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Chasing Waterfalls in Costa Rica

Latin America


Relaxing at Tabacon Thermal Resort in Costa Rica.

Relaxing at Tabacon Thermal Resort in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica – A Dream Come True

When I was five years old I loved everything creepy crawly. I didn’t play house, I couldn’t care less about Barbie, and there was no way I was going to sit still long enough to drink tea. All I wanted to do was catch bugs, look for lizards, and dream about far off places where there were bigger, better, creepy crawly things to discover.

Sometime between chasing down frogs and learning my ABCs, I met a girl whose dad was an entomologist at the University of Washington. As soon as I figured out what an entomologist did, I immediately decided that this girl was going to be my new best friend. Dr. Gara traveled all over the world collecting insects, and his office was a menagerie of stunning insects. The walls were covered with moths the size of my face, royal blue butterflies, and rainbow colored beetles. I had found my calling.

After one trip in particular, instead of carefully preserved insects, Dr. Gara came back with tales of lush forests, neon-blue waterfalls, white sand beaches, and Pura Vida. And thus, a new obsession started – Costa Rica. I checked out every book in the library, cut out pictures from my parents’ magazines, and put it at the top of my list of places to visit when I grew up.

But a funny thing happened: I grew up and I never went to Costa Rica. Sure, people change, interests evolve, but the truth is, I’m more similar to that six year old now than I’ve ever been. So I really had no good excuse. I’d traveled all over the world, but let Costa Rica slip through my fingers. Perhaps that’s why when Quin contacted me about working on a project down in Costa Rica, I jumped at the opportunity.  My childhood dream was about to become a reality!

Can’t Miss Adventures In Costa Rica

Leading up to the trip, we didn’t have much of a plan. But we almost never do, and Quin lived in Costa Rica for two years, so I knew I was in good hands. From Los Angeles we flew into Liberia, picked up a car, and hit the road! Our goal was to see as much as we could over a long weekend, without driving more than a few hours from the airport. And waterfalls were the name of the game.

Stop One: Rincon de la Vieja National Park

Our first stop was actually a happy accident. We headed to Rincon de la Vieja National Park looking for Caterata Oropendola (Stop Two). Rounding the last corner on the three mile (one way) hike through verdant forest and volcanic dirt, we stopped short in our tracks as La Cangreja Waterfall came into view. We were definitely in the wrong location. In hind sight it should have been obvious from the photos at the visitors center, but all’s well that ends well, and we definitely weren’t complaining!


La Cangreja Waterfall in Costa Rica.

La Cangreja Waterfall in Costa Rica.

Stop Two: Caterata Oropendola

Located just BEFORE the entrance to Rincon de la Vieja, the hike to Oropendola, is short, fun, and photogenic. There is an awesome suspension bridge leading down to the viewing platform, and stairs that actually descend into a swimming hole at the base of the waterfall. Take your pictures down in the refreshing water while you watch butterflies flutter though the canyon and rainbows form in the spray. This was one of the only waterfalls we visited that openly permitted swimming, so don’t forget your suit!


Swimming in the Oropendola Waterfall.

Swimming in the Oropendola Waterfall.

Stop Three: Llanos de Cortez waterfall

On our second day, I woke up to the sound of tropical birds and raucous monkeys in the trees outside our lodge. We loaded the car up and headed toward Bagaces and the Llanos de Cortez Waterfall. After a 1km hike we arrived, and found that we had the entire place to ourselves! The solitude didn’t last very long, and we were glad that we made the effort to get there early. There is a small sandy beach area perfect for sun bathing while you take in the view. Or if you’re feeling adventurous, like we were, you can swim out behind the waterfall.


Llanos de Cortez Waterfall in Costa Rica.

Llanos de Cortez Waterfall in Costa Rica.


Swimming in Llanos de Cortez Waterfall, Costa Rica.

Swimming in Llanos de Cortez Waterfall, Costa Rica.

