Trip Reports

Llanos de Cortes Waterfall (Must See to Believe!)

Planning to see Llanos de Cortes Waterfall? Learn how, when, and what you’ll need for a perfect visit. This guide covers entrance details, navigation directions, the best times for crowd-free moments, and what to expect at one of Costa Rica’s treasured falls. Gear up for a smooth experience at Llanos de Cortes with our focused insights.

Visiting Llanos de Cortez Waterfall in Bagaces

  • Llanos de Cortes waterfall is a tranquil Costa Rican gem, offering serene views and unique seasonal beauty, easily accessible from nearby towns like Liberia and Tamarindo.
  • For a stress-free visit, aim to arrive early with $7-10 USD for entry, pack essentials like swimsuits, sturdy shoes, and snacks, and enjoy well-maintained amenities including changing rooms and bathrooms.
  • Fully experience the falls by exploring trails, swimming areas, and observing local wildlife. Visit nearby attractions like Rio Celeste, balance your adventure with transportation options, and visit responsibly to preserve the natural beauty.

Discovering Llanos de Cortes Waterfall

bagaces waterfall
This is a waterfall you have to see to believe!

As you approach the Llanos de Cortes waterfall, you are greeted by the soothing symphony of cascading waters and the gentle rustling of leaves, a testament to the waterfall’s tranquil setting. This waterfall, also known locally as Llanos de Cortez, is one of Costa Rica’s hidden gems, captivating visitors with its lush surroundings and mesmerizing cascade.

The allure of the Llanos de Cortes waterfall transcends seasons. Whether it’s the dry season with its less vigorous flow or the rainy season that magnifies its beauty with a more powerful stream, the waterfall remains a sight to behold. It’s no wonder that this breathtaking spectacle is considered a must-visit destination in Costa Rica.

Journey to the Falls: Navigating Your Way

Finding your way to the Llanos de Cortes waterfall is straightforward, thanks to clear signage and convenient access from the main highway. If you’re jetting in from Liberia International Airport, a straight drive along Route 21 will lead you straight to the waterfall, situated about 30 kilometers away. Alternatively, if you’re coming from Playas del Coco, you’ll need to take Route 21 to Liberia, then Route 1 for approximately 14 miles – a journey of roughly one hour.

For visitors based in Tamarindo, a westward journey on Route 155, followed by Route 21 via Belen, will take you to Liberia, and subsequently, the waterfall, in about 90 minutes. If you prefer public transportation, buses from Liberia to Bagaces or Cañas are available and leave every two hours, although you might need to walk a few kilometers to reach the waterfall.

Regardless of your chosen route, you can be confident that the same waterfall is readily accessible, with a short three-minute drive from the main highway and a short walk down a sturdy concrete path leading you directly to the falls.

Entry Essentials: Fees and Timing

Before you venture to the Llanos de Cortes waterfall, make sure to familiarize yourself with the admission fees and hours of operation. The waterfall welcomes visitors from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm daily. A suggested donation of 2000 CRC per person (~$3.34 USD) applies as an entrance fee. However, foreign tourists might encounter mandatory charges between $7 to $10 USD.

Timing your visit is key to enjoying an optimal experience. To beat the crowds and relish the waterfall in its serene glory, aim to arrive at opening time, around 8:00 am. The waterfall tends to get busier around 9:30 am. To fully soak in the beauty of the falls, try to arrive by 2:00 pm at the latest.

Preparing for Your Visit: What to Pack

Packing the right essentials can make your visit to the Llanos de Cortes waterfall a more comfortable and enjoyable experience. Since there are no nearby stores to purchase essentials, it’s best to come prepared. Here are some items to consider bringing:

  • Swimsuit
  • Comfortable clothing
  • Sturdy shoes for navigating the uneven terrain
  • Flip flops
  • Hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug spray
  • Towel

For a full breakdown of recommended items to bring to Costa Rica, check out my full guide on what to pack for a trip to Costa Rica.

