Last updated on February 27th, 2020 at 09:19 am EST
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Costa Rica’s Llanos del Cortes Waterfall
If you have an hour or two to spare while in the Liberia-area (technically, the Bagaces-area) of Costa Rica, don’t miss the Llanos del Cortes Waterfall, a beautiful, soothing, and photogenic waterfall and swimming hole. The entrance fee is inexpensive, the drive to and from the attraction is easy, the climb down to (and back up from) the waterfall’s base isn’t overly challenging, and the swimming hole, which has lifeguards on duty, is refreshing and suitable for children.
The difference between the Llanos del Cortes Waterfall, the Llanos de Cortes Waterfall, and the Llanos del Cortez Waterfall, and the Llanos de Cortez Waterfall
Simply put, there is no difference between the Llanos del Cortes Waterfall, the Llanos de Cortes Waterfall, and the Llanos del Cortez Waterfall, and the Llanos de Cortez Waterfall. Though the correct name of the waterfall is the Llanos del Cortes Waterfall (or the Llanos del Cortés Waterfall, with the accent included), rather astonishingly, countless print sources, blogs, and other online resources cite the name of the attraction incorrectly. Named after the small community of Llanos del Cortes, even the attraction’s own logo, signage, and documentation confirms that the spelling of “Llanos del Cortes” is correct (see the badge in the top-right corner of the bottom-left image below, or the address on the payment receipt displayed in the bottom-right image below).
- There are half a dozen Facebook pages dedicated to the Llanos del Cortes Waterfall (citing various names), but this one, in the name of the Llanos del Cortes Waterfall, is the official one. Both the waterfall and its Facebook page are managed by the Municipality of Bagaces, Costa Rica.
Who should visit the Llanos del Cortes Waterfall
The Llanos del Cortes Waterfall is one attraction that we can recommend fairly easily to a wide range of travelers, including the types described below. If you identify with one or more of the groups, adding a visit the Llanos del Cortes Waterfall during your time in Costa Rica may be a smart choice.
Visit the Llanos del Cortes waterfall if you plan to a) fly into or out of the LIR Airport, b) visit the Liberia region of Costa Rica, or c) pass through the Liberia region of Costa Rica
The Llanos del Cortes Waterfall is located less than a ten-minute drive off Costa Rica’s Highway #1, otherwise known as the Pan-American Highway, or, as Google Maps displays, the Inter American Highway (for more information about Costa Rica’s highways, don’t miss our related blog post Costa Rica Highway Conditions By Route). If you plan to fly into or out of the LIR Liberia airport (a.k.a., the Daniel Oduber Quiros International Airport) or spend time in the general Liberia area, it’s not difficult to make a quick trip to the Llanos del Cortes Waterfall and back. If you plan to visit a Guanacaste destination (i.e., a destination that sits along Costa Rica’s northern Pacific coast or a destination that’s located in the zone northwest of Liberia) before or after visiting either La Fortuna / Arenal, Monteverde, San Jose, the Caribbean Coast, the central Pacific coast, or the Osa Peninsula, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to schedule a stop at the Llanos del Cortes Waterfall as you travel between destinations along Highway #1.
Visit the Llanos del Cortes Waterfall if you plan to rent a car in Costa Rica
It’s no secret that having access to a rental car in Costa Rica awards you with road-tripping freedom (if you’re on the fence about whether or not you should rent a car for your trip, don’t miss our related blog post Renting A Car In Costa Rica: Should You Do It? which can help you weigh the various pros and cons). Since the Llanos del Cortes Waterfall is merely a twenty-five-minute drive from Liberia, an hour drive from the coastal communities of Playa Hermosa and Playas del Coco, and a ninety-minute drive from the popular beach town of Tamarindo, self-drive visits to the waterfall can be made with only a few free hours. What’s more, you don’t need a 4×4 vehicle to access the cascade.
Visit the Llanos del Cortes Waterfall if you’re traveling on a tight budget
Though there’s now a fee to enter the Llanos del Cortes Waterfall (entrance was by donation only prior to 2019), the waterfall remains one of Costa Rica’s least expensive cascades with paid access. Its affordable entrance fees are $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 you’ll encounter shortly before you reach the waterfall’s parking lot.
Visit the Llanos del Cortes Waterfall if you plan to travel with young children
Fortunately, the Llanos del Cortes Waterfall is a family-friendly attraction. Not only does the sandy entrance that leads into the swimming hole offer a gradual descent, but plenty of the pool’s sections are shallow enough for young waders. In addition, since the Llanos del Cortes Waterfall isn’t overly powerful (at least when compared to other waterfalls in Costa Rica, such as the one we describe in our related blog post Visiting The All-New La Fortuna Waterfall And Orchid Garden), you’re less likely to be bothered by strong river currents and significant water spray coming off the cascade. Though all child’s play near water warrants the highest degree of care and attention (avoid letting children get too close to the waterfall’s base where swimming can be dangerous), the swimming experience here is generally pleasant and low-risk. Lifeguards keep watch over swimmers and offer an added level of precaution.
Who shouldn’t visit the Llanos del Cortes Waterfall
In contrast to the information we provided above, the Llanos del Cortes Waterfall isn’t for everyone. If you identify with one or more of the groups described below, perhaps skipping a trip to the Llanos del Cortes Waterfall during your time in Costa Rica would be best.
Don’t visit the Llanos del Cortes Waterfall if you have difficulty walking up or down stairs
Though the Llanos del Cortes Waterfall doesn’t require you to complete a difficult hike to and from the waterfall’s base, it does require an approximate five-minute climb down (and up) concrete steps. If you feel you won’t be able to make the climb, or if you’d rather not risk being unable to do so, don’t plan to visit the Llanos del Cortes Waterfall.
