Costa Rica Waterfalls

There is something very magical about Costa Rica waterfalls! How can something roaring and powerful also be serene and calming? Costa Rica is blessed with hundreds of these natural wonders and Guanacaste has some of the nicest.

Costa Rica Waterfalls

Some waterfalls surprise you by jumping into view as you round a bend in the road. Others require more effort to get to, but the anticipation that builds as the roar increases is as rewarding as the destination itself. Who can deny the appeal of diving into a pool at the bottom of a waterfall after a long, hot hike? Or standing under the falling water as a million drops massage your head and shoulders?

Costa Rica Playa Hermosa

There are several beautiful waterfalls that can be visited as day-trips from Playa Hermosa. Just enter the name in your GPS or favorite travel app for exact locations. I prefer to use Waze, it seams to work the best here and is a free download.

 

Cortez falls Costa RicaPlaya Del CocoCatarata Llanos de Cortes–This waterfall is quite the surprise if you are visiting Costa Rica during the dry season. After traveling through the tropical dry landscape you would swear any water in the area would be long-evaporated. But after parking and a short walk downhill, you are shocked to find a tropical oasis with a 40-foot high, 50-foot wide curtain of water as its centerpiece! There is a small beach and a clear pool for swimming in as well as trails along the river that lead to other smaller waterfalls and deep blue swimming holes. The lushness of the forest and the cool water of the pond are a perfect escape for any time of the year. Of all the Costa Rica waterfalls, it’s one of the closest to Playa Hermosa–only about 45 minutes drive.

Waterfalls Costa Rica

Catarata La Congreja—Once more Guanacaste offers the proverbial ‘pot of gold at the end of a rainbow’ in the form of a refreshing waterfall at the end of a long 3.5-mile hike. You will find this magical 130-foot high waterfall, Catarata La Congreja in Rincon de la Vieja National Park. The churning white water river shoots out of the green forest and plummets to a transparent pool of blue water far below. It is about a 1 hour drive to the entrance of the park from Playa Hermosa on all paved roads.

rio celesteRio Celeste Waterfall—Rio Celeste is one of the most striking of all Costa Rica waterfalls.  A sky blue river runs through the lush Tenorio Volcano National Park. The almost unnatural color of the water, it turns out, isn’t unnatural at all! The water is tinted by very naturally-occurring chemicals in the water in this mineral-rich region. Because the waterfall is picture-perfect, it has been featured in almost every postcard and travel video of Costa Rica. It can get pretty crowded January through April, but those are the months the water is at its bluest, since the rains can muddy the waters during that time of the year. So try to beat the crowds by getting there as soon as the entrance opens at 8 a.m. The 2-hour trip from Playa Hermosa takes you to Liberia, and then south down the Pan American Highway to a turn-off near Canas.

waterfallMontezuma Waterfall—Farther afield is the waterfall at the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula near the town of Montezuma, made famous by quarterback Tom Brady posting a video of himself jumping from the top. The 60-dive is not for the faint of heart (Tom looks really scared), so maybe those of us who do not face 300-pound linemen trying to sack us shouldn’t try it. The waterfall is actually a series of 3 waterfalls that can be hiked to, the first one you come to being the last in the series. It takes 4 hours to travel to the tip of the peninsula, but the waterfall is only one of many attractions in the area.

The Costa Rica waterfalls I have mentioned in this article are either on private property or in a national park, so entrance fees are collected. You will need to search online for current pricing, since fees tend to fluctuate. Thanks to social media and increased tourism, there are very few natural hidden gems in Costa Rica anymore, and landowners have figured out they can take financial advantage of what used to be a secret. That said, this is a country full of rain-soaked mountains and cascading rivers—the raw material for the creation of perfect waterfalls. So anywhere you go, hike down- or upstream a bit and you may just stumble across your own private waterfall. Like so many before you, you will find yourself ‘water-falling’ in love with Costa Rica!

Costa Rican Tamales–A Christmas Tradition

Costa Rican tamales are kind of like the Christmas cookies of Latin America.  They are everywhere in December, and they’re a tradition worth experiencing.

Costa Rican tamales

However, Costa Rican tamales differs both in appearance and flavor from Mexican tamales. What they have in common is the “masa”—the cornmeal filling. Both are often made with pork and cooked in a pork broth. But the Mexican tamale’s additional fillings vary greatly from its Costa Rican cousin. The biggest differences are that the Mexicans wrap theirs in dry cornhusks and that the tamales are spicy! Costa Rican tamales are wrapped in plantain leaves and generally have a mild flavor.

tamale not Costa Rica

The tradition of making tamales is a labor-intensive, family affair with the women in the family joining forces to prepare them. First the pork broth is prepared with pork chunks, vegetables and spices in a ridiculously large pot—often a 5-gallon cauldron. While that is cooking, rice is prepared, potatoes are boiled, and carrots, peppers, peas and cilantro are sliced and set aside. When ready, the cooked pork is removed from the broth and cut into large, bite-sized pieces. Plantain leaves are washed, veined, and cut to size. Don’t think you can substitute banana leaves—they are too thin and flimsy and will tear apart during the cooking process.

Playa Hermosa Tamales

Now it is time to prepare the cornmeal filling. costa ricaBlend together the cornmeal (masa) and potatoes with some of the pork broth until a wet dough is formed that has the consistency of creamy mashed potatoes. Add salt and/or bouillon to taste. Pork fat you have rendered or purchased at the butcher shop is added to the mix. Here in Costa Rica it is called “Manteca”.  Now for the “fun” part, because the dough is usually mixed with your hands, and before you know it you’re up to your elbows and feeling like a kid again!

