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12 Things to KNOW Before Visiting Montezuma Waterfalls

12 Things to KNOW Before Visiting Montezuma Waterfalls

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Montezuma is one of Costa Rica’s best-kept secrets in that it isn’t completely overrun by tourism and still maintains its laid-back, authentic vibe. This small town kept us busy with plenty of attractions to explore like the beach, local cuisine and nightlife, wildlife, and more!

Of course, you cannot visit the beautiful fishing town of Montezuma without visiting its biggest attraction – Montezuma Waterfalls! Known for its lush rainforests, a trio of majestic waterfalls, and deep pools, the waterfalls and trails of Montezuma are not to be missed. 

I can tell you from my firsthand experience that Montezuma Waterfalls isn’t as straightforward as you may think. There are three different waterfalls to explore, and with different (hard-to-find) trails to get to them, you need to be prepared.

In this blog we I’ll tell you everything there is to know about visiting the waterfalls, including some safety tips. I’ll also tell you when is the best time to visit and how to get to the best swimming spot!

Whether you are looking to know more about the attraction, or want to know what it is like to hike the variety of trails, here are 12 tips for visiting Montezuma Waterfalls! 

1. About Montezuma Waterfalls 

Daniel stands below the middle waterfall at the Montezuma Waterfalls in Costa Rica
The middle waterfall and pool are my favorite!

Montezuma Waterfalls are located in the small local town of Montezuma. The falls consist of upper, middle, and lower waterfalls varying in height from smallest to tallest (15 ft to 80 ft/ 5 m to 35 m). All three are ideal for swimming and are the perfect place to cool off under the Costa Rican sun.

The waterfalls are well known in the area and have become one of the most popular places to visit on the Nicoya Peninsula – even those staying in Santa Teresa make the journey here! 

The waterfalls are actually part of the Rio Montezuma or Montezuma River and are one of the last sections of the river before it runs into the ocean. The water runs from deep in the nearby mountains, so it is not only clean, but refreshing. 

Visiting Montezuma Waterfalls is an adventure that does involve a little exploring. With that said, it’s totally worth it! 

2. Where are Montezuma Waterfalls? 

Bailey sits on the edge overlooking the lower Montezuma Waterfalls in Costa Rica
What a view!

Montezuma Waterfalls are located on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, on the Nicoya Peninsula. 

From the town of Montezuma, you can reach the lower entrance (The Riverbed Trail) of the waterfall in around a 5 to 10-minute walk, depending on where your hotel is. This makes it super convenient to visit and is one of the reasons I love Montezuma Waterfalls so much. 

The upper entrance of the waterfall is located upstream, and you can access this entrance by heading up Montezuma-Delicias Road all the way to the Sun Trails Tours office. This entrance costs money but makes it easier to access the upper waterfalls, which are considered the best to swim. 

If you’re visiting from elsewhere, we (including the locals) highly recommend checking out the town and Montezuma Beach while you are in the area, as it is rich with local cuisine and beautiful views. Though the town is small, Montezuma has a lot to offer the explorers and adventurers at heart. 

3. Is Visiting Montezuma Waterfalls Free? 

graphic map of the different trails at Montezuma Waterfalls
This map shows the different trails as well as which are paid and which are not.

Yes! Visiting Montezuma Waterfalls is free, well, kind of! Let me explain…

Although the lower entrance to Montezuma Waterfalls is free (including the Riverbend Trail), there is also a second trail owned by SunTrails. SunTrails is a tour company who has developed an easier trail to access all of the waterfalls. The SunTrails trail leads from their office to the upper and middle waterfalls as well as to the lower waterfall (which joins the Riverbed Trail). This trail is well maintained, and as such, they have a fee to use it.  

You can still access all the waterfalls for free. However, I only recommend visiting the lower falls on the free trail. Reaching the upper and middle waterfalls on the Riverbed Trail involves a dangerous climb (on a makeshift trail) that, in my opinion, is not worth saving the $2 USD for.

Instead, you will need to transfer from the Riverbed Trail onto the SunTrails trail, which I outline below. This costs 1,000 Colones or $2 USD. Pay the fee in cash on the trail.

