Of all the waterfalls we visited during our 3 week road trip through Costa Rica, Nauyaca was by far the most spectacular and majestic. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s one of the best waterfalls in all of Costa Rica, along with the Rio Celeste Waterfall.
Tucked away in the lush jungle of the Puntarenas region of southern Costa Rica, The Nauyaca Waterfalls (Cataratas Nauyaca) tumble over a combined 200 feet (61 meters) into a large natural swimming pool. They’re the perfect place to experience the raw power of nature in Costa Rica, and make an excellent day trip from many popular nearby beach towns, such as Uvita and Manuel Antonio.
Whether you’re looking for an epic jungle adventure or simply want to kick back and relax on the shore, you’re bound to be as spellbound by Nauyaca as we were.
So here’s a full guide on how to visit the spectacular Nauyaca Waterfalls, including 3 different ways to get there, when to go, and what to bring.
The Nauyaca Waterfalls are located in a canyon, deep in the dense jungle along the Pacific Coast of southern Costa Rica. The falls are part of the Barucito River, which runs through a beautifully maintained, privately owned nature preserve just off Route 243.
Nauyaca is surprisingly easy to access and is best done as a day trip from Uvita, Dominical, or Manuel Antonio.
Here’s a quick overview of drive times:
HOW TO GET THERE: CATARATAS NAUYACA OFFICE
Nauyaca waterfalls are located on private property owned by Don Lulo. You must stop by their office (the Cataratas Nauyaca office) to pay your entrance fees before you go to the waterfalls. The price of your entrance fee will depend on how you want to get to the falls. More on that below.
The best way to get there is to drive yourself. However, if you don’t have a car, you can also take a bus from Dominical or Quepos. Tour transportation options are also available from nearby beach towns and hotels.
To get to the Catarata Nauyaca office, turn onto Route 243 from Constanera Sur (Route 34). It will be a left turn if you come from Manuel Antonio, and a right turn if you come from Uvita. The turn is very obvious with signs to Platanillo.
Follow Route 243 for about 10km. The Cataratas Nauyaca/Nauyaca Waterfall office will be on the right. Park in the spots in front of the office and go in to pay your entrance fee.
The location for “Nauyaca Waterfalls” on Google Maps is incorrect. The office is actually further up the road than where Google Maps brings you.
Here’s a map of the exact location of the Cataratas Nauyaca office on Google Maps:
There is another nature park, Nauyaca Waterfall Nature Park
, that now provides access to the other side of Nauyaca Waterfalls. This is NOT the same office as Cataratas Nauyaca office.
The Nauyaca Waterfall Nature Park is located about 30 minutes from Cataratas Nauyaca office, further down route 243. Here’s a map of the two offices in relation to each other. As of writing this, Nauyaca Waterfall Nature Park only offers trolley rides to the waterfalls for $30 a person.
HOURS AND ENTRANCE FEES (2022)
- The office is open from 7am – 2pm Monday through Saturday, and 8am – 2pm on Sunday.
- The waterfalls close at 3:30pm, so you have to be out by then if you hike in.
- The parking lot is open from 8am – 4pm. The only way to access the parking lot is with a parking ticket, which you buy at the office.
Here’s a quick overview of current entrance fees for Nauyaca Waterfalls (updated 2022).
- The entrance fee to Nauyaca is $10 per person if you are hiking
- The basic 4×4 truck ride is $32 per person
- A full premium truck tour including breakfast, lunch, and a guide: $85 per person
- Horseback riding tour: $85 per person
- Parking fee for your vehicle: $4 per person
At the time of writing this (December 2022), reservations are required for all tours to Nauyaca Waterfalls. This includes self-guided hikes. Keep reading for more details on the different ways to get to the waterfalls, including reservation information and time slots.
HOW TO GET TO THE FALLS: SELF GUIDED HIKES AND TOURS
Choose any of these options to reach the waterfalls!
Self Guided Hike
You can hike to Nauyaca without a guide by following a rocky, dirt trail through the jungle. The hike is 2.5 miles one way, or 5 miles round trip and is rated as moderate. However, there’s a long stretch of the trail that steeply climbs uphill, so some people may find the hike more strenuous. Overall, you should be in moderate shape to complete the hike.
To hike to Nauyaca Waterfalls, stop at the main office and pay the $10 entrance fee. If you have a car, you will also purchase your parking pass and then proceed to the parking lot.
The trailhead is located just down the path from the parking lot. From there, simply follow the signs! The hiking trail is the same as the one for the horseback tour, so watch out for passing horses
It should take you about 1-1.5 hours to get to the waterfalls.
Things to know before you hike:
- Price to hike: $10
- Make a reservation ahead of time here. You will pay in the office once you get there.
- Reservation times: 7am, 9am, 11am (Monday – Saturday); 8am, 10am, 12pm (Sundays).
- Your reservation time is 4 hours long and runs from the moment you buy your ticket until you leave the waterfall (the hike back to the parking lot is not included)
- I recommend wearing hiking boots. The trail is rocky and can get extra muddy in the rainy season.
- The weather is hot, humid, and buggy. Dress appropriately and bring bug spray!
- Pack enough water! There is nowhere to buy food or drinks.
Nauyaca 4×4 Truck Ride
Taking the truck is honestly the fastest and easiest way to the get to the waterfalls. So, if you’re short on time (like we were!), this is your best option.