Keeping yourself hydrated and full of energy is essential for a day of exploration. Make sure to bring water and snacks, especially if you’re planning to stay at the falls for extended periods. Having a picnic by the waterfall can be a delightful experience, adding to the charm of your visit.

Exploring the Waterfall: Trails and Swimming Areas

llano de cortes waterfall
Our son in front of the waterfall.

Discover the splendor of the Llanos de Cortes waterfall by venturing its trails and swimming spots. The main trail to the waterfall features sturdy concrete steps with a handrail, leading you from the parking lot to the waterfall in about ten minutes. This easy access makes the waterfall a perfect spot for visitors of all ages and fitness levels.

At the base of the falls, you’ll find a warm pool suitable for wading and swimming, also known as a swimming hole. Adjacent to it is a sandy area where you can relax and soak in the stunning view of the cascading waterfall. Safety is a priority here. Lifeguards are stationed both on the sand and in the swimming area, and a safety rope is installed in the pool to limit access to a certain point while still allowing proximity to the falls. Due to the slippery rocks and mucky pool bottoms, wearing water shoes with a good grip is advisable.

For the adventurous souls, a guided tour can take you to a smaller waterfall for a thrilling 5-meter jump into a deep pool. If you prefer a bit of seclusion, you can relax by the top pool, although getting there may involve a less-traveled and less-rewarding path. Keen on getting a bird’s eye view of the waterfall? You can hike to the top of the waterfall, though caution is necessary due to slippery conditions and potential hazards near the edges.

Facilities and Amenities: Comfort and Convenience

The Catarata Llanos de Cortes waterfall offers a host of facilities and amenities to ensure your comfort and convenience. A large, free waterfall parking lot is available for visitors, including an official municipality entrance with a well-maintained parking space. While there is no formal security guard, an informal attendant may watch over the parking lot.

The site also features modern bathrooms near the parking lot, along with changing rooms included in the entrance fee, sparing you the discomfort of porta-potties. However, remember to take precautions with your valuables as there are no lockers available for secure storage. Though not officially managed, a person near the bathroom facilities might informally offer some oversight of the parking lot area.

Embracing Nature: Flora and Fauna Around the Falls

Close-up of a howler monkey in the lush forest near Llanos de Cortes Waterfall

A trip to the Llanos de Cortes waterfall is not solely focused on the stunning falls and serene environment; it also involves appreciating the variety of plant and animal life that contributes to the waterfall’s ecosystem. Be sure to keep a lookout for howler monkeys, white face monkeys, friendly iguanas, and even boa constrictors high up in the trees. They can often be spotted if you pay close attention. The river banks near the waterfall are a habitat for wildlife, including frogs, tadpoles, and the remarkable common basilisk, also known as the “Jesus Christ Lizard,” along with red dragonflies, Blue morpho butterflies, and microbats.

Peering into the waters of Llanos de Cortes, you might spot tiny fish that add to the waterfall’s natural aquatic biodiversity. So, whether you’re a nature lover, a wildlife enthusiast, or a curious traveler, the rich biodiversity around the Llanos de Cortes waterfall offers a delightful and insightful experience.

Capturing Memories: Photography Tips

Photographer capturing the beauty of Llanos de Cortes Waterfall at sunset

A trip to the Llanos de Cortes waterfall is a memorable occasion, and capturing these moments in beautiful photographs is an ideal way to retain these memories. Here are some tips for photographing the waterfall:

  • Visit early in the morning to take advantage of soft illumination.
  • Bring a tripod to stabilize your camera for long exposure shots, creating a silky effect on the moving water.
  • Experiment with different shutter speeds to capture varying effects of the water flow, from freezing motion to creating a smooth, misty appearance.

To capture stunning waterfall photos, consider the following tips:

  1. Use a polarizing filter to reduce glare on the water and enhance colors.
  2. Step back to capture the full scale of the falls, including the surrounding landscape.
  3. Experiment with different angles, such as shooting from the top and bottom, to add variety to your collection.
  4. Include people in your shots to provide a sense of scale and add a dynamic element.
  5. Look for natural framing provided by trees and foliage to create compelling compositions.

