La Leona Waterfall. The Best Waterfall Tour in the Guanacaste Province.
A Hidden Gem in Guanacaste, Costa Rica.
We meandered from Liberia to the little city of Curubande de Liberia. Our last full day in paradise brought the promise of adventure and all the emotions.
Weeks earlier I had learned about an off-the-beaten-path waterfall hike from a friend called “La Leona Waterfall” and after a little clicking around I met Fabricio from Catarata La Leona Costa Rica
Fabricio spends most of his days working remotely online, but his mornings find him taking folks on adventures to Catarata La Leona (La Leona Waterfall). I was taken by his passion and excitement for the adventure! Sadly, cancelled flights crushed our original plan of meeting on our first day in country and so we waited on pins and needles until the last day of our time in Costa Rica
We pulled up to Fabricio’s house around 8am, having no idea what to expect. After one last potty break there, we headed toward the river, following him and his girlfriend, Maya, on their motorbike. It was a bumpy, off-the-grid drive…about 10 minutes through the jungle…before we arrived at a small, gravel parking lot to start the hike to La Leona Waterfall.
Clamoring out of the car, Elo fell and landed face-first on the gravel, completely scraping up her tummy…while I was on the phone trying to secure an appointment for our Covid tests the next day…which we hadn’t expected to be a challenge but was quickly turning into one. A bit of a rocky start, but we were determined to turn things around.
Recovering quickly, we followed Fabricio and Maya down the trail for about 10 minutes before we came up alongside the Rio Blanco, our cold, but beautiful guide for the day.
Rio Blanco winds through the jungle, with public property lining both sides. One side backs to jungle owned by an organization that purchases jungle property in CR, protects it while using it for research and learning, then donates it to the Costa Rican government. It’s untouched, lush, wild and beautiful – the perfect setting for a hike to Catarata La Leona.
The waterfall, as well as Rio Blanco, is formed from the Rincon de la Viejo Volcano, and the mineral rich soil from the lava creates a unique and mesmerizing blue color in the water.
It is otherworldly…especially where the canyons create a tunnel for the light from above. We kept pausing on the hike to just stare at the beauty all around us. Of course river is not just a pretty face…. the volcano also supplies thermal energy for Costa Rica, contributing to the country’s almost sole reliance on renewable energy – impressive, right? This is information we don’t even imagine exist when visiting La Leona Waterfall.
Fabricio & Maya
This particular hike is for those who want a little extra adventure at La Leona Waterfall – it’s not an easy path. But that’s the way we like it – the more adventure the better! After crossing the river a couple of times, and then heading up the steeper side of the mountain.
We used makeshift ladders to scamper up the steeper parts and Fabricio’s rope to make it across a particularly narrow and steep ridge. He and Maya knew all the best areas to pause and wonder. We saw a small cave with bats hovering inside, lots of spiders and centipedes, blue morpho butterflies flitting just above us, and of course all to the soundtrack of the rushing river below.
After traversing up the hillside a ways, we made our way back down to the river to a natural rock slide built into the river rocks. Apart from a tarp to reduce scratches, nature did the rest to create this fun little stop – and the kids loved it! Elo’s review says it all – “The only part I didn’t like is that I couldn’t do it 100 times!” haha. So much fun plunging into the chilly, blue water below.
On down the river, we greeted our next adventure high – a boulder perfectly made for jumping about 15 feet into the water below. Viv + Elo opted to make the jump, and thanks to Jon volunteering to walk the others down, I got to join them (thanks babe!:)
It was just high enough for a thrill, but not so high that I was freaked out about the kids jumping. I’d do just about anything to be back there right now, jumping off the rock ledge into the pool below. And Elo was beside herself with joy. Just a week earlier she had sat on top of the 2nd waterfall at Montezuma falls, sobbing into the jungle because we wouldn’t let her jump. This was her redemption leap, and I loved seeing the sheer joy on my little adventure lover’s face.
Back on the trail
We were giddy with excitement, knowing the best part was still ahead. Just a little further up the river, a blue pool was waiting with rapids at one end and at the other end a narrow canyon creating the secret, hidden entrance to the waterfall. I literally gasped at the beauty and power of the water.
The canyon walls funneled a beam of light down on the water from high above, as well as a strong current flowing from the waterfall pool through the canyon to where we stared, awestruck. In the middle, it’s about 10 feet deep – too deep to walk and also really challenging to swim against the current.
A rope runs from La Leona Waterfall area down the canyon and anchors just beyond the rapids. It hovers just a few feet above the water and serves as a way to pull yourself up the stream. But still, the current is just too strong for most people to get all the way through, so Fabricio left us waiting and managed his way up the canyon with another rope.
Each of us shimmied our way up the rope, and just as the current became too strong, Fabricio tossed us the next rope and we grabbed on while he pulled us through the canyon and into the hidden waterfall area just beyond. It was tough, and exhilarating, and nerve wracking and gorgeous…pure adrenaline!
But the real awe-inspiring moment, as if all that wasn’t enough, is when you are pulled to the other side of the canyon – you regain your footing, look up…..and you’re face to face with Catarata La Leona herself. She is about 30 feet tall and especially in rainy season gushes massive amounts of water into the blue pool below. What makes her extra special besides her brilliant blue color is her hiding place inside the cave that makes her less accessible than other waterfalls… the best reward after the intensity of getting there.
la Catarata la Leona
Inside the cave, with la Leona Waterfall’s presence and mist filling the air, you can take as much time as you want, swimming in the pool or just resting on the rocks. The chill is very real as the wind coming off the falls and the cold water are inside the rock walls, with very little sunlight to warm anything. We were all shivering!
We didn’t stay too long because of the cold…and it was time to take the path back the way we came! This time my favorite part came with heading back out of the waterfall cave and into the canyon. Because we were going with the current this time, we were able to just jump in and be carried to the other end.
I plunged into the water and as the current took me for a ride, I flipped over on my back and gazed through the mist into the light shining just perfectly into the canyon up above. I floated there for a minute…a minute I will never forget.
Guide to Visiting La Leona Waterfall in Liberia, Guanacaste.
This waterfall is only accessible by hiring a guide. I highly recommend our guide, Fabricio, with La Leona Waterfall Adventure Tours. He was so great with the kids and was able to give us lots of interesting info about the waterfall and the history of the area.
Tours start around 8am-9am in the morning and run for about 3 hours
There are no facilities on the hike or at the waterfall. Make sure and bring water and use the restroom before you get to the river.
What to Pack
Close toed shoes or hiking sandals like Chacos, sunscreen, bug spray, towel and change of clothes to leave in the car, snacks for the hike (although we didn’t end up needing them), water bottle, camera, bandaids (always 😉
Things to Know
I recommend wearing a swimsuit with quick dry shorts on top….beware of bikinis – it’s an adventurous hike! :). Also, the guide keeps a wet bag for your phone/camera/keys etc…but if you want to bring a drone or extra camera, you may want your own wet bag as well!