National

Catarata La Leona Waterfall & Blue River Adventure Hike

Written by Marisol

If you’re looking for a unique and adventurous waterfall hike in Costa Rica, then you have to visit Catarata La Leona. La Leona waterfall is a small blue waterfall hidden deep in the canyons and caves of the a gorgeous blue river. I don’t want to give away too much right away so read on in our post!

First, let’s go over the important details and then we’ll jump into the adventure.

Location

Catarata La Leona is in Guanacaste, specifically in the small town of Curubande on Finca Don Rafs, which is a private estate owned by a local family. It is about a 30 minute drive from Liberia downtown.

How to Get There

The only way to get there is by car and you need a 4wd/4×4, it is required. The park has parking available for free.

Get our Costa Rica car rental discount and extra freebies here!

You can find them on Google Maps and Waze as Finca Don Rafs.

Cost and Reservations

The Catarata La Leona hike cannot be self guided so you have to pay for a guided hike. It is 8,000 colones per person for the guided tour.

Due to COVID and the limited number of guides, you need to make reservations for your group to save your spot. The weekends and Monday get especially busy at this park.

If you do not have a car and want to book this as a full tour (roundtrip transportation from your hotel and bilingual guide), please contact us.

Catarata La Leona Video

Here is a video we did of our time at Catarata La Leona. I highly recommend watching our video to see what the guided hike is like since we weren’t able to take photos the entire time.

Arriving at the Finca

We started off our day arriving at Finca Don Rafa around 930 AM. The drive from Tamarindo was about 1 hour and 50 minutes.

Finca Don Rafas road
The road to the finca, required to have a 4×4/4wd. In rainy season this is a slippery muddy mess!

As soon as we arrived, we were greeted by one of the owners.

Something that Yeison and I absolutely love doing when we visit projects like these is to meet the families that run it. Many of them, including this one, started with nothing, just a piece of land handed down by a grandparent/ great-grandparent. Knowing what natural gems they have, they decided to turn it into a tourist attraction to welcome visitors to their beautiful property.

After we geared up, changed and used the bathroom, we headed off into the forest with our guide. One of the dogs that live on the property joined us!

Start of the Catarata La Leona Hike

Our hike started off easy. For the first part, our guide showed us the various river pools for bathing.

pozas de finca don rafs

As this river originates from the Rincon de la Vieja volcano, it has this amazing blue color.

The Rio Blanco

During our hike, our guide shared facts about the unique tropical dry forest and pointed out interesting trees and plants. He also told us the legends behind the name “Curubande” and “Rincon de la Vieja.”

Rincon de la Vieja means the old woman’s corner in Spanish and Curubande is the name of the village chief’s daughter. In the legend, Curubande fell in love with the son of the rival tribe’s chief. They had a tragic love story so whenever the locals heard loud howling wind at night, they would say she was still up there in the canyons, crying and grieving over her long lost love and son.

Hearing these stories as we crossed the blue rivers and pools made the place feel even more magical.

Catarata La Leona trails
catarata la leona pozas
catarata la leona river

After we crossed the river for the last time, our guide told us that it was time to explore the canyons. He started walking up a hill full of rocks and tree branches. Although it didn’t look like much of a path, we followed him up.

leona waterfall hike

The Caves and Canyons

We emerged on the other side of this hill to an open canyon and caves. Our guide explained to us that the rock formation came from the last volcanic eruption many years ago and now during certain months of the year, it’s home to lechuzas, or little owls. Hence the name, Cañon La Lechuza.

Catarata La Leona cave

As we walked through the cave, I looked up and could see little furry faces peering down on us. They weren’t owls but bats and they were just hanging up there, napping and checking us out.

At one point, I felt like the hike turned into a caving tour as our guide led through more caves and canyons. And every time I came out the other side of a cave, I felt like I had just passed into another world!

caves hike

After what felt like the 5th or 6th cave, we came upon a calm section of the river. This pool was completely tranquil and quiet with a brilliant blue color. We were hot and sweaty from walking so we jumped in right away!

Catarata la leona swimming pool
Catarata la leona swimming pool

Even though we were having a ton of fun swimming and jumping into the pool at this spot, our guide soon said Vamos! And we looked at him like, what already? Si, he said with a large smile on his face. Esto no es el parte lo más bonito del río (This isn’t the most beautiful part of the river).

So we put our shoes back on and followed him a little bit further down the river until we finally reached the actual entrance to the Catarata La Leona. We realized exactly why before our guide said we hadn’t reached the nicest part of the river yet!

Arriving at Catarata La