a nice secluded spot. At the base of the multi-tiered waterfalls, you’ll find pools perfect for a refreshing swim, complete with an adjacent platform for the more daring souls that want to jump! With its ideal location, so close to town, this enchanting oasis has earned its rightful place on our list.

Photo by @kathleen_hall

3. Velo de Novia

Location: Cerro Dantas, Costa Rica

Difficulty: Moderate

Key Features: Scenic waterfall, diverse wildlife, and protected nature refuge.

Located in the breathtaking Cerro Dantas region, Velo de Novia is a hidden gem that captivates with its scenic waterfall on one of the many trails on-site. It is nestled within a protected wildlife refuge, offering a unique opportunity to witness the diversity of Costa Rica’s flora and fauna. This wildlife refuge was created to help provide awareness about the importance of environmental protection through the development of educational programs. Overall a pretty easy hike – about 6 km from where you park (on the side of the road right after the paved road ends) to get to the entrance of the refuge where you pay the entrance fee. The waterfall is just a short 200 m from there, signs will lead the way!

Photo by Paddle 9, @mattyruggz

4. Cascada El Pavon

Location: Costa Rica

Difficulty: Easy

Key Features: Serene cascade, secluded setting, and opportunities for nature exploration.

Just a short 15-20 minute drive south of Uvita, you’ll discover El Pavon Waterfall in the town of Ojochal. Once you turn into Ojochal, there are a few signs to guide you, but no official entrance or designated parking lot. Visitors can simply park roadside. There are no on-site facilities, so come prepared and bring everything you need (including plenty of water, especially for the summer months!). A brief walk along a dirt path leads you to the waterfall, which may be one of the smaller ones on our list but is distinguished by a remarkably large rock perched atop it. The pool beneath the fall is shallow but good for swimming and even snorkeling. We love this spot for an idyllic riverside picnic.

5. El Tigre Waterfalls

Location: Monteverde, Costa Rica

Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult (lots of steps!)

Key Features: Unique cloud forest setting, great hiking trails, and zip-line biking.

If you’re heading to the magical cloud forest of Monteverde and make sure to add a visit to El Tigre Waterfalls to your itinerary. Located about 45 minutes outside of Santa Elena/Monteverde town, this park used to require a guide, but now you can safely explore the trails on your own. Emergency stations are conveniently placed throughout the hike for added safety and peace of mind. You can drive and park at the check-in area and then follow the well-marked trail, which showcases four stunning waterfalls and several bridges. Some of the waterfalls offer the chance to swim or stand beneath the water. On average, the roundtrip hike takes about 4 hours, allowing for leisurely stops for photos and other memorable moments. While the hike down to the falls is mostly downhill, the return journey involves a 30-45 minute uphill climb, predominantly in an open field without shade. For this reason, ,they provide alternative options such as horseback riding or 4×4 rides back to the headquarters if you want to opt out of hiking back. At the entrance, you’ll find a check-in building with amenities including a restaurant, bathrooms, and even a gift shop with breathtaking views. Don’t miss the unique opportunity to try the zip-line bicycle, a thrilling experience found nowhere else (that we know of!).

Photo by @visitmontezuma

6. Montezuma Waterfall

Location: Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica, 40 minutes from Santa Teresa Beach

Difficulty: Moderate

Key Features: Multi-tiered cascade, great swimming opportunities, and lush tropical surroundings.

The Montezuma Waterfalls are made up of three cascades: the Top Waterfall, the Middle Waterfall, and the Lower Waterfall. The Top Waterfall is the smallest but has a deeper pool that is great for swimming and jumping, with a rope swing available. The Middle Waterfall is hidden between the other two and offers a 40 ft drop, but jumping from it is not recommended. The Lower Waterfall is the main attraction at about 80 ft.

There are two main ways to access the Montezuma Waterfalls. The Riverbed Trail is the easiest route to reach the Lower Waterfall, with a relatively short hike. It is recommended for those who only want to visit the Lower Waterfall. The Canopy Tour Trail is the easier option for accessing the two upper waterfalls but requires transportation. It involves walking across hanging bridges and offers a moderate hike. Accessing the Lower Waterfall from this direction requires climbing steep stairs.

Photo by @deanmcleodphotography

7. Llanos de Cortez Waterfall

Location: Guanacaste, Costa Rica

Difficulty: Easy

Key Features: Wide curtain of water, shallow swimming with a sandy beachlike area, and easy access from the northern beaches.

The Llanos de Cortez Waterfall is found in the northwestern part of Costa Rica, where the land is mostly flat and dry. This waterfall makes our list because of it’s unlikely location in the driest part of Cost Rica. It is conveniently situated off the Pan American Highway, making it easily accessible for travelers heading to Guanacaste’s beach towns or coming from the mountainous areas near La Fortuna or Monteverde. The waterfall is known for its wide and wispy streams of water cascading over mossy rocks. Visitors can swim or wade in the pool at the base of the falls and enjoy the sandy area nearby. The entrance fee for foreigners is under $10. The waterfall is open daily from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., with the last entrance allowed at 3:30 p.m.

8. La Leona Waterfall

Location: Curubandé in northern Costa Rica

Difficulty: Difficult

Key Features: Remote location, turquoise blue waters, and an immersive rainforest experience.

La Leona Waterfall is a unique and stunning blue waterfall located near Curubandé, a small town in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. Its striking turquoise color is due to the presence of sulfur in the water, making it a must-visit attraction in the area. Access to the waterfall is only possible through guided tours, as it requires safety gear and expert guidance. It is recommended to visit between December and April, during the dry season, to enjoy clearer water and easier hiking conditions.

To reach the waterfall, you can drive to Curubandé and book a tour with a local operator. During the hike, you’ll climb, cross rivers, and stop at various water pools. When you reach La Leona Waterfall, you’ll need to swim through a canyon, assisted by a rope, to reach the final destination. Afterward, you can enjoy lunch or relax.

There are different tour options available, including full-day tours with transportation and meals provided. It’s important to note that swimming skills are necessary for these tours, but life jackets are provided for safety.

Important tips for visiting waterfalls in Costa Rica

  • Remember to bring insect repellent and reef-safe sunscreen to protect yourself from the strong sun.
  • Stay hydrated and energized! Make sure to bring plenty of water and snacks for your journey.
  • Take care of our environment by not leaving any trash behind.
  • Be cautious of your surroundings. Keep your belongings with you, lock your car, and avoid taking valuable items.
  • Watch out for signs of rising tides, especially in the rainy season.
  • Be mindful that most of these places lack proper facilities and security. Watch out for slippery rocks and avoid climbing in or around waterfalls unless it is considered safe.
  • Enhance your experience by considering the option of hiring a local guide. They have extensive knowledge of the area, including hidden paths, local wildlife, and captivating stories about the waterfalls. A guide can provide a deeper understanding and appreciation of the natural wonders you encounter, making your trip even more memorable.

In conclusion, some of the Best Waterfalls in Costa Rica are on this list but there are so many more to explore. From the enchanting La Leona Waterfall nestled inside a canyon to the cave behind Diamante waterfall, they all offer a truly magical experience. So pack your bags and let us know which waterfalls you are headed to next in the comments below!

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