Waterfalls of the Southern Nicoya
Costa Rica is surrounded by some of the pristine bodies of water anywhere in the world, which is what makes it the perfect paradise getaway for people who appreciate the boundless beauty of nature. Waterfalls are among the best features of Costa Rica and some of the most majestic ones are found in Southern Nicoya Peninsula.
Many of the waterfalls in this part of Costa Rica have swimming holes, while others have rope-swings and are ideal for cliff-diving adventures.
Most of these majestic waterfalls are well hidden and virtually unknown to most tourists and even some of the locals in the surrounding area, making them all the more interesting for thrill seekers and adventure junkies. Locating these waterfalls would be like a treasure hunt, at the end of which you will find one of the best-kept jewels of Costa Rica.
All rivers in the country are zoned as public land, so anyone can take a hike up any stream or river in the surrounding area without fear of being apprehended or stopped by the local authorities. The public domain extends up to 15 meters from the edge of the riverbank so it is possible to also hike along the shorelines. It is best to be careful when negotiating under/over barbed wire fences since they can scratch the skin or even cause a serious gash.
For tourists who are fond of exotic animals and their habitat, this is definitely the best place to be since the area is teeming with wildlife. Among the must-see creatures in the peninsula include (but not limited to) Roseate Spoonbills (birds that bear a striking resemblance to pink flamingos), blue crayfish (edible crustacean), river otters, Jesus Christ Lizards or Basilisks (named as such due to their ability to walk on water). The best thing would be to start the trip early in order to see as many exotic creatures as possible. It is hard to observe wildlife in the dark, not to mention it would be infinitely hard to hike as well. No poisonous snakes roam the area, or at least they are extremely rare that there is very little danger of encountering one at all.
Perhaps the only concern you should have when planning a hiking trip in this area is flash floods. While the probability is low, it is good to be prepared for such event so that you are able to respond immediately, i.e. running up the riverbed if/when you hear a loud gushing noise coming at you).
Perhaps the most popular waterfall in Costa Rica is the Montezuma waterfalls, which is actually three separate falls that cascade freely downward to create a heavenly feel for the lucky people who got the chance to enjoy this body of water. It takes about 10 to 20 minutes to get to the first falls if you are coming from the ocean near Hotel Amor de mar. A large swimming hole would be waiting for you as soon as you reach the peak. Note that it is very important to wear comfortable shoes with excellent grip soles because the rocks can be quite slippery and can easily cause anyone to slip.
Those who fancy cliff diving will have to move up to pools two and three to get enough elevation for the jump. There is a steep path to the right of the first pool, which you need to take and then follow a trail up to the right side. You should be able to find a rope that will allow descent. Jumping from up to 40 feet is possible but you can also choose a lower jump at 8-15 feet (also allows for rope swinging), depending on how confident you feel and how much adrenaline rush you are craving at the time.
Note that the land surrounding the pools is exclusive private property and there are residents in the area at any given time. Tourists should observe and respect the privacy of the residents while they are enjoying the beauty of the falls.
Not far from Montezuma Falls is a 40-meter high waterfall that is located in the next river valley to the south. Getting there would require a drive up the Hill from Amor de Mar Hotel, and a left turn to the Butterfly Gardens. At the bottom of the canyon is a small bridge where you can park, then go for a 100-meter hike all the way to the falls.
Practically no one goes to this little nook but it is a remarkable sight. Not only is it secluded enough for private swimming but it also has naturally formed Jacuzzis (small but deep depressions filled with water. This spot is perfect for couples who like some alone time amidst the wondrous waters of Costa Rica.
You can actually walk up here pretty easily from town and it’s closer and easier to get to than Montezuma Falls, and no tourists at all. It doesn’t have the large, deep, clear water pools that Montezuma Falls has, but you’re much more likely to see a rare wild animal if you’re quietly hiking here because there’s no one around. Another great way to get here is to hike up all the way from the beach. To do that, walk south towards Cabuya from Amor de Mar hotel in Montezuma, and when you see a waterfall on the right, start climbing up this stream and you’ll be in the right river valley. Few people do this and it’s a very exciting hike.
Los Cedros falls is another little known waterfall within the immediate vicinity of Montezuma. Getting there requires a drive from Montezuma to Cabuya and past Playa Las Manchas. The road comes to a split but meets up again to a single point where there is a small bridge, which you need to cross to get to Rio Cedros. The rest of the way will have to be taken on foot, and the walk lasts about 20-30 minutes so you might want to pack water before the journey.
After the half-hour hike, you will get to a fork in the river. There is a good waterfall to the right but the best one is located on the left. Another 20 minutes or so and you will get to the incredible waterfalls. The passage is something that you might want to pay close attention to since there are a number of relics on the ground, which have been exposed by the river. Some of the things you will notice include different sorts of pottery and animal bones. It is as if the history of Los Cedros laid bare for interested tourists to witness.