The pick up truck costs $32 per person and includes your entrance fee and the round-trip truck ride. It’s obviously a little bit more expensive than hiking, but we felt that saving the time and effort was well worth the extra money.
The truck tour begins along the side of the road, just outside the office.
You have to make a reservation online in advance, and pay in person once you get there. The truck departs every hour between 7:00am – 12:00pm and takes about 30 minutes.
You’re allowed 2 hours at the waterfalls once you get there, which we found to be a good chunk of time.
If you feel like making an entire day of it, you can book the premium truck tour for $80 per person, which includes a guided tour and lunch.
Horseback Riding Tour
Horseback riding is a popular way to reach the waterfalls and makes for a beautiful ride through the jungle. The horseback riding tour starts at the parking lot and then follows the hiking trail to the waterfalls.
The tour runs Monday – Saturday and costs $80 per person. It is a full guided tour that lasts from 9am to 1:30pm and includes admission, lunch, and the round trip ride on horseback.
You don’t need to know how to ride horses to take the horseback riding tour to Nauyaca Waterfalls. However, there is a weight limit of 220 pounds for people who don’t know how to ride and 240 pounds for people with experience.
Reservations need to be made in advance. I recommend booking as soon as possible, since this tour tends to sell out.
Nauyaca Waterfalls are split into two sections, the upper and lower. The truck and horseback riding tours will drop you off at the entrance to the falls, where the trail splits for the upper and lower falls. Both falls are accessible via a short walk and a series of stairs with a bamboo handrail.
Upper Nauyaca Waterfall
The upper falls cascade 147 feet (45 meters) into a pool that feeds the lower falls. While not as grand as the view from the lower falls, the upper falls are still very picturesque and worth visiting.
You can view the falls from view platform or continue down the steps and explore the rocks around the pool. Be careful because the rocks can be slippery!
While you can’t swim here, it’s still a good spot for photos or a quick picnic if you brought snacks with you.
Lower Nauyaca Waterfall
Let’s be honest – the lower falls are what you came for! This lower section is where you can lounge around, swim in the natural pool, and appreciate the grandeur of the falls. Not to mention, snap some epic photos.
The lower falls are accessed via a 100 meter walk down a steep staircase. I recommend wearing shoes with some sort of grip on them (grippy water shoes work well), because the rocks leading up to the falls are slippery.
The natural swimming pool is about 20 feet deep
For the absolute best view of the falls, cross the river by navigating the boulders next to the pool. The water is about knee deep, but go super slowly and watch your footing! We saw several people trying to cross with their camera gear on their backs and fall into the water.
While you’re on the other side of the river, follow the path into the jungle and make your way down to the riverside. It’s a great place to soak in the views from a different angle, and escape any crowds that form at the base of the falls.
BEST TIME TO VISIT NAUYACA
The best time to visit is in the dry season (mid-December – April), when the water is the bluest and the weather is the best. Our photos were taken at the beginning of January, for reference.
To avoid crowds, I recommend booking before 9AM for hikes and tours. Sundays are the least crowded day to visit because the horseback riding tours don’t operate.
We visited at 8am mid-week and, while we certainly weren’t the only ones there, we didn’t find the waterfalls to be overly crowded at that time. I think it also helps that the office now limits spaces on time slots to help keep the crowds down. This is why it’s important to book your slot in advance.
Visiting in the off season brings a high chance of heavy rains, that will cause the waterfall to swell and make the pool inaccessible.
WHAT TO WEAR AND BRING
Wear and bring only what you absolutely need. There are no lockers or places to leave your belongings at the falls.
- Wear lightweight breathable clothing, especially for the hike. It’s very hot and humid.
- Wear your swimsuit, or bring it to change at the falls. There are facilities once you get there.
- Bring a small backpack to carry your things. I highly recommend a waterproof backpack or dry bag.
- Bring enough water and snacks. You can buy them at the office, but there’s nowhere to get food/water once you get to the falls.
- Wear hiking boots for the hike and bring water shoes to help you navigate the slippery rocks at the falls.
- Bring bug spray, a towel, and sunscreen (I like these eco-friendly ones). I also recommend a rain jacket if you go in the rainy season.
Read next: Best Hiking Backpacks for Women in 2022: Find the Perfect Hiking Pack for Your Next Adventure
TIPS FOR PHOTOGRAPHING CATARATAS NAUYACA
- Aim to get to the waterfalls around 9 or 10AM for the best light. At this time, the sun should just be peaking over the canyon wall. Any earlier and the falls are in shadow, so the water won’t be as blue. Any later and the sun will be straight overhead.
- Use a circular polarizer to cut the glare on wet surfaces. We love these Hoya NXT Plus polarizers.
- Shoot with a wide angle lens. Our photos were taken with the Canon RF 24-70mm.
- Cross the river for the best angle via the eastern side of the falls. This is assuming you book with Cataratas Nauyaca. If you take the trolley ride from Nauyaca Waterfall Nature Park, you won’t have to cross the river.
More guides to Costa Rica!
The Ultimate Guide to Drake Bay, Costa Rica (Things to Do, How to Get There, and Where to Stay!)
How to Reach the Magical Rio Celeste Waterfall in Costa Rica
11 of the Best Things to Do in La Fortuna, Costa Rica
Do you plan on visiting Nauyaca Waterfalls in Costa Rica? Let me know in the comments! I love to hear from you!
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