 

playa del Coco Tamale

It is time to assembly your Costa Rican tamales, with everyone taking an ingredient! First 2 layers of plantain leaves are laid down. A large spoonful of the masa mix is plopped down in the middle of the leaves. On top of this is placed a spoonful of rice, a piece of meat, a few peas, a slice of carrot, a slice of pepper, and a small stem of cilantro. Some add raisins, cooked garbanzos or green olives—you can tailor them to your tastes!

tamale Playa Hermosa

Folding the package is a more important step than you might imagine, and your workmanship will be tested in the crucible of the cooking pot. Raise the edge up lengthwise and fold it over twice to seal the seam. Lightly flatten, and then fold the sides in over the center, making a tidy package. Using string or twine, tie 2 tamales together to make a “piña”, or a pair of tamales—they cook better tied together.

When all the tamales are prepared, drop them into the boiling pork broth. Cover the pot and boil for 30 minutes, at which point the tamales can be removed from the pot, and cooled to a palatable temperature. Enjoy unwrapping your little meal-in-one tamale! Or let them cool and store them in your fridge or freezer to be reheated another day by boiling in a bit of water or microwaving.

Playa Hermosa Tradition

Many Ticos enjoy Costa Rican tamales as a mid afternoon snack, with coffee. I know sounds a bit strange, but heck its their tradition so don’t knock it.

 

As a reminder, the plantain leaf is your plate and it is NOT to be eaten. Ticos often tell a joke about a gringo who was asked if he liked tamales. He said, yes, except for the lettuce which was really tough (indicating he had mistakenly eaten the plantain leaf). This is hysterically funny to Ticos, so try to beat them to the punch line!

 

Makaing tamales In Costa Rica

Where did the tradition originate? Tamales came on the world scene centuries long before Christ. The Mesoamerican cultures including the Aztec and Maya were wrapping and cooking foods in banana leaves or corn husks long before any of them heard of Christmas. It is believed that foods offered to the gods were presented in leaves and husks, therefore creating the association with religious events and special occasions. When the Mexican population was “Christianized” by the Europeans, the tradition transferred to the most important holiday on the Christian calendar.

Playa Del Coco

So next time you are here during the Christmas holiday, make sure you try some Costa Rican tamales! I like mine with a touch of hot sauce after unwrapping the little extra Christmas package.

Costa Rica’s Cocos Island

“When you get here, everything turns into a green paradise, full of wildlife. It cannot be described in a few words. It is absolutely fantastic. On earth, under water, everything is indescribable.” Where am I? Costa Rica’s Cocos Island.

Costa Rica Cocos Island

Cocos is a 9-square-mile island about 300 miles off the southwest coast of Costa Rica that is known for its stories of buried treasure. It is believed by some that Robert Louis Stevenson based his famous book Treasure Island on tales of pirate treasure hidden there. It is so remote and pristine, the island was featured in the opening scenes of Jurassic Park.

Playa Hermosa Costa Rica

Volcanic activity on the Cocos Ridge gave birth to its only island. This rugged speck of land is the only major island in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean that receives sufficient rainfall to support a tropical rain forest—275 inches annually—making it a freshwater oasis for sailors who came across the island.

 

That fresh water was one of the things that attrCocos island Costa Ricaacted pirates in centuries past. Legend has it that the captain of one pirate band chose Cocos Island as his base of operations and the perfect place to hide his booty. According to one version of the story, all the pirates on his galleon decided to bury their share of the treasure somewhere on the island. Using ropes to climb the cliffs that dominate the island’s coastline, each pirate disappeared into the tropical forest. While some trusted their memory, others returned with maps that only they could decipher. After stashing their goods, the pirates sailed away in their galleon in search of more dishonest gains. As it goes with pirates, there followed much double-crossing and mutiny, ending in executions. It is assumed that not every individual pirate made it back to Cocos Island to reclaim their treasure. This assumption has fueled much treasure hunting. There have been more than 500 organized expeditions to the island. According to available information, none have discovered treasure.

Playa Del Coco Costa Rica

However, Cocos Island is full of treasures—natural ones! The entire island has been designated a national park since 1978, and there are no permanent residents other than park rangers. It is a treasure trove of flora and fauna on land and of marine life in the surrounding waters. Several species make Cocos Island their only home on earth. One of the species of birds on the island is the white tern. It has the amusing characteristic of hovering in the air just above people’s heads, giving it the Spanish nickname espiritu santo, or holy spirit, referring to the Biblical account of Jesus’ baptism.

Costa Rica

Cocos Island has been rated one of the top 10 best places in the world to scuba dive. Scuba divers treasure the location for the clarity of the water and the dense population of marine creatures. There is an especially high concentration of hammerhead and white-tipped sharks which travel in schools of between 40 and 50.

 

Live aboard vessels are the only option to visit the island. It is about a 36-hour trip each way from the mainland. If you are planning an upcoming dCosta Rica Manta Rayive trip or travelling to Cocos Island, it is a really good idea to invest in travel insurance for scuba diving. There are no medical facilities on the island, so your policy should also include evacuation insurance.

Just enjoy the beauty of Costa Rica’s Cocos Island and hope to see you in paradise!