Out of all the waterfalls we’ve visited in Costa Rica, the Nauyaca Waterfalls have got to be most grandiose and most majestic. Hidden deep within the forests of Costa Rica’s South Pacific, approximately 10kms inland from Playa Dominical, the Nauyaca Waterfalls consist of two falls. The upper waterfall plummets down from the height of 45 meters onto a rocky bed unsuitable for swimming, while the lower one, only 20 meters in height, forms a pleasant six-meter deep pool perfect for a refreshing dip. Its beautiful surroundings make the Nauyaca Waterfalls an ideal destination for nature lovers and one that we recommend to everyone visiting this part of Costa Rica.
Getting To Nauyaca Waterfalls
The falls are located in an 8-meter-deep canyon along Rio Barucito (Baru River) on a private property of Don Lulo and Doña Ruth. Don Lulo’s office, where visitors must check in and purchase tickets to access the falls is inside a small pulperia (shop) on the side of the road along Route 243 heading towards San Isidro. Note: Google Maps location of the Nauyaca Waterfalls is marked incorrectly. Once you reach the Google Map location, continue to drive straight for another 1-2 kms until you see a Nauyaca Waterfalls signs on the left-hand side and a small shop (Don Lulo’s Pulperia) on your right.
The 4km trail to the falls starts at the parking lot, located approximately 2km inland from Don Lulo’s office. If you are traveling by car, you can leave your car at the parking lot or park it right in front of Don Lulo’s office. The trail itself is not accessible by car and for the longest time (the falls have been opened to the public for over 15 years now), there were only 2 ways to reach the falls on foot or via a horseback riding tour.
Horseback Riding Tour to Nauyaca Waterfalls
The tour departs daily at 8am and lasts until 2pm, taking visitors from the start of the trail to the waterfalls and back for a cost of $70/per person. The price includes breakfast, lunch, horseback riding, and guides. This is by far the most popular way to reach the falls and as such, the most crowded.
You must book the tour well in advance (4 days at minimum), as the tours do sell out regularly. In high season, the tours accommodate upwards of 50 people (everyone gets their own horse) at a time, turning the magical waterfall visit into what seemed like somewhat of a circus. Our fellow bloggers, Samantha and Yeison from the blog My Tan Feet, recap their experience on the Horseback Riding Tour here.
Hiking to Nauyaca Waterfalls
The falls are also accessible on foot for a significantly smaller fee of just $8. Hikers follow the same trail as the horses (so make sure you stagger your departure times with the horseback riding tours or you’ll be stuck hiking behind 50 horses), weaving along the beautiful Rio Barucito before ascending uphill and eventually arriving at the waterfalls. The hike takes around 1-2 hours each way. Jean and Matt from Two Weeks in Costa Rica outline the details of hiking to Nauyaca Waterfalls here.
When trying to decide our way to the Nauyaca Waterfalls we first inquired about the horseback riding tour and were told that the tour is completely sold out for the next 4 days (blessing in disguise!) and informed that to capitalize on the ever rising demand, Don Lulo has just opened up a new way to reach the falls, allowing visitors to travel to the falls in his 4WD pickup truck.
Nauyaca Waterfalls by Pick Up Truck
The pickup truck option cost only $25 per person, offering a budget friendly alternative to reach the falls. A number of departure times were available throughout the day (7am, 10am, 2pm), so to take advantage of good light and avoid the crowds we opted for the earliest slot at 7am.
We arrived at Don Lulo’s office at 7am on the dot and after parking our car outside of his pulperia, hopped into the back of a pickup truck that was set to take us all the way to the falls. For the first 3 kms, the truck followed the same route to the parking lot, passing by the horses that were waiting for their first riders to arrive at 9am, and farther along until the path became more narrow and unpassable by car. From there, we veered right, taking a slightly different route through a private gate and across Lulo’s family farm. This alternative path has been there all along, explained the truck driver, but in previous years it’s been used solely to transport disabled visitors (or anyone who was not physically fit to ride a horse or hike), or as an alternative emergency vehicle access road. But in April 2016, as the horseback riding tours became more and more popular, the pickup truck option was introduced as an alternative.