Stop Four: Tenorio Volcano National Park

After our morning at Bagaces, we drove out to Rio Celeste. As we made our way down the dirt road to the Tenorio Volcano National Park, the fog rolled in, and we got our first taste of Costa Rican rain. I grew up in Seattle, so I’m no stranger to rain, but there’s something truly impressive about a tropical storm. The sheer volume of water that falls from the sky never ceases to amaze me. Drenched we trudged up the river of mud that doubled as the trial to Rio Celeste. I now understood why there were boots for rent at the trailhead. But the trail is relatively short (maybe a 20 minute walk), and before I had time to change my mind about the whole thing, we were there! The bright blue cascading water glowed through the mist filled air like a tropical lagoon, and I was so glad we hadn’t turned back. I couldn’t help but think about the neon water from Dr. Garcia’s stories – the legends were true!


The stunning staircase down to the base of the waterfall at Tenorio Volcano National Park, Costa Rica.

The stunning staircase down to the base of the waterfall at Tenorio Volcano National Park, Costa Rica.

Stop Five: Arenal & La Fortuna

La Fortuna is the gateway to Arenal Volcano National Park. You could spend days in this area exploring the two active volcanoes, but we only had half a day, so we headed to La Fortuna Waterfall. This was probably my favorite waterfall of the trip. The short trail down to the fall is beautiful, and comprised primarily of an elaborate staircase – picture a few hundred stairs winding their way through trees, vines, and the occasional chatty monkey. And then there’s the waterfall! Cascading straight down for approximately 200 feet, you hear La Fortuna well before you can see it. Standing at its base you can literally feel nature’s power as misty vapor blasts through the air. It’s a truly invigorating experience, if you don’t mind getting wet!


Photo taken from my room at Arenal Bungalows.

Photo taken from my room at Arenal Bungalows.


La Fortuna Waterfall, Costa Rica. You aren’t allowed to swim to near the waterfall, but it’s popular to cool down in the water down steam.

La Fortuna Waterfall, Costa Rica. You aren’t allowed to swim to near the waterfall, but it’s popular to cool down in the water down steam.


Enjoying the view at La Fortuna Waterfall in Costa Rica.

Enjoying the view at La Fortuna Waterfall in Costa Rica.

Stop Six: Tabacon Thermal Resort & Spa

Arenal Volcano is active, and still laced with lava flows. As a result hot springs dot the surrounding area. One such hot spring is located at the Tabacon Thermal Resort – our big splurge for the trip. While I was researching locations to shoot I found a photo of Tabacon and knew it was a place I had to see for myself. At the time, I didn’t realize  it was located inside a resort, and due to the last minute nature of that discovery, we weren’t able to book accommodations at the hotel. Fortunately, Tabacon has a number of different day use options, and we took full advantage of the opportunity.

If one of Arenal’s thermal resorts is not in your budget, there’s also some awesome free options, including a portion of the Tabacon River that runs just outside the Tabacon Thermal Resort & Spa. We simply parked on the street outside the Resort and wandered down to the steaming river. Go early to avoid the crowds.


Enjoying the hot springs at Tabacon Thermal Resort.

Enjoying the hot springs at Tabacon Thermal Resort.


Although the landscape is man made at Tabacon Thermal Resort, the hot water is produced naturally from volcanic activity, and the water is so relaxing!

Although the landscape is man made at Tabacon Thermal Resort, the hot water is produced naturally from volcanic activity, and the water is so relaxing!

Stop Seven: Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve

Last but not least we booked it out to Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve. This reserve is one of the most renowned cloud forests in the world for its wide variety of biodiversity, important conservation contributions, and scientific research. Plus, it has an awesome red suspension bridge you can hike to! A number of trails will take you to the bridge, all of them lovely. We took one trail out, and a different trail on our return just to keep things spicy!

The national saying, Pura Vida, or “pure life,” is a sunny, feel good expression. I didn’t quite understand what it meant when I first heard about it back in my creepy crawly days. But now I understand that it’s not just a greeting, it’s a way of life. A way of life born out of the unique beauty, land, and magic that makes Costa Rica unlike any other place I’ve been.