The full SunTrails trail actually begins from the SunTrails tour office (upstream) and is not free. This entrance here costs $4 USD, and this trail leads down to the waterfalls as opposed to the Riverbed Trail that leads up to the waterfalls. This is a private, well-maintained path that actually crosses suspension bridges – making it well worth the money. This is perfect for those with knee problems or families.

If you’d rather save your money and hike the free trails, make sure you are either well-equipped with snacks, water, and proper hiking shoes, or you are an experienced hiker. Go early as well to give yourself plenty of time to make it up and down, and please, be careful! 

Our personal recommendation: Start at the lower falls parking lot and walk the Riverbend Trail to the bottom pool of the lower falls. From there, backtrack slightly to start heading up on the SunTrails Trail (red trail on the map above) which you will see on your right on the other side of the river. Pay the $2 USD at the check point and continue to the top waterfall. From there, explore the pools and climb the rocks to the lower pool. Our favorite place to swim is the bottom of the second waterfall.

4. The Best Time to Visit Montezuma Waterfalls?  

Bailey relaxes at the upper waterfall of the Montezuma Waterfall in Costa Rica
Just vibing!

Montezuma Waterfalls is great to visit year-round! In fact, in the wet season, the waterfall comes to life with fresh flowing water from the mountains. 

If you plan to visit during the rainy season (May to December), be sure to bring suitable hiking shoes that you won’t mind getting wet, as the rocky trail can get very slick.  

Getting there early in the morning is best if you want to avoid crowds. I arrived at the Riverbed Trail at around 7 am and hiked up to enjoy the middle waterfall with almost no one else around.

If you happen to arrive later, keep in mind that sunset is at 5:30 pm every day. Trust me; you don’t want to navigate the rainforest in the dark! 

Related Read: Looking for more adventure! Check out the best volancoes in all of Costa Rica!

5. How Long is the Trail to Montezuma Waterfalls? 

Bailey uses ropes along the Montezuma Waterfalls trail in Costa Rica
Some parts of the trail are a little tricky!

The trails to Montezuma Waterfalls vary depending on the adventure and route you take. If you’re heading from the free entrance near Montezuma town, expect a 15 to 20-minute walk to the lower waterfall. If you plan on taking the free trail up to the upper falls, it should take you another 15 minutes. If you take the paid trail, it’s only a 10-minute walk up some steps. 

From the Sun Trails Tours entrance, it’s a 20-minute walk down to the upper waterfalls.

Pivoting to the middle falls is a short climb down from the upper falls.

Getting to the lower falls from here should be done by the Sun Trail Tours trail, which is a series of steps and takes 5 to 10 minutes. There is no reason to take the free (but dangerous) trail from here! 

6. How Do You Visit the Middle and Upper Waterfalls?  

A map of the trails to the Montezuma Waterfalls
A map of the trails at Montezuma Waterfall!

The middle and upper waterfalls are, in my opinion, the best place to swim at Montezuma Waterfalls. To be specific, the middle pool is the best place to swim! You can access the top and middle falls via both the SunTrails Trail Trail and the Riverbed Trail. 

The Riverbed Trail 

The Riverbed Trail is the easiest to take for the lower waterfall and the closest to Montezuma town. This is also the free trail. 

If you are staying in Montezuma, a car is typically not necessary to get to the Riverbed Trail, as it is located just over a quarter mile from downtown. 

From town, simply walk out of town and cross the bridge to the trail and parking area and begin your 20-minute hike. If you happen to prefer driving, parking unofficially costs 1,000 Colones ($2 USD) per day. 

The trek to the lower waterfall is certainly more beginner friendly, but you should still proceed with caution, especially during the wet season (May to December), as rocks and slopes can become very slippery. Be sure to take advantage of the guide ropes provided in hard-to-reach areas along the trail! 

In this section, walk over the first rapids you see and walk along the right-hand side. There is a faint trail. 

Once you reach the first waterfall at the end of the trail, be sure to take some photos and enjoy the view. However, to get to the other waterfalls, you’re going to need to keep walking. 

Daniel crosses the river to access the Upper Montezuma Waterfalls in Costa Rica
Crossing the river from the free trail and onto the SunTrails trail.