The ride took no more than 30 mins, weaving through the windy bumpy roads of the forest, rewarding us with beautiful views of the jungle all around us. They say it’s common to spot wildlife along the trail to the waterfalls and despite being in a truck, we too were lucky enough to spot two beautiful Scarlet Macaws up in the trees about half way along the way.
At the Nauyaca Waterfalls
The truck dropped us off at the entrance to the Nauyaca Waterfalls. A bamboo handrail and a set of make-shift steps lead us down the path towards the waterfalls, the upper falls on the right, and lower falls on the left. There was only 3 of us in the truck (us two and a lovely woman we met during our stay at Costa Verde Hotel) and for 2 hours we had the pleasure of having the falls all to ourselves.
We followed the path to the Upper Falls, snapping some photos and enjoying the views, before descending down to the Lower Falls where we spent the rest of our time. The rocks along the pool base were really slippery, but we carefully climbed into the chilly waters of the pool and enjoyed a refreshing morning swim. The current from the plummet of water was strong, but we swam to the base of the Lower Falls, letting the gushing waters of the fall crash over our heads.
It was still early and the sun was just starting to rise over the jungle, so we climbed out of the water and perched up on the big rocks letting the sun rays hug our shivering bodies (well technically mine was the only one shivering. Max found it very refreshing.) We sat on the rocks mesmerized by the untouched beauty of the Nauyaca Waterfalls, delighted with the fact that we beat the crowds and got a chance to enjoy the falls just like nature intended them.
Around 9:30am, another small group of tourists arrived at the falls. Beating with sweat, they eagerly jumped into the pool to cool down. They soaking clothes and dirty shoes made it obvious that they choose to hike to the falls, probably leaving Don Lulo’s office shortly after we departed in our truck. Over the next 30 mins a few more hikers trickled in, all ecstatic to have made it to the falls before the horseback riding tour.
At 10am the masses descended. 50 horseback riders arrived at the falls, and another 20 rappelled down to the base of the waterfall from the rocks above, turning what was a magical peaceful setting into an entertainment center. Their guides hurried along with brushes to clean algae off the rocks and help everyone into the water with ropes. “Where were they when we had to slide into the water on our butts to avoid slipping on the rocks?”, we wondered. But the truth is, we were more than happy to explore the falls on our own.
Within minutes, music broke out, laughter and shrieks prevailed over the roaring sounds of the waterfalls and the magic of the Nauyaca Waterfalls dwindled. We packed our bags and headed back. Our pick up truck had come back to take us back to Lulo’s.
Essential Travel Info & Advice
- Booking is not required if you plan to hike to the Nauyaca Waterfalls. Simply show up, pay the $8 fee and start the trek. Remember,it’s still best to drive your car all the way to the parking lot to save yourself hiking those additional 2kms from the road to the start of the trail.
- Horseback riding tours can be booked through a number of hotels in Manuel Antonio and Dominical, or direct online at http://www.cataratasnauyaca.com/reservations.htm, by email at [email protected] or via phone (506) 2787-0541, (506) 2787-0542. They speak some English, so don’t be afraid to call. Book in well in advance (4-5 days) to secure your spot. Pick up truck option is not yet listed on their website, but the announcement is live on their Facebook page. Book online or by phone.
- Bring lots of water and snacks, as nothing is available for purchase at the Don Lulo’s pulperia or elsewhere along the trail.
- You can bring your swimsuit and change once you get to the falls. Some facilities are available on site.
- Bring a dry bag to keep your electronics safe while you hang out at the waterfall. The mist is very strong and is bound to get some unwanted water all over your gear.
- If you are hiking, wear proper hiking shoes as the trail can be slippery and muddy. If you have water shoes, bring them along as well. It’ll make it safer to hop around the rocks at the waterfall.
- Allocate at least a half day to properly enjoy your time at the Nauyaca Waterfalls. Our original return time was set for 9:30am, but the truck didn’t come back until 10:30am. Delays happen. After all, you are in Costa Rica 🙂
What are some of the most beautiful waterfalls you’ve come across on your travels?
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