Don’t visit the Llanos del Cortes Waterfall if your itinerary doesn’t require you to a) fly into or out of the LIR Airport, b) visit the Liberia region of Costa Rica, or c) pass through the Liberia region of Costa Rica
If your Costa Rica itinerary doesn’t include a visit to the LIR Airport and/or the Liberia region of the country, skip a visit to the Llanos del Cortes Waterfall altogether. Though we have always enjoyed our visits to the attraction, each was the result of us having some free time to kill while we were in the Liberia area; We’ve never purposely planned to drive to the Llanos del Cortes Waterfall from other regions including La Fortuna / Arenal, Monteverde, San Jose, the Caribbean Coast, the central Pacific coast, or the Osa Peninsula. In fact, we’ll even go so far as to suggest that, though lovely, the Llanos del Cortes Waterfall isn’t spectacular enough to warrant planning an entire trip around. In our opinion, there are other sites and attractions (including other waterfalls) that you should prioritize when planning a Costa Rica trip.
Don’t visit the Llanos del Cortes Waterfall if you don’t plan to rent a car in Costa Rica… in some cases
Driving to and from the Llanos del Cortes Waterfall is a cinch but arranging alternative transportation to and from the site can be costly and/or tricky. There are ways to accomplish the task, such as by hiring a taxi or reserving a private transfer service to bring you to the site, but both of these services could be expensive depending on where you’ll be traveling from and how long you want the driver to wait for you at the waterfall. Some backpackers take the local bus, which is also an option (the least expensive one), but careful coordination of bus schedules is required, and the bus driver must be informed of your destination in advance in order to make an unscheduled stop in the area (unfortunately there is no direct bus route to and from the Llanos del Cortes Waterfall). Shared shuttle services, one of the most common methods of transportation in Costa Rica (don’t miss our related blog post Costa Rica Transportation: 12 Ways To Get Around Costa Rica for more information), very rarely permit unscheduled stops while in service as they transport several people at once and stick to strict travel schedules. If you aren’t able to get to and from the Llanos del Cortes Waterfall via a rental car, you may decide that visits to the waterfall just aren’t worth the hassle or expense that comes with other transportation arrangements.
Llanos del Cortes Waterfall visit tips and things to know before you go
The waterfall offers ample parking on-site
There’s a large, free parking lot at the Llanos del Cortes Waterfall. We typically tip the parking attendant(s) anywhere from $2-$5 USD for a visit that lasts no longer than one hour. If you arrive as a large group or if you plan to stay at the waterfall for a longer period of time, consider offering a larger tip. For more tipping recommendations, see our related blog post What To Know About Tipping In Costa Rica.
The waterfall offers bathrooms / change rooms on-site
Free bathrooms / change rooms are situated at the parking lot. There are no bathrooms / change rooms at the bottom of the waterfall.
Use the newer, concrete steps to access the waterfall’s base, not the older, steep, forest steps
Before the attraction offered a set of concrete steps connecting the parking lot to the waterfall’s base, visitors had to climb down (and back up) rugged forest steps on steep terrain. Since the rainforest steps were not destroyed or closed when the concrete steps were built, many visitors trek down the forest slope without knowledge of the alternative, easier route. From the parking lot, there are two access points to the waterfall’s base, both of which appear as trails leading into the forest. Take the access point / trail on the left; It leads to the set of concrete steps, which is the safer and more developed option between the two.
The waterfall area gets hot
Depending on the time of year you opt to visit, the Llanos del Cortes Waterfall can provide refreshing relief during hot and humid travel days. It shouldn’t be forgotten, however, that waterfall is situated in Costa Rica’s hottest and driest province (Guanacaste). Sun safety should be exercised here. This means you should rely on hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen to prevent sun damage. Don’t forget to pack plenty of water and snacks to stay hydrated and energized throughout your stay.
Do not visit the waterfall after dark
As we touch on in our related blog post Is Costa Rica Safe? Yes, If You Do This., most places in Costa Rica (especially beaches, parks, and ATMs) should be avoided after dark. The Llanos del Cortes Waterfall is no exception. In fact, the site’s location off Highway #1, down an unlit path, and into the forest is one of the most dangerous places we could envision you being late at night. If you wish to visit the Llanos del Cortes Waterfall, do so in the middle of the day when you’re more likely to find other people around and daylight to guide you way.
Bring / leave personal items at your own risk
Don’t bring important personal items (such as credit cards, jewelry, etc.) to the Llanos del Cortes Waterfall. You’ll need to leave them on the sandy area that surrounds the swimming hole which puts them at risk for theft. If you absolutely must bring important items with you (such as car keys and identification documents required for driving), store the items in a waterproof container that can be safely secured to your body while you swim or tied tightly to a visible marker by the shore.
Visit the waterfall’s base / pool; do not hike above the waterfall or climb behind the waterfall
At the Llanos del Cortes Waterfall, there is both a hiking trail above the waterfall, which leads to a lookout over the top of the waterfall, as well as space to climb behind the waterfall. There have been too many sad stories of slips, falls, and injuries suffered as a result of horsing around at great heights and / or on slippery river rocks, so err on the side of caution with respect to both and don’t visit either. Mother Nature and her creations are unpredictable; Cliffs can slide, rocks can be sharp or break, and flowing water can be surprisingly forceful. In our opinion, the views that can be obtained from the top of the waterfall and from behind the waterfall just aren’t worth the associated risk.
Llanos del Cortes photo gallery
Map of the Llanos del Cortes Waterfall
QUESTION TO COMMENT ON: Have you been to the Llanos del Cortes Waterfall? What did you think?