The free trail runs up the side of the hill in front of the lower waterfalls (if you’re facing the waterfall, it will be behind you.) It heads up the hill to the left and is very steep. I do not recommend taking this route. Instead, take the other route that costs 1,000 Colones (or $2 USD.) 

On the Riverbed Trail, walk back the way you came from the lower waterfall, around 100 meters (328 feet). Look for a steep incline of stairs on the other side of the river. Once you see it, cross the river using the rocks and then begin climbing the steps. 

After hiking up 100 stairs for roughly 10 minutes, you will reach a checkpoint with a small structure. Sometimes, there is an employee from SunTrails there to collect $2 USD (1,000 Colones) per person if you want to proceed with the rest of the trail. Be sure you have some cash on hand, just in case! 

If the employee is there, he’ll tell you where to go but if not, just stick to the right at every junction you come to. It’s only another 5 to 10-minute walk from here. 

At the end, you’ll reach a clearing, and you’ll see the upper waterfall. To reach the middle, cross the waterfall and head down the left-hand side using the ropes. This leads to the beautiful pool of the second waterfall and the infinity pool. 

The SunTrails Canopy Tour Trail 

Bailey walks up the stairs to the upper waterfalls at Montezuma Waterfalls
Walking up to the upper and middle waterfalls on the SunTrails walking track.

The Canopy Tour Trail is owned by the SunTrails company and costs $4 USD per person for a self-guided hike. This trail is certainly the easier option to get to the upper and middle falls, and arguably the more scenic one as well!  

The hike is complete with two hanging bridges from the top of the forest, a few rocks to climb, and some flat areas, which make it ideal for beginner hikers! 

The only downside is that you definitely need a car or a ride to get there. If you are renting a car, you should definitely choose one with 4-wheel drive, as there is a steep hill en route to the trailhead. Nevertheless, it is still relatively easy to get to the trail and not a far drive. 

After crossing the bridge to the Riverbed trail, take a right at the Hotel Amor del Mar and drive up the hill until you pass the butterfly garden/brewery. When you arrive at the SunTrails entrance, pay the fee and the guide will tell you about the trail before sending you on your way! 

This is a great trail to take pictures, admire native birds such as the Scarlet Tanager, and read the posted signs about the local plant life! 

You will arrive at the upper waterfall first, where you can enjoy a refreshing swim. However, the best and most spectacular place to swim is at the middle waterfall. 

From the SunTrails Trail, you can also head down to the lower falls via the same steps you walked up to the middle waterfalls on the riverbed Trail. A great idea is to get a taxi up to SunTrails and then just walk back to town. That way, you can see every waterfall without having to hike up! 

Pro Tips: 

  • When taking the more remote trails, especially to the lower falls, be sure to secure your belongings. The local white-faced capuchin monkeys are infamous pickpockets!  
  • The pools at the base of the waterfalls are deep enough for diving. With that said, please take extreme caution if you are planning to jump from the cliffs. There have been quite a few tragic fatalities due to people jumping improperly or during unsafe conditions. Ask the advice of locals, and trust what your gut tells you.  
  • Sunset is at 5:30 pm (roughly) every day in Costa Rica. Please plan accordingly, as trying to navigate back through the forest in the dark poses some hefty challenges and risks.  

7. Is There Parking at Montezuma Waterfalls? 

A group of people site at the top of the lower Montezuma Waterfall in Montezuma, Costa Rica
The natural infinity pool!

Yes, parking at Montezuma Waterfalls costs less than $2 USD.  

If you are only visiting the lower falls for your trip, or plan to hike up to the upper falls from there, you can simply walk there, depending on where you are staying.  

The Riverbed trail is about a quarter of a mile from downtown Montezuma and is very walkable. If you’re not a walker and don’t have a car, you can hitch a ride instead. 

8. Can You Swim at Montezuma Waterfalls? 

A lady stands below the Montezuma Waterfall in Costa Rica
Swimming is encouraged!

Yes, of course! There is nothing more refreshing and rewarding than taking a dip in the beautiful pools below each waterfall. Each pool is also deep enough for swimming and perhaps exploring with goggles if that’s your thing. 

