I had only ever heard of this attraction in the introductory pages to a well known Costa Rica travel guide which states that if you have only time to visit one waterfall in Costa Rica you should visit this one. Not many people know about this place just off the road between Bagaces and Liberia, and this reason becomes clear when you try and find it.
Coming northbound from Bagaces on the Interamericana, it is easy to miss because the sign and turning is well hidden on a bend about 3km outside of the town. Even knowing this, we sailed past thinking ‘was that it?’ so reclusive was the sign catarata. Maybe locals don’t really want the rest of the world to know about it. It seems an impossible place to find a lush tropical waterfall; dry dusty savannah surrounds the highway with no hint of water let alone a river capable of supplying a waterfall.
You turn down the gravel road for half a kilometer and meet the hand painted sign for the waterfall. Beside the turning stands an old man and his tin to collect your donation, which apparently goes towards a local primary school. He beckons you on to follow the dirt track disappearing into the undergrowth. At this point, readers with 2WD take note and turn back. The ‘road’ is little more than a rocky goat track, suitable for high clearance vehicles, rental cars and locals, who don’t seem to care about such minor inconveniences. Luckily, it is a short distance and in the dry season negotiable with a little common sense and a keen eye for monster pot holes.
The car park is guarded by a watcheeman who will keep an eye on things for a few coins. A palm thatched ranchito sells the most expensive ice cold pipas (coconuts) in Costa Rica. Delicious, indulgent and maybe proceeds not going to the local primary school, but what the heck, everyone has to make a living, and if you make yours selling pipas at four times the price to perspiring tourists, then you’ve got it made. A short steep descent through a wooded hillside takes you down to these breath-taking waterfalls.
If ever you had an image of a lush tropical waterfall with dusky maidens frolicking in the crystal clear pools this is the real thing, only minus the dusky maidens. Llano de Cortes is a stunning two tier waterfall about twelve meters high with a large and shallow swimming pool at its base. The pool is edged by a small sandy beach and the surrounding trees make it a perfect place for a family outing. At weekends one can imagine it being jam packed with locals, but on the weekdays it is heavenly.
The water appears clean and safe to swim in, although it is surprisingly cold, judging by the fact on the day we went it was mostly kids not adults in the water, my criteria for estimating swimming temperature. With some care you can ascend behind the curtain of water on the rocks and take your cold shower, if that is your thing. It is hard to imagine a nicer place for a picnic and it well deserves a nomination for the most beautiful waterfall in Costa Rica.
By Stewart Hird