The Waterfalls of Costa Rica
Refreshing Adventure Tourism
by Steve Linder
One might assume there’d be waterfalls in a country noted for mountains and rainforest, but I never imagined how spectacular and numerous they would be. Costa Rica is loaded with waterfalls. When I think of waterfalls, I remember the freezing waters of the Kancamagus River in New Hampshire, close to where I grew up. The difference in Costa Rica is that most are nice and warm and many are open for swimming. Do be aware: ‘sometimes swimming in waterfalls can be dangerous, but I’ve always liked to live a bit on the edge and adventure tourism is one of Costa Rica’s main attractions.
A few really unique waterfalls include one on the Rio Celeste, where minerals interacting between the volcanic spring-fed river and the natural minerals of a rainforest stream cause the conjoined river to glow a bright iridescent blue. It’s breathtaking. Though a hike to get there, this is one of my favorite day trips in Costa Rica.
You can also find waterfalls that flank Arenal Volcano, originating from volcanic hot springs. One of my favorites is La Fortuna waterfall on the Tenorio river. This waterfall plunges nearly 197 feet into a perfect swimming hole. Along the flanks of Arenal Volcano, a number of spas have been built to take advantage of these naturally heated rivers. One of our favorites is Tabacon Hot Springs Resort.
Baru River Falls and Paz Azul
Further south in the town of Dominical, another favorite is the Baru River Falls where you can jump from the upper falls into deep pools formed by millions of years of water eroding the stone. In another area in Tres Rios Coronado, about 25 miles further south, parents often drop their children a few miles upriver and park further down and wait for them to slip and slide their way down. A popular hotel in the area is the Rio Tico Safari Lodge, built along the river and waterfalls. The hotel consists of luxury tents built on platforms that flank the river. The Paz Azul waterfalls are unique in that a huge boulder rolled down the river only to end up stuck between both sides of the top of the waterfall.
La Paz Waterfall Gardens
One of the best viewable waterfall collections is an attraction known as La Paz Waterfall Gardens. This national treasure, a private reserve that’s open to the public, has a series of trails, bridges, and stairways to allow one to get up close and personal with some of my favorites. I joke that a trip to La Paz is like two hours on a stairmaster, but most of the stairs go downhill to a bus at the bottom that returns you to the top. The park is located on the back side of Poas Volcano where the owners have built a variety of other attractions to complement the amazing location tucked in a cloud forest. There’s a huge aviary, a butterfly garden, an orchid and bromeliad display, a frog exhibit, a serpentarium, a big cat exhibit, a hummingbird garden, a trout pool, a traditional Costa Rican farm house, and about six large waterfalls, complete with viewing stations. You can even get next to or behind a few of the larger ones, making for great photo ops. Having led tours in Costa Rica for over 10 years, our clients rave again and again that this is the best attraction in Costa Rica.
A Word of Caution
One point to note, if swimming in waterfalls in Costa Rica, do be aware that rocks, debris, and large branches are often tossed or are floating down the river upstream and may come over the top of a waterfall at any time, so avoid getting directly under the waterfall, as this debris can do serious damage to you. Also be aware of the currents during rainy season; I have witnessed people being swept away by the unexpected force of water.
Previously published in the 2016 Spring Issue.