9. Is Montezuma Waterfalls Suitable for Kids? 

Daniel uses ropes to climb from the middle waterfall to the upper waterfall at the Montezuma Waterfalls in Costa Rica
Some of the pools are not suited to kids, but some are!

Yes, but for young children, it is best to take the SunTrails Canopy Tour Trail as the Riverbed Trail is a bit more extreme. It is also recommended to go during the dry season (January to April) to remove the possibility of slipping on rocks.  

If you plan on swimming, make sure your children wear life jackets and keep them far away from the waterfall edges. Of course, the same goes for your fur babies as well! 

There are no lifeguards at any of the falls, so you should be a confident swimmer if you want to enter the water.

10. What Should You Bring to Montezuma Waterfalls?  

Two people stand at the pool above the lower Montezuma Waterfall in Costa Rica
Looking down at the pool above the lower falls!

You should bring your hiking shoes and/or swimming shoes. Some of the trails can get a little treacherous, and having proper footwear is essential to this type of day trip. If you plan on swimming, wear your swimsuit and bring a towel. Plenty of bug repellent and sunscreen is also a great idea, as you will be exposed to the elements all day.  

Bringing a substantial amount of snacks (perhaps a lunch) and water will keep you sustained and energized as you hike to and from the waterfalls. It is also a great idea to bring a waterproof camera or a waterproof case for your phone to take pictures risk-free. Of course, bring a roomy, yet sturdy backpack to carry all of your items. 

Though the lower waterfall is free to the public, the upper and middle ones require a small fee ($2 to $4 USD per person), so bring some cash in Colones if you can. 

As mentioned before, keep all items such as water bottles and other personal belongings zipped away to avoid having them stolen by mischievous monkeys or other people! 

Related Read: Nearby, you can visit the town of Santa Teresa and explore all of the free and cheap things to do in Santa Teresa!

11. How Long Do You Need to Visit Montezuma Waterfalls? 

Montezuma Waterfalls in Costa Rica

You can spend as much time as you would like at the Montezuma Waterfalls, though we don’t recommend staying after sunset. Overall, we believe 3-5 hours is plenty of time to explore all that Montezuma Waterfalls has to offer!  

Of course, if you are an inexperienced hiker, it may take slightly longer for you. If this is the case, start your day at the falls in the morning to leave yourself enough time.  

12. Are there Tours to Montezuma Waterfalls? 

Daniel climbs up a rock face at Montezuma Waterfall in Costa Rica
There is some climbing involved!

Yes, SunTrails is a company that not only offers guided tours to the waterfalls, but they also offer tours to other areas such as Tortuga Island and Cabo Blanco. They are most known for maintaining the Montezuma trails. They even offer ziplining! 

If you are not confident about taking a self-guided tour, or simply want to learn more about Montezuma, taking a SunTrail tour is certainly a great option! 

However you choose to get there, the Montezuma Waterfalls are truly worth visiting. Surrounded by a lush, tropical oasis and beautiful views, you will feel like you’ve found yourself a little piece of paradise. In the end, Montezuma Waterfall will give you memories of a lifetime! 

Related Read: Spending more time in Montezuma? Check out all of the exciting things to do in Montezuma!

Where to Stay near Montezuma Waterfalls

Casitas Sollevante, Montezuma
How beautiful is the view from the pool! Photo credit: Casitas Sollevante, Montezuma

Montezuma has a lot of ideal places to stay that include a lot of destination hotels. What I mean by that is hotels with a destination that alone makes them worth staying. Of course, those without a vehicle will need something in town, but there are plenty of those too. 

Luminosa Montezuma Hostel – $

For budget travelers, Luminosa Montezuma Hostel is the top choice in town. Although located a short walk from town, the hostel is right on the beach in a beautiful area on Montezuma. You’ll get direct access to Palmeras Beach.

All the rooms are basic but tidy and neat. A one-night stay in a shared dorm is around $15 USD. You can book the hostel on Hosteworld or

Hotel Cabinas Mar Y Cielo – $$

Another great place to stay is Hotel Cabinas Mar Y Cielo which falls into the low to the medium-budget category. Again this hotel is located right on the beach, and their rooms come with sea views which I love. There are plenty of restaurants and bars located within walking distance as well.