By following these tips, you can capture breathtaking waterfall photos.

For a unique perspective, try capturing the reflection of the waterfall in the calm pools below. If you’re feeling adventurous, utilize the rocky outcrops around the waterfall to gain elevation and photograph the falls from a higher vantage point.

Beyond the Falls: Nearby Attractions

The journey continues beyond the Llanos de Cortes waterfall, offering an unforgettable Costa Rica travel experience. Venture beyond the falls to explore nearby attractions that further elevate your Costa Rica’s experience. A notable attraction is Rio Celeste, a captivating natural spectacle close to Llanos de Cortes. Here, the confluence of two clear brooks results in the water turning a stunning shade of turquoise, a sight that is sure to leave you in awe. A moderate 2-hour hike within Tenorio Volcano National Park allows you to experience the remarkable Rio Celeste and its lush wilderness surroundings. Wildlife enthusiasts will appreciate the chance to visit a sloth sanctuary around Rio Celeste, offering opportunities to observe and learn about these unique animals. For those looking to extend their adventure, consider a visit to San Jose, Costa Rica’s vibrant capital city.

If you’re a beach lover, Playa Hermosa is a must-visit. This pristine beach features:

  • Gentle waves
  • Stunning scenery
  • Options for swimming, snorkeling, and a variety of water sports
  • Rich marine life, including dolphins and tropical fish

Playa Hermosa is an excellent location for snorkeling and wildlife observation.

If you prefer a guided exploration, consider the Waterfall & Blue Lagoon Full-Day Tour. This tour commences at Llanos de Cortes Waterfalls, continues to Rio Celeste, and finishes with a visit to a local garden in Bijagua, promising a day filled with nature, adventure, and local insights.

Responsible Tourism: Preserving Llanos de Cortes

While we appreciate the splendor of the Llanos de Cortes waterfall, we must also fulfill our duty to protect this natural treasure for upcoming generations. Adhere to safety rules such as:

  • refraining from climbing the slippery rocks near the waterfall
  • not swimming directly beneath the waterfall
  • smoking and vaping are prohibited in the waterfall area to maintain air quality and natural ambiance
  • while dogs are generally not allowed, certain exceptions are made to protect the natural environment and guests
  • dispose of trash properly to keep the waterfall pristine.

Familiarize yourself with the park’s official entrance requirements and conservation guidelines, which are designed to fund educational initiatives through the revenue generated. Avoid activities that might damage the ecosystem or disturb the waterfall’s wildlife to sustain the area’s natural state.

Unique Experiences: Guided Tours and Local Insights ->

Each trip to the Llanos de Cortes waterfall offers a chance for distinctive experiences that deepen your understanding of the waterfall’s ecosystem and local history. Guided tours, for instance, offer an insightful journey that goes beyond the waterfall’s visual beauty. These tours can be booked through local tour operators in the area and may include additional activities such as bird watching, swimming, and enjoying a picnic by the waterfall.

Local guides recommend visiting the waterfall early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the crowds and enjoy a more serene experience. Whether you’re seeking a relaxing day in nature or an adventurous outing involving nearby activities, you can personalize your visit to the waterfall to create an experience that echoes your interests and preferences.

Guided Tours

Choosing a guided tour to Llanos de Cortes can enrich your experience. Facilitated by an on-site employee knowledgeable about local plants and wildlife, these tours offer a deeper exploration of the waterfall’s rich ecosystem. If you’re seeking a full-day adventure, consider a private tour that includes the Llanos de Cortes Waterfalls as well as other attractions like Rio Blanco and La Leona Waterfall. These tours also offer opportunities for various activities such as tubing or cliff jumping, promising a day of fun and excitement.