Buena Vista Falls
One of the many wonders of Costa Rica is the fact that there are so many hidden jewels just waiting to be discovered by lucky and highly motivated tourists. The Buena Vista falls is one of the many hidden treasures worth discovering when you come to visit Costa Rica. It is so precious that anyone who wishes to know its beauty will have to do their due diligence. Since there are no directions provided for by any of the businesses in the area, i.e. hotels, restaurants, etc., you will have to find a local who knows the area well and convince him/her to show you the way. Imagine going on a quest for a buried treasure, which is essentially what Buena Vista falls is. Once there, it will become clear to you why this little nugget is hidden from the rest of the world.
Rio Lajas Falls
This legendary waterfall is one of the most popular in the area mainly due to the perfect scenery around it as well as the sheer ecstatic feeling that you get when under the cascading waters. While getting to this fall requires abut 2 hours of hike each way, the rewards more than make up for the muscle cramps. Due to the nature of this trip, it is highly recommended for tourists to carry all the essentials with them, i.e. water, food (preferably something that does not require the use of utensils or cutlery), and a compass.
To get to this waterfall, you will have to drive down south from Montezuma all the way to Cabuya Bridge. It is a large river with a rocky bottom, with a large number of egrets as inhabitants. Hike up and follow the trail of the main river for about an hour or so until you reach the fork. Go to the right and head on straight for about a couple of hours, depending on how fast your feet will allow you to move, then you should be right in the wonderful nest.
The left fork takes you to the Rio Enmedio where there is another excellent waterfall. However, the trip is at least three hours so it is not ideal if you want to have more time for swimming.
The Seven Sacred Pools of Florida
When renowned Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon set out to find the fountain of youth in Florida, he was clearly in the wrong part of the world because he should have been looking for it in Costa Rica. The beauty of these waterfalls is beyond words so if you want to know just how amazing it is, taking a hike is the only recourse. To find these aquatic treasures, you have to drive from Cobano to Tanbor and keep your eyes open for a wood corral on the left side of the street and a house right across. There should be a sign that says Cascada on the left, but it has been taken down for some reason. In any case, you can get to the falls by paying 400 Calones for each person (payments are to be made to the personnel in the said house across the street), go through the gates and follow the road.
Keep in mind that the road ahead is going to be very rocky, thus the need to use bikes instead of a car (unless you have a sturdy 4 WD, i.e. Toyota F450 that can effectively negotiate the bumps.
The large pool can accommodate several people at a time but the area is so large that you can have a pool all to yourself. This journey is indeed worth taking so it is best to tell your friends/family about it and convince them to go with you and experience the falls just the way God intended it.
Cocolito Falls – “El Chorro”
The two-hour hike required to get to Cocolito Falls is a small price to pay for the beauty that is waiting for anyone who decides to take the journey. This waterfall is a real treat for people who enjoy the thrill of cool cascading water that is a real treat not only for sore muscles but also for the soul. An unexplained serenity envelops the waterfalls, which incidentally has a rainbow right overhead. What is even more amazing is that the beach that is located just before is an exquisite cove that is blessed with turquoise water and pristine white sand.
Since it is a hot walk on the beach, it is ideal to start early so you can enjoy the sand as well as the view without getting blisters on the soles of your feet. Another amazing feature of this pit stop on the way to Cocolito falls is that you can see wild animals roaming the beach freely, albeit the creatures are used to people that they do not mind peaceful co-existence.
Another pit stop you need to make on the way to the waterfalls is at the Cafe CocaCola. This small hut/coffee shop is owned by a nice old man who has two pizotes that are very entertaining to watch. You will experience true local color when you drop by places such as Cafe CocaCola, and see that Costa Rica is just the best places to be when you want to relax and admire what Mother Nature has bestowed the Earth.
Santa Fe Falls
The falls found in the northern area of Santa Fe are wrapped in mystery, thus making for an exciting hike. While word on the street is that the property surrounding the falls has been purchased by a wealthy foreigner who does not approve of people roaming around, tourists can still legally hike to the waterfalls.
Rio Negro Falls – Near Manzanillo
By taking the road from Manzanilla to Cobano, you will arrive at a small bridge where you can park. Proceed to walk down the river for an hour or so until you see massively large trees and wild orchids. Just up ahead are big swimming holes that will certainly delight children as well as adults. Past the falls is a large river, the Rio Ario, which can be traversed via canoe and ends up in the Rio Bongo.
Rio Ario Falls
On one of the largest rivers in the northern area, you will find Rio Ario falls where very few tourists ever bother to go. It is definitely worth the trip for anyone who likes to discover hidden waterfalls and scenic trails.
The Rio Ario falls are actually accessed from the right (east) side of the peninsula, by driving up through Paquera and Naranjo, rather than going from the left (west) where the river actually is. These amazing falls are within the Karen Morgensen Nature Reserve.
Limestone Waterfall Cave
The Montezuma and Malpais area is teeming with excellent beaches and waterfalls, but the Cabuya limestone waterfall and cave is something special. This waterfall is the culmination of millions of years in tectonic shifts that results in rock and cave formation. The waterfall has a number of pools with perfect edges of almost the same height. The small cave on top of the waterfall is home to thousands of fruit bats and has a spectacular display of stalactites and stalagmites. This incredible site is one of the best-kept secrets in the tourism community but it is made available to tourists by way of Rainsong Sanctuary Retreat, with which you need to book a tour to get to the location.