Hiking to Nauyaca Waterfalls is a popular day trip for locals and tourists alike. Many consider Nauyaca Falls to be one of the most beautiful waterfall systems in Costa Rica. It is easy to see why, nestled in a secluded canyon, accessed only through a tropical rain forest, with flowing waters crashing down on slick boulders over 200 feet high.
These cascading falls in the Puntarenas Province along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica are easy to get to despite their secluded location. In addition, their proximity to towns such as Dominical, Manuel Antonio, and Uvita make hiking Nauyaca falls an excellent choice for an adventurous day trip when visiting Costa Rica’s southern region.
To do this hike as a day trip from Antonio Manuel, check out my “Ultimate one-week Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica itinerary,” highlighting how to make the most out of a short trip.
This guide will answer the most common questions about hiking to Nauyaca Falls while sharing all the information you need to plan a fun and memorable day immersing yourself in one of Costa Rica’s most treasured natural landscapes.
What to know about Nauyaca Falls
Once at Nauyaca Falls, there are two sections, the upper and lower. The lower section is where most visitors lounge on the boulders, jump from rocks and enjoy swimming in the 20-foot deep natural pool. There is a rope climb to assist in scaling the smooth surface of the waterfall to the 60-foot jumping ledge. Caution! Even with water shoes, the rocks are slippery. Therefore, it is a good idea to only jump with the help of a guide.
Watch below as one man jumps off the 60 ft lower falls (iPhone video quality)
The upper section, usually empty of visitors, is still worth a look. Observe water plummeting down 140 feet on top of the enormous rocks below. Find a dry spot to enjoy a private picnic, and capture some cool photos—no swimming or jumping here.
The falls are enjoyed during both the dry and rainy seasons, although there are several things to consider when deciding when to visit.
- During the wettest months (August-October), the falls are raging with water making it hard to swim and dangerous to jump.
- The roads and trails become muddy during the wet season.
- During drier months (February-April) the falls are weaker, but swimming and climbing are at their best
Location of Nauyaca Waterfalls
The waterfalls are located on private land off of Route 243 and conveniently located to popular beach towns; Dominical (20 mins, 6 miles), Manuel Antonio (50 mins, 34 miles), and Uvita (30 mins, 18 miles). Driving is the best option, but slightly tricky yet doable bus routes are from Dominical and Quepos. Paid tour options are also available, offering transportation from nearby towns.
When self touring, your first stop will be the tourist office on Route 243, to pay the $10 entrance fee to hike to Nauyaca Falls and a $3 parking fee (if applicable). The small office is open M-S 7 am-2:00 pm and Sunday 8 am-2:00 pm. WAZE app easily pulled up the correct location when entering “Nauyaca Waterfalls.” Once you see the “waterfall” sign and cars parked along the side of the road, you’ll know you are close. The marked unpaved road to the trailhead and parking lot is about a half-mile north of the tourist office.
The parking lot is located about 1.5 miles from the paved road. If you do not have a 4×4 or a high SUV, you won’t be able to access the parking lot with your car, as the road is steep and rocky. In the wettest months (August-October), the rocky road becomes very slick and muddy and unsuitable for anything other than 4×4 vehicles. In that case, it is best to park on the side of paved Route 243 and walk the extra 1.5 miles to the trailhead (or do what we did and ask for a lift with someone driving).
*2022 Update per post comment: The road to the falls parking lot is now fully paved, yay! You will not need a 4×4 to access the parking lot.
The falls themselves are at the end of a well-kept 2.5-mile rocky dirt trail with trailhead access near the parking lot. After hiking to Nauyaca Falls, both waterfall sections are accessible by climbing a few stairs and navigating through slippery boulders.
Hiking to Nayuaca Waterfalls
5+ miles and 3 hours round trip on rocky, hilly terrain in direct sunlight (most of the way) might not be for everyone, but hiking to Nauyaca Waterfalls is a rewarding option if you are willing to embrace it!
The openness of the trail coupled with Costa Rican heat and a few strenuous sections means the hike to Nayuaca Waterfalls can be challenging for those not used to warm weather hiking. However, moderate fitness levels and children frequently playing outdoor sports should do well.
What to know when hiking to Nauyaca Waterfalls
- Most of the trail is in direct sun and has a lot of uphill sections
- In wetter months the path may be saturated with thick mud
- Bring plenty of water and snacks as there is (usually) nothing to purchase during the hike
- At the end of the trail, there are slippery stairs and boulders you have to climb on to access the waterfalls and swimming pool
- Bring your own TP for the facilities at the falls
- There is nowhere to store personal belongings securely
If you choose to hike, that means you can go at your own pace, have the surrounding jungle all to yourself, and take more time looking for sloths and monkeys. There are a few places to stop along the way if you get tired and need a break, but no refreshments or snacks are available for purchase.