The Private Sloth Forest, Coffee, Chocolate, and Waterfall Tour offers a rich experience that encompasses wildlife, nature, agriculture, and a visit to Llanos de Cortes Waterfalls. Guided tours in the area offer not only visits to the waterfall but also additional experiences like round-trip hotel transport, lunch, and activities such as hiking and sloth sighting. Besides offering valuable insights, employing a local guide for the waterfall tour contributes positively to the local economy.

Local Insights

Local insights can add an authentic touch to your waterfall visit. Engaging with the locals and learning from their experiences can provide you with valuable tips and lesser-known facts about the waterfall. Whether it’s the best time to visit, lesser-known spots to explore, or tips on interacting with the local wildlife, local insights can greatly enrich your visit and offer a more immersive experience.

Customizing Your Adventure

Every visitor to Llanos de Cortes waterfall has unique preferences, and customizing your adventure helps cater to those preferences. Whether you’re an early bird seeking a peaceful visit or a thrill-seeker looking for an adventurous outing, the waterfall offers a range of experiences.

For a serene experience at the waterfall, here are some tips:

  • Aim to arrive on a weekday morning when the site tends to be less crowded.
  • If you’re planning for a leisurely day, consider staying for a few hours or extend to half a day.
  • The duration can include activities like enjoying a picnic or swimming in the waterfall’s naturally formed pool.

Getting Around: Transportation Tips ->

With the correct guidance, traversing around Llanos de Cortes waterfall can be effortless. Whether you’re driving yourself or relying on public transport, understanding the transportation options and tips can ensure a smooth journey.

For those without their own transportation, a guided combo tour is suggested to make your visit hassle-free.

Rental Car vs. Public Transport

Choosing between a rental car and public transport depends on your personal preferences and circumstances. Renting a car is often considered the best option due to the lack of direct public bus services to the site. If you’re up for an adventurous route to Llanos de Cortes, a 4×4 rental vehicle is recommended, especially during the rainy season, to handle rougher 10-minute drives and natural hiking paths.

On the other hand, public transportation to Llanos de Cortes is available via a bus from Liberia to Cañas that passes by the entrance of the waterfall. However, it necessitates walking from the bus stop to the waterfall, which might not be ideal for everyone. It’s essential to weigh the trade-offs between the convenience and readiness of access provided by a rental car versus the economical but less direct option of public transportation.

Parking and Security

If you’re driving to Llanos de Cortes waterfall, knowing about the parking options and security measures can ensure a hassle-free visit. The waterfall features a large parking lot located about a kilometer from the security station and entrance, included in the entry fee. While there is no formal security guard, an informal attendant may watch over the parking lot, providing some measure of security.

However, the parking lot at Llanos de Cortes waterfall is not under surveillance, and visitors should remain vigilant about securing their vehicles. For a seamless experience, visitors are advised to head to the location marked ‘Llanos de Cortes Parking Lot’ on Google Maps to ensure access to the correct entrance.

Navigating the Pan American Highway

Whether you’re a seasoned driver or a newbie, navigating the Pan American Highway to reach Llanos de Cortes waterfall can be an exciting part of your journey. This highway is well-maintained with two lanes in both directions near Liberia; however, drivers should remain vigilant for potholes and uneven road surfaces. The road leading to the waterfall is accessible by all vehicle types, including sedans, as there are no steep inclines or challenging mountain roads on the way.

For a smooth ride, it’s best to have a GPS for guidance along Route 1 due to the frequent changes in speed limits. Keep an eye out for signs near a pedestrian bridge marking the exit for Llanos de Cortes Waterfall from the Pan American Highway.

Visiting During Dry and Rainy Seasons

Distinctive attributes of the Llanos de Cortes waterfall are revealed in different seasons, influencing its look and the comprehensive visitor experience. The waterfall’s stream is much more powerful during the rainy season, offering a mesmerizing spectacle of nature’s force. The rainiest months, particularly in October and November, even bring a second smaller waterfall with a pool, adding to the waterfall’s allure.

However, for a safer and more enjoyable experience, tourists are advised to visit during the dry season to minimize potential negative impacts on the trails and surrounding nature. The falls are busiest during the dry season, while a decrease in visitors during the rainy season offers quieter experiences.

