If you are traveling north from San José, or already exploring the Guanacaste province, stop off to explore this waterfall. Discover the Llanos de Cortes waterfall near Bagaces, it is a low budget and worthwhile adventure.
Visiting Los Llanos de Cortes waterfall is a chance to be awed by Mother Nature and a wonderful photo-memory opportunity. Imagine yourself as an explorer walking along an easy rainforest trail that will lead you discovering a natural beauty. You can spend from 1-2 hours to a half-day on this refreshing and inexpensive ecotourism adventure.
Guanacaste is Costa Rica’s northernmost province that borders Nicaragua. Liberia is the capital city of Guanacaste. It is home to Costa Rica’s second international airport (Daniel Oduber Quiros International Airport). The Llanos de Cortes waterfall is about 20-30 minutes south of Liberia or 3 hours north of San José. It is just outside the town of Bagaces and is sometimes known as the Bagaces Waterfall. Wherever you may be going around Liberia, the waterfall is an easy stop and worth visiting.
Traveling south from Liberia on the Pan American Highway (aka Route 1), you will pass over the Piedras River and bridge. In about 700 meters you will see a single gravel road on your right. Turn there! If you are traveling north from San José, you will need to pass the Bagaces exit and go about another 3 km. After you go over the Piedras River you will see an exit on the left that allows a U-turn. Go back and watch for a gravel road on the right in less than a kilometer.
If you are traveling in a 4 × 4, it does not matter if it is summer or winter (rainy season). However, if you are in a low car in wintertime, ask if the street is passable for your car. You need to know that Costa Ricans tend to be overly optimistic, so use your judgement. If it has been raining and you are in a low riding car, consider going to entrance #1.
There were a couple of people at the gravel intersection with the Pan American highway the day we went. They were selling cold pipas (fresh coconut water in the shell) and offering good advice. They explained that there are actually two entrances into the waterfall area. The first one is about a kilometer down the gravel road. It is a more developed site that is operated by the municipality. There is an entrance fee and parking area. The walk down to the waterfall and pool is probably better constructed. I am not sure because we decided to venture to entrance #2.
Depending on which entrance you choose, expect to pay a small fee. At the first entrance, the municipality charges about $7 per adult and $4 per child age 7-12 years (children 0-6 are free). Entrance fees are paid to the attendant at the small booth. Your fees and donations make ecotourism sustainable in Costa Rica. They help to preserve these precious ecotourism areas and parks. There may be an additional fee for parking.
The drive to the second entrance is about 2 kilometers or less and takes you into the little local community. Turn right at the soccer plaza and the school. This entrance belongs to the local community and is staffed with volunteers. Visitors are expected to make a donation. These donations go to helping the community fund church or school activities.
There are makeshift signs that lead you to an open farm gate. From there the two track path takes you through a meadow and around to a natural parking lot. There are some friendly local guides, bathrooms and maybe an enterprising lady selling empanadas or drinks. Your car will be safe, but do not leave valuables in view (standard rule anywhere you go).
Get ready for a wonderful rainforest walk. From the parking area to the waterfall is a 15-20 minute walk going slowly. For anyone in good health, it is an enjoyable hike and not challenging. However, if you or anyone in your group has knee problems, is easily tired, or has unsure balance; we recommend the first entrance.
The path is natural and not paved. It is a real rainforest experience with thick green flora and tall tree canopies high above. You will climb or descend 2-3 natural steps in some places. Sunlight streams through, the ground is covered with leaves and birds and monkeys call from somewhere up above.
Watch for this amazing tree! Its roots are clinging to and growing around a couple of huge volcanic boulder rocks. As we walked we saw several morpho butterflies drifting on the breeze. Pause frequently and look around (and up!), you might see an amazing medicinal flower, a toucan, morpho or monkeys!
Continuing on, you will first come to a natural fresh water pool shaded by the rainforest canopy. It is shaped by a tall curving rock backed wall. The water is clean and a comfortable temperature for swimming.
Passing around this pool area, you will come upon an open area. This is your reward! Here you will be facing a small, shallow river-creek with a wide shore on both sides. The water quickly weaves its way between the trees as it flows from the waterfall on your left. People can sit, picnic, and relax on either side of the small river. It is shallow enough for young children to enjoy with supervision.
The trails are gradual and moderately easy walks for all ages. Most of the swimming areas are shallow enough for young waders. In addition, the Llanos de Cortes waterfall is not overly powerful. It is clean, well-shaded and makes a wonderful fun nature experience. Watch in the trees above the waterfall, we saw a troop of white-faced monkeys up there.
Fortunately, the Llanos del Cortes waterfall near Bagaces is a family-friendly attraction that you can do on your own. It is only about a 20-25 minute drive from Liberia. It is about an hour drive from the coastal communities of Playa Hermosa and Playa del Coco, and about 90 minutes from the beach town of Tamarindo. Another plus is that you don’t need a 4×4 vehicle for this ecotourism adventure.
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