Picturesque suspension bridge in Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve, Costa Rica.

Picturesque suspension bridge in Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve, Costa Rica.

Special Thanks to Quin Schrock for helping create the content for this blog.


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Chasing Waterfalls In Costa Rica

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  1. mdtwo says:

    What gorgeous places. I also have never been, but it is moving up the list for sure after seeing this! I always think of the oceans, but now inland will definitely be included! Beautiful pictures and descriptions.

    • Jess Dales says:

      Thank you so much! All things considered it’s a very easy country to travel around. It’s main industry is tourism, so I think it’s a great place to start for people that aren’t entirely comfortable with foreign travel.

  2. Kim O'Neill says:

    I remember that little girl. She was fearcely strong, stubborn, and independent! So happy she is living her dream.

  3. Kurt L says:

    I’m here now and appreciate the insight to all these amazing locations throughout CR. You probably cannot wait to come back and see more…we definitely want too!! Pura Vida.

  4. Em.b.m says:

    Amazing! Can you tell me what is the name of that lodge wth the volcanoe view ? Thanks

  5. K.P. says:

    Jess, you’re rockin’ this blog! Can’t wait to visit these exact spots and follow in your steps. Big fan!

    • Jess Dales says:

      Thank you so much! Seriously appreciate that, and I’m glad you enjoy it. Hoping to do a lot more writing in the new year. 🙂

  6. Quiana says:

    Love your blog, everything about it is awe-inspiring and your photos do the best job of conveying your stories in addition to your words that perfectly complement them.

    I’m also a traveler and I’m curious as to what camera equipment: camera +tripod, do you recommend to create such visual magic as yours. Thank you for any pointers you can give and I look forward to following you along your blissful, beautiful journeys.

    • Jess Dales says:

      Hi! Thank you very much! Because I do a lot of hiking when I travel, I try and keep my camera gear light and compact. I usually shoot with a Sony a7rII. It is mirrorless, so relatively light for a full frame camera. I use a 16-35mm and a 24-70mm lens. I find that those two lenses fit almost all of my needs. As far as tripods go, I would just find one that’s relatively light weight. Hope that helps!

  7. Walter says:

    Awesome blog! The pics are amazing and inspire me to take my little family further than just my beloved PNW (although i’m not complaining about how awesome we have it up here)! Thanks for the awesome pics you and your friends provide on my Insta feed 🙂

    • Jess Dales says:

      Thanks Walter! So glad that you enjoy the photos we are putting out there. I’m also from the PNW, and agree that we have it pretty awesome up here!

  8. Cynthia says:

    So beautiful! I haven’t made it to Costa Rica yet either, despite having lived in Central America for a few years, but this definitely gave me great inspo. Your photography skills are so impressive, as well. Great post 🙂

    • Jess Dales says:

      Thanks so much Cynthia! You should definitely make the trip to Costa Rica if you get the chance while you are in Central America. It’s really quite lovely. 🙂

  9. AnGela says:

    Loving your blog! Have enjoyed your instagram pics for some time but didn’t realize what a fascinating storyteller you are.

    Spending time in creation & planning adventures are two of the ways that help me cope with battling bipolar disorder naturally. Don’t get me wrong, nutrition & sleep are important but changing my lifestyle to one of less stress & more play has had a huge impact.

    Thank you for sharing your journeys! And if you happen to make it to Havasu Falls or the wave I’d love to read about it!

    • AnGela
      yourpowerofreason.com
    • Jess Dales says:

      Thank you so much for taking the time to stop by and read a little more about my adventures. I’m glad that you liked it. It’s inspiring to hear what a positive impact nature has had on your health. I actually have been to Havasu Falls. I will definitely try and put together a blog post on it in the near future!

