The Llanos de Cortes waterfall is one of Costa Rica’s best kept secrets! It is inexpensive, beautiful, and the cool, shallow water is gentle enough for even kids to swim in.
How to get to the Llanos de Cortes waterfall in Costa Rica
Llanos de Cortes is approximately a 30-minute drive east from Liberia, Costa Rica. It is the perfect place to stop if you are renting a car and driving from the beaches and resorts in Guanacaste to the Arenal Volcano area near the town of La Fortuna, where you can zipline, hike in the rainforest, and visit amazing hot springs.
Getting to Llanos de Cortes can be a bit tricky, and the turn off is easy to miss. For this reason, some call Llanos de Cortes a hidden waterfall. It is definitely one of Costa Rica’s best kept secrets. There is no obvious signage from the highway to direct you to the Llanos de Cortes waterfall. There is just a handmade, white sign with painted red letters that says “Catarata”, which is Spanish for waterfall. The parking area for the waterfall is located about a mile down a very bumpy dirt road. A small SUV is extremely beneficial if visiting Llanos de Cortes.
Once you arrive at the parking lot, it will cost you only $4 US to park. There is an attendant who will greet you and who will watch the car while you are down enjoying the waterfall. From the parking lot, it is an easy 10-minute walk down to the waterfall. The short hike isn’t strenuous at all. I was able to walk down wearing flip flops and carrying my 6-month-old. My elderly parents were also able to make the trek up and down without any issues.
Visiting Costa Rica’s Llanos de Cortes waterfall
The waterfall itself is stunning! The water is shallow, and there is no undercurrent so it’s safe for children to swim. You can actually swim right up to the waterfall. At the base it is probably 6-8 feet deep. You can even climb behind the falls and sit or stand on the rocks behind the water. Be careful though, the rocks are covered in moss and can be quite slippery. I would not recommend jumping from behind the falls into the pool below. It’s easy to slip on the rocks and injure yourself or land on a sharp rock underneath the water.
We were fortunate enough to see monkeys hanging out in the trees above us while we visited the Llanos de Cortes waterfall. We also met some extremely friendly locals and a few other tourists. During our visit, the waterfall and beach area were mostly empty. There is a food vendor down at the bottom by the falls if you want to grab a bite to eat while you are there. (I’d assume it is cash only). We had already eaten but the food smelled wonderful.
Tips for visiting the Llanos de Cortes waterfall
- There are no restrooms or changing areas in the parking lot or down at the waterfall itself. I’d suggest wearing your swim suit under your clothes and bringing a towel with you.
- There are larger boulders and wooded areas that could serve as an area to change behind if needed.
- Don’t jump from the rocks. Just don’t. After seeing several local children do it, my husband and I decided to try it. I ended up landing on a sharp rock and injured my foot. It is not how you want to spend your vacation.
- Go mid or late morning instead of the afternoon to avoid crowds.
- Watch for your turn off and rent an SUV, if possible.
- Swim to the base of the waterfall, float on your back and look up. It is both exhilarating and peaceful to swim so close to the base of a waterfall and feel the mist gently hitting your face.
Looking for more information on things to do with kids in Costa Rica? Check out our Costa Rica family itinerary here.
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