Some say Llanos de Cortés is the most beautiful waterfall in Costa Rica, and in this country that’s saying a lot. Thirty minutes south of Liberia near Bagaces, these falls are about 20 meters tall and roughly the same width, with a half-dozen places on top where the water spills over the edge.

This creates a beautiful effect, with water streaming downward across a broad cliff face rather than plunging down in one torrent. Strong waterfalls often dig deep pools at their base, allowing safe cliff jumping, but that’s not the case here. The rock of the cliff base can be brittle, making it dangerous to climb, and the pool is not all that deep. But the pool is cool and swimmable, and in most places the sandy bottom is easy on bare feet.

And there’s lots of shade spread around the base, and plenty of rocks or logs to sit on, or flat places to lie on a blanket. This attraction is under new management as of February. Previously it was open to the public for a voluntary donation that went to local schools. Then for a while the dirt road leading to the falls was closed to vehicles, requiring a long walk.

Now the Municipality of Bagaces administers the falls, charging $7 admission for foreigners and c2,000 for nationals. There’s a large parking lot with a bathroom, and a lifeguard who blows his whistle when people get too close to the falls (there is a danger of falling rock, he told me). Posted rules prohibit alcoholic beverages, smoking and pets, though we broke two of these rules and nobody blew any whistles at us.

To get to Llanos de Cortés from Liberia on Hwy. 1 South, count the pedestrian bridges overhead and when you see the fourth one, turn right immediately after it (almost underneath it) on a little dirt road. The turnoff is about 20 km from Liberia and 4km before Bagaces. The gravel road will take you to a guard shack where you pay admission, and then it’s a short drive to the parking lot. Prepare to be impressed!