All the rooms and apartments come with fans and refrigerators. Plus, you can also enjoy views of the ocean from your balcony in most rooms. Prices typically start at $90 USD per night. You can check availability for Hotel Cabinas Mar Y Cielo on here.

Casitas Sollevante – $$$

If you’re a luxury traveler, I would suggest Casitas Sollevante. The hotel has a beautiful pool with an incredible view and is located in a mountain setting a little out of town.

All of the rooms have views of the garden and the sea. Each room is well-equipped with air-conditioning, a mini-fridge, and outdoor furniture, which is perfect for enjoying all the amazing scenery. A double room for two people begins at $123 USD per night. You can book a room at Casitas Sollevante on here.

Getting Around Costa Rica

Bailey with our rental car near Rio Celeste Costa Rica
Our rental car!

How you choose to get around Costa Rica is one of the biggest decisions you’ll make when planning your holiday here! How you do it depends on your budget, travel style, and comfort level. 

Renting a Car

Without a doubt, the number one way to explore Costa Rica is in a rental car. We book rental cars on the Discover Cars website as we have had good experiences with them in the past.

One of the things you need to watch for when renting a car in Costa Rica is the mandatory insurance that the government requires you to have. There are a lot of very cheap rentals that don’t include this mandatory insurance (TPL) in the original booking price, but there are also ones that do. To avoid additional surprise charges when you pick up your rental car, be sure to rent a car that includes the mandatory insurance when you book.

Thankfully, on Discover Cars it’s easy to tell apart the companies that include the mandatory insurance and those that don’t. The trick is you can’t pick any car on their website. In the picture below, you can see this rental car, with pick up in Jaco, includes the TPL. That means the mandatory insurance is included in the price. Any cover you get above that is extra.

Of course, I still suggest getting the full coverage offered by Discover Cars, which covers you even more.

You can browse cars on Discover Cars here.

TPL Cover Costa Rica
TPL Cover Costa Rica

Book Shuttles

If renting a car isn’t in your budget, you don’t feel comfortable driving in Costa Rica, or you just don’t like driving, shuttles are the next best option. There are hundreds of shuttle routes available all over the country, and they are very affordable.

Shuttles in Costa Rica are specifically for tourists and often include pick up and drop off at your selected hotels and airports. The drivers also speak some English, and the vehicles have air conditioning. You’ll also be guaranteed a seat when you book a shuttle (which isn’t the case with the public bus system.)

To get the best price, use the website Bookaway. They compare all the offers and prices of shuttle companies in Costa Rica so you get the best price! Honestly, we have saved so much money using Bookaway! 

You can search for shuttles online on Bookaway here.

Public Bus

Lastly, you can use the public bus system. On short journeys, such as from San Jose to La Fortuna or Uvita to Manuel Antonio, this system is great. However, the longer the journey the more hassle and time spent on a bus. It’s undoubtedly best to save the public bus in Costa Rica for short and straightforward trips!  

The public buses are definitely the cheapest way to get around Costa Rica, but they are not always very reliable and schedules often change without notice and delays are to be expected. The buses can also be very crowded and hot – so just be prepared!

It’s also good to speak some Spanish if you plan on riding the public bus since most drivers and ticket booth operators don’t speak English.

Thanks for reading!

Bailey enjoys a beer at Montezuma Brewery
Thanks for reading and don’t forget to go for a beer afterwards at Butterfly Brewing Co – one of the best breweries in Costa Rica!

I hope this blog has answered all of your questions about visiting Montezuma Waterfalls. They truly are spectualar waterfalls – one of the best waterfalls in Costa Rica if you ask me. So, plan a visit and give yourself some time to relax and swim, you won’t regret it!

If you found this blog helpful, browse around a little more. We have a ton of different articles about the best things to do in Costa Rica as well as places to visit. Some related reads include:

Complete guide to visiting Cano Island

The BEST things to do in Santa Teresa

The BEST National Parks in Costa Rica


Sunday 28th of January 2024

Merci 😙