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.
The upper waterfall 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.
Check out our video exploring Nuayaca Waterfalls
Nauyaca Waterfalls Location
The Nauyaca Falls, Costa Rica are located in an 8-metre-deep canyon along Rio Barucito (Baru River) on 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 1.5 km (0.9 miles) until you see a Nauyaca Waterfalls signs on the left-hand side and a small shop (Don Lulo’s Pulperia) on your right.
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 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 8 a.m and lasts until 2 p.m, taking visitors from the start of the trail to the waterfalls and back for a cost of $70 USD/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.
Horseback riding tour at Nauyaca WaterfallsYou 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.
Hiking to Nauyaca Waterfalls
If you would rather take a Nauyaca Waterfalls hike, the falls are accessible for a significantly smaller fee of just $8 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 the falls, 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 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 halfway 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 makeshift steps lead us down the path towards the waterfalls, the upper falls on the right, and 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, delighted with the fact that we beat the crowds and got a chance to enjoy the falls just like nature intended them.
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. 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 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 pick up 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 with you on your trip, as nothing is available for purchase at the 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.
You can bring your swimsuit and change once you get to the falls. Some facilities are available on site.
Nauyaca Waterfalls: The Highlights
Opting for the pickup truck to the Nauyaca Waterfalls gave us the chance to sit back and enjoy the magnificent views through 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 allowed us to enjoy the cool, crisp water for a swim in peace and tranquillity. 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 $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 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) 2787-0542.
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 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.
Don’t forget 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.
How Much Time do you Need to Visit Nauyaca Waterfalls?
Allocate at least a half day to properly enjoy your time at the Nauyaca Waterfalls. Our original return time was set for 9:30 a.m, but the truck didn’t come back until 10:30 a.m. Delays happen. After all, you are in Costa Rica 🙂