Best Time to Visit

Deciding the optimal time to explore the Llanos de Cortes waterfall hinges on your individual preferences for visitor numbers and the waterfall’s visual appeal. The dry season, such as in February, typically sees heavier visitation. However, even in the middle of the dry season, from February to April, there is plenty of water coming over the falls, ensuring a captivating sight.

Conversely, during September and October, heavy rains can expand the waterfall and prevent access to the lower beach, making visits less ideal.

Changes in Waterfall Dynamics

Comparison of Llanos de Cortes Waterfall during dry and rainy seasons

Comprehending the alterations in waterfall behavior across the dry and wet seasons is vital for organizing your trip. During Costa Rica’s dry season, the Llanos de Cortes waterfall’s water flow is significantly reduced, resulting in a less vigorous cascade. However, in the rainy season, the waterfall presents a much more powerful and voluminous flow, affecting both its appearance and the sound of the crashing water.

The waterfall’s pool depth also increases during the rainy season, which may impact swimming conditions and safety due to stronger currents. The water level at the Llanos de Cortes waterfall can vary greatly between seasons, primarily due to the amount of rainfall received during the wet months. These variations can significantly alter the visitor experience at the falls, from the viewing point settings to the conditions for aquatic activities like swimming.

Planning for Weather

The weather has a considerable impact on your experience at the Llanos de Cortes waterfall. It can influence the comfort of your visit, the activities you engage in, and even the photographs you take. To have the most comfortable weather conditions during your visit, it’s best to plan a trip to Llanos de Cortes Waterfall in the early morning or late afternoon when it’s cooler.

Summary

An adventure to the Llanos de Cortes Waterfall in Costa Rica is a journey into the heart of nature’s breathtaking beauty and serenity. From the cascade of the waterfall to the rich biodiversity of its surroundings, the waterfall offers an immersive experience that goes beyond a typical tourist visit. Whether you’re navigating your way to the falls, exploring its trails and swimming areas, capturing stunning photographs, or venturing beyond the falls to nearby attractions, every moment is filled with awe and wonder. Remember, responsible tourism is key to preserving this natural wonder for future generations. So, pack your essentials, embrace the adventure, and embark on a memorable journey to the Llanos de Cortes Waterfall.

This whole experience can be enjoyed over a half day to a day, or if you are in a hurry, you can experience the waterfall and it’s local vendors and beauty in as little as 30 minutes.  We always stop by here on our way from Liberia airport to La Fortuna and usually spend about an hour soaking it all in.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long is the hike to Llanos de Cortez waterfall?

The hike to Llanos de Cortez waterfall is a very short walk, taking about 3-5 minutes. The trail has a concrete path and a handrail, making it an accessible and easy route for all visitors.

How much does it cost to go to Llanos de Cortes waterfall?

It costs $7 per person to visit Llanos de Cortes waterfall. The entry fee includes the opportunity to explore the beautiful waterfall and surrounding area.

How tall is Llanos de Cortez waterfall?

The Llanos de Cortez waterfall is about 60-70 feet high, making it a wonderful place to visit for a refreshing escape from the heat. Enjoy!

What is the best time to visit Llanos de Cortes Waterfall?

The best time to visit Llanos de Cortes Waterfall is during the dry season from February to April for a safer and more enjoyable experience.

How can I get to Llanos de Cortes Waterfall from Liberia International Airport?

You can reach Llanos de Cortes Waterfall from Liberia International Airport by taking a straight drive along Route 21, which is approximately 30 kilometers away.

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About 

Tim Schmidt is a 20+ year Entrepreneur and Digital Marketer. A Fort Lauderdale-based "Digital Nomad," he enjoys traveling as much as possible with family and friends. AllWorld is his escape to document all of his adventures, including being a hardcore "foodie." He has property in Costa Rica and visits several times each year and is happy to offer his expert advice for planning your trip.

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