  10. Hector says:

    Amazing blog and beautiful pictures. Stunning on every level! I’m heading to Costa Rica in two weeks and I’m mesmerized by the pic with the waterfalls at the background in Tabacon Thermal resort. It looks like the Eden Garden indeed . Where is the exact location of the picture in Tabacon, is it inside a particular resort or you don’t need to stay in a resort to visit that beautiful place? Thanks a lot 🙂

    • Jess Dales says:

      Hi Hector! Yes, it is located inside the Tabacon Thermal Resort. If you stay at the resort you have unlimited access to the hot springs. There are also a few options for day passes if you do not want to stay at the resort – that’s what we did. Have a wonderful trip!

  11. MissAng says:

    I could like every picture 10x Jess!! Much like you, Costa Rica has sat on my travel (Bucket List) for a long while. The hum drum of work, routine & saving for my future has left my soul empty and I decided this is the year I’m going!! Can you post your recommendations of budget friendly places you stayed and possibly an itinerary? In all my research, I’m seeing an overwhelming number of options but I know the roads are rugged so planning well makes all the difference in not missing anything!! Thank you in advance:)

    • Jess Dales says:

      Hi there! This blog actually was my itinerary for my time in Costa Rica. I have listed the locations in the order that I went to them. Unfortunately I only had five days there, so I stuck to a pretty small area. But I really loved all of the places that I was able to visit. Besides The Bungalows in Arenal, I’m not sure I stayed anywhere worth mentioning. Have a wonderful trip!

  12. Taily says:

    Hi, I’m a new subscriber. This is fascinating!! I am from the carribean and these type of views are my motivation and inspiration everyday. Good blog! I enjoyed reading it. Good work.

    • Jess Dales says:

      Thank you Taily! That is so inspiring to hear. I hope to see more of the Caribbean some day. It is such a beautiful area of the world!

  13. McKeane says:

    Awesome perspective on Costa Rica, truly a beautiful and immersive place. Nothing quite like summiting a mountain and the next hour watching the beach come into view. Also, ctrl+f "trial" for a quick fix!

  14. Elyssa says:

    Hi! Newer reader. I’m going to Costa Rica in a few weeks and all your pictures made me even more excited to go!

    Quick question: how easy was it to rent a car in CR? I’ve heard horror stories. Much like you, I want to see everything I can in my 7 days. Any info you can give me on car rental will be greatly appreciated!

    • Jess Dales says:

      Hi Elyssa! So sorry that I missed your comment! It was easy to rent a car, although it was much more expensive than the websites would lead you to believe. There are all sorts of hidden costs – such just be prepared for that. And of course there were some bad roads, that were difficult at times too. That being said, I wouldn’t want to do it any other way. Especially if you are short on time. But I’m kind of a control freak when it comes to traveling. Have a great trip!

  15. andsr says:

    really beautifull, where is it?

  16. At the SEVEN STOP I was about to raise from my chair and go running to Costa Rica…hahah
    Amazing!
    That’s definitely a place that makes me think I was born to live in a deep connection with Nature, feeling the power of it. Great reading your posts, you can spread a positive energy throughout your sensible thoughts, be grateful for that.

    Recently, I began an website for my work as a Local Guide for trails in Brazil – http://www.condutorambientalsc.com.br
    It’s a primitive work yet, but I hope it works!

  17. Quinn Ng says:

    Your blogs inspire us so much & we finally booked a trip to Costa Rica this August. Yayyy! We literally rent a car and follow your spots, hahaha. How safe do you feel about leaving your belongings in rental car while hiking/ checking out waterfalls?
    Once again, thank you so much for sharing your travel tips!

    • Jess Dales says:

      Hi Quinn. I’m so happy to hear that you are headed to Costa Rica. It is such a beautiful country! I have to admit that I was a little worried about leaving my belongings in the car while sight seeing because I brought a lot of expensive camera gear as well as my lap top, but in the end it felt quite safe. There were even security guards watching over some of the parking areas. Definitely use common sense though. Don’t leave any valuables out in the open. And lock everything up in the trunk. Have a wonderful trip!! 🙂

  18. Maria Laura says:

    You are so inspiring! Could you say which hotel is this where you can see the Arenal volcano from the window?

