Out of all of the Costa Rica waterfalls we’ve visited, the Nauyaca Waterfalls have got to be the most grandiose and most majestic. Hidden deep within the forests of Costa Rica’s South Pacific, approximately 10kms (6 miles) inland from Playa Dominical, the Nauyaca Waterfalls consist of two falls, and together they are truly some of the best waterfalls in Costa Rica.
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The upper falls plummets down from the height of 45 (146 feet) metres onto a rocky bed unsuitable for swimming, while the lower one, only 20 metres (178 feet) in height, forms a pleasant six-metre 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.
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Nauyaca Waterfalls Location
The Nauyaca Falls, Costa Rica are located in an 8-metre-deep canyon along Rio Barucito (Baru River) on the 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.
The ticket office is open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday. Be sure to plan ahead and try to get there early, as the falls close at 3:30 p.m.
Getting To Nauyaca Waterfalls
The 4km trail to the falls starts at the parking lot, located approximately 2km inland from Don Lulo’s office. If you are travelling by car, you can leave your car at the parking lot or park it right in front of Don Lulo’s office. Don Lulo has a secured parking lot and charges $4 USD for the day. The hiking trail itself is not accessible by car, and for the longest time (the falls have been open to the public for over 15 years now), there were only two ways to reach the falls: on foot or via a horseback riding tour.
Horseback Riding Tour To Nauyaca Waterfalls
The tour departs daily at 9 a.m. and lasts until 1:30 p.m., taking visitors from the start of the trail to the waterfalls and back for a cost of $80 USD/per person. The price includes lunch, a horseback tour, and guides. This is by far the most popular way to reach the Nauyaca Waterfalls and, as such, the most crowded. Reservations are required; remember that the tour doesn’t operate on Sundays.
You must book the horseback 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.
Hiking To Nauyaca Waterfalls
If you would rather take the Nauyaca Waterfalls Hiking Trail, the falls are accessible for a significantly smaller fee of just $10 USD. 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.
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 Nauyaca Waterfalls, allowing visitors to travel to the falls in his 4WD pickup truck.
Nauyaca Waterfalls by Pick-Up Truck
The pickup truck option costs only $25 USD per person, offering a budget-friendly alternative to reach the falls. A number of departure times were available throughout the day (7 a.m., 10 a.m., 2 p.m.). So, to take advantage of good light and avoid the crowds, we opted for the earliest slot at 7 a.m.
We arrived at Don Lulo’s office at 7 a.m. 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 km, the truck followed the same route to the parking lot, passing by the horses that were waiting for their first riders to arrive at 9 a.m, 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 horseback riding tours became increasingly 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 lush green 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 halfway along the way.
At The Beautiful Nauyaca Waterfalls
The truck dropped us off at the entrance to the Nauyaca Waterfalls. A bamboo handrail and a set of makeshift steps lead us down the path towards the waterfalls; the upper falls on the right, and the lower falls on the left. There were 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.
Swimming At The Nauyaca Waterfalls: Lower Falls
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. We are delighted that we beat the crowds and got a chance to enjoy the falls just like nature intended.
Rush Hour At Nauyaca Waterfalls!
Around 9:30 a.m., another small group of tourists arrived at the falls. Beating with sweat, they eagerly jumped into the pool to cool down. Their soaking clothes and dirty shoes made it obvious that they chose to hike to the falls, probably leaving Don Lulo’s office shortly after we departed in our truck. Over the next 30 min, a few more hikers trickled in, all ecstatic to have made it to the falls before the horseback riding tour.
At 10 a.m. 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 pickup truck had come back to take us back to Lulo’s.
How To Prepare For Your Trip To Nauyaca Waterfalls
Be sure to bring lots of water and snacks on your trip. Nothing is available for purchase at Don Lulo’s pulperia or elsewhere along the trail. It’s also a good idea to 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.
What To Wear
If you are hiking to Nauyaca Falls, wear proper hiking shoes, as the trail can be slippery and muddy. If you have water shoes, bring them along as well. A pair of Keens or Chacos will work great. It’ll make it safer to hop around the rocks at the waterfall.
Light, breathable material is always best, regardless of the season. Quickdry material will keep you cool during your hike. Also, you won’t have to worry about keeping your clothes dry around the falls. If you happen to be in Costa Rica during the rainy season, keep a lightweight rain jacket in your backpack along with your towel, swimsuit, sunscreen, and insect repellant. You can bring your swimsuit and change once you get to the falls. Some facilities are available on-site.
If you’re joining a horseback riding tour, it’s recommended that you wear long pants for your journey and a good pair of walking shoes. Regardless of whether you decide to hike or take a tour of the waterfalls, make sure to bring plenty of water and some snacks. The heat and humidity can sneak up on you quickly!
Nauyaca Waterfalls: The Highlights
Opting for the pickup truck ride to the Nauyaca Waterfalls gave us a chance to sit back and enjoy the magnificent views through the magical, lush forest and the opportunity to spot some wildlife along the way.
Also, getting to the Nauyaca Waterfalls this way meant we beat the crowds and were allowed to enjoy the cool, crisp water for a swim in peace and tranquility. You can also beat the crowds by choosing the right time to visit Costa Rica.
Essential Travel Info & Advice For Nauyaca Waterfalls, Costa Rica
Planning A Hike To Nauyaca Waterfalls?
Booking is not required if you plan on taking a Nauyaca Waterfalls hike. Simply show up, pay the $10 entrance fee there, and start the trek. Remember, it’s still best to drive your car all the way to the parking lot to save yourself hiking that additional 2km (2.25 miles) from the road to the start of the trail.
Horse Riding Tours Nauyaca Waterfalls
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) 6280-1790.
They speak some English, so don’t be afraid to call. Book 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.
What To Bring To Nauyaca Waterfalls, Costa Rica
Bring lots of water and snacks, as nothing is available for purchase at 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.
Don’t forget a dry bag to keep your electronics safe while you hang out at the waterfall. The mist is very strong and will 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.
How Much Time Do You Need To Visit Nauyaca Waterfalls?
Allocate at least a half day to properly enjoy your time visiting Nauyaca Waterfalls. Our original return time was set for 9:30 a.m., but the truck didn’t return until 10:30 a.m. Delays happen. After all, you are in Costa Rica 🙂
Get There As Early As Possible
Nauyaca Falls is a very popular attraction in this part of Costa Rica. So, unless you feel like sharing the experience with 50+ people, get there bright and early. You’ll also avoid the hottest part of the day!
There Is Now Another Entrance To The Falls
A privately owned nature reserve called Nauyaca Waterfall Nature Park recently opened, and offers access to the eastern side of the falls. Admission is more expensive, and they don’t offer horseback riding tours. However, they do have amenities like bathrooms, showers, and changing rooms.
You have the option of hiking down to the falls at Nauyaca Waterfall Nature Park. Then, you can hop on the truck for a ride back. The hike down to the falls is pretty easy and takes about 45 minutes. The hike back is very steep, and most visitors opt for the ride back. The truck doesn’t have strict pick-up times but don’t miss the last trip at 4 p.m.
Nauyaca Waterfall Nature Park is about 25 kilometres from Dominical. So, you will have to drive about 45 minutes to 1 hour to get there from the coast. You can reserve tickets on their website, call (506) 8770-4222, or email [email protected]. The park is open daily from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., weather permitting.
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