Sundays are a great day to hike to avoid the horseriding tours (and horse poo) that share the same trail. If you arrive at the falls before 9 am, you will have the place to yourself. Many visitors clear out around 3 pm to start the trek back. The hiking trail closes at 4:30 pm, although we didn’t get back to the parking lot until after 5 pm and never saw a locked gate.
Alternation forms of Transportation
Besides hiking, there are three other ways to access the Waterfalls
- Horseback Riding Tour
- 4×4 Tour
- 4×4 Transportation Only
The property encompassing the falls is privately owned by the Don Lulo family, who has worked long and hard to conserve the land while offering guided horseback tours for over 15 years. To keep up with the increasing demand to visit the falls, they introduced another mode of transportation; the 4×4 pick-up truck.
Update for 2022: Per post comment, they may offer $10 one-way rides to and from the parking lot to the falls, a great option for anyone with health issues.
Horseback Riding Tour
The Horseback Tour is a popular 1/2 day tour costing adults $85 each. It fills up quickly, so making reservations online at least a week in advance is suggested. This guided tour includes 2 hours at the falls, a light breakfast, and traditional Costa Rican lunch. It lasts approximately 5.5 hours from 8 am-1:30 pm and runs Monday-Saturday on the same trail as the hike. Book and read more information about the Horseback tour through the reservation link above.
4×4 Pick-up Truck Tour
If horses aren’t your thing, you can have the same experience of the horseback tour minus the horse. Just book the “4×4 Premium Tour,” and you will be at the falls within 30 mins while riding in the bed of a pick-up truck down an alternate driving path. This tour is also $85 per person, includes breakfast and lunch, and runs from 8 am-1:30 pm Monday to Saturday.
4×4 Transportation Only
If you are looking for transportation only, you can skip the guided tour and opt for the “Economy 4×4 Tour,” providing drop off and pick up to and from the falls every 2.5 hours from 7 am to 2:30 pm Monday-Saturday. With a cost of $32, it is a more economical way to see the falls without the full tour or a 5+ mile hike.
Popular questions about visiting Nauyaca Falls
- Is hiking to Nauyaca Falls challenging? It is a strenuous 5-mile round trip hike on hilly rocky terrain. It can be difficult, especially in hot temps, but many levels of athleticism can complete it successfully.
- When is the best time to visit? The best time to visit to enjoy flowing water, cliff jumping, and swimming in the natural pools is December-March. To enjoy a more powerful waterfall visit in the wetter months (August-November), but only if you don’t mind a muddy trail.
- What should I wear? Depending on the time of year dress according to the weather. Wear a hat and sunscreen all year round. Bring a waterproof jacket and wear waterproof hiking boots with good tread during rainy months. During the drier months, sturdy tennis shoes will suffice. Wear (or bring) a bathing suit if you plan on swimming.
- What should I bring to explore Nauyaca Falls? Bring only what you need; there are no lockers for secure storage at the falls. Hikers should think about taking water, food/snacks, waterproof camera, waterproof bag, hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, and water shoes if jumping from rocks. Bring cash or Visa credit card to cover the $10 entrance fee.
- How long does it take to hike to Nauyaca Falls? It takes 1-1.5 hours each way to walk to Nauyaca Waterfalls. Plan 3 hours of hiking and two hours at the falls.
- Are there facilities available at Nauyaca Falls? There are changing and restroom facilities at the end of the trail by the waterfalls but bring your own TP.
- What kind of shoes do I need to hike to Nauyaca Falls? Wear sturdy hiking or tennis shoes with good tread. During the rainy season, wear waterproof hiking boots. Water shoes are a good idea if you want to climb the slick rocks once at the waterfalls.
- Can I purchase food or water along the hike? Regularly no. From time to time, there may be individuals offering water or snacks along the route.
- How high are Nauyaca Waterfalls? Combined, they are 200 feet high. The upper section is 140 feet. The lower section is 60 feet.
- Can I swim at the falls? Yes, but during the drier months, when the waterfalls are not as strong and the natural pools are available.
- How can I get to Nauyaca Waterfalls? It is easiest to drive. There is a bus route from Dominical and Quepos and paid tours offering transportation from nearby towns. Once there, you can hike, horseback, or ride in a 4×4 truck to the falls.
- Is it crowded at Nauyaca falls? It gets crowded at the falls in the afternoon. Arrive before 9 am to avoid the crowds.
Nauyaca Waterfalls are a natural wonder that shouldn’t be missed! It is a perfect day trip for adventure travelers looking to test their limits on the 60-foot cliff jump, nature lovers out to spot wildlife in its natural habit, or those looking to relax in refreshing natural pools. No matter what kind of traveler you are, I hope you find your way to exploring these majestic Costa Rica Waterfalls and enjoy them as much as I did!
If you are looking to plan a trip to Costa Rica check out my Costa Rica planning guides loaded with valuable information to help you make the most of your vacation to beautiful Costa Rica and get more inspiration from my Costa Rica Photo Tour, links below