  19. Theresa Slover says:

    Like you I have been obsessed with Costa Rica for years. But work, marriage, kids and lack of funds has kept me from my dream destination. Now that I have turned 40 I feel my life clock ticking and feel an urgency to finally do the things I have always wanted to do before I get any older. A savings account is being set up and I am hellbent on getting started on planning my trip…. My biggest question is when is the best time to go? I want to go when there are few tourists…. But I also don’t want to go during the dry season or in the middle of the wet season when its a monsoon every day. I was thinking November would be the best time…. What are your thoughts?

    • Jess Dales says:

      Hi Theresa! That’s exciting to hear that you are thinking of making Costa Rica a reality. I agree that November would probably be a good time to go given what you’ve told me. My understanding is that December through the spring is the dry season, and also the busiest season, so hopefully by going in November you will miss most of the rain, and the people!

  20. Marike says:

    Hi Yess,
    How many days did you spend in Rincon de la Vieja National Park to see all the places that we can read in your blog? I want to go to Costa Rica this november so now i want t0 make a plan!

    • Hi Marike! We were only in that National Park for one day. The entire trip to see all the places we went in this blog post was 5 days with a rental car and quite a bit of driving. Hope that helps!

  21. Brittany says:

    Such beautiful photos!

  22. Vignesh says:

    This is awesome! I am doing a solo trip for 5 days in Costa Rica next month and was confused because of the number of places and waterfalls there!! This post definitely helps me narrow down my choices.. thank you so much! 🙂 any tips on traveling solo for the first time ever?

    • Hi Vignesh. I’m so glad that it helped! I actually don’t have a lot of experience traveling alone. But I’ve heard that those hostels are a great place to meet fellow travelers if you are looking for some company. Have a wonderful trip!

  23. Hi Jess, I’m about to go to Costa Rica for almost 2 weeks! just wondering, what did you shoot on to get your pics, and what. gear did you bring? 🙂

    • Hi Marissa! Pretty much all of the shots for this particular post were taken with a Sony a7rII and the 16-35mm f4. We now have the a7rIII that we travel with for photos. I’m sure we took a GoPro as well because there’s so much water there! For a more comprehensive list of camera gear, feel free to check out my photography gear guide. Have a great trip! 🙂

  24. Matt says:

    I have never seen a more stunning photo in my entire life than your main photo with the step waterfall. I could barely believe this was real.

  25. Su says:

    Hi Jess, We visited Costa Rica and followed this itinerary almost to a T. The suspension bridge at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve was closed as a huge tree had fallen on it recently. We took our time though and drove through the country for 2 weeks and included additional locations like Manuel Antonio. One of my favorite locations was definitely the Tabacon Thermal Resort where we ended up spending a night. Thanks for your awesome itinerary.

    • Thank you so much for the note Su! You seriously made my day with this. I’m so happy that you had a wonderful time in Costa Rica, and that you got to experience Tabacon. It was certainly a highlight of my trip!

  26. Ashley says:

    Hi Jess,
    Did you use any specific guides at all while in Costa Rica?

    • Hi Ashley. We did not use any guides in Costa Rica. My partner Quin speaks fluent Spanish and actually lived in Costa Rica for a few years so we were quite comfortable traveling around independently. That being said, Costa Rica is very traveler-friendly, and if you want to do it without a guide it’s quite possible even if you don’t speak the language.

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Hi, I’m Jess, an outdoor enthusiast based in Seattle. I grew up exploring the Pacific Northwest, and early on was infected with the travel bug. I tried to suppress my wanderlust in pursuit of a traditional career path, but after a short stint as a lawyer, I left the confines of my office to get back in touch with my roots. Now, I wander the world taking photos, making memories, and sharing my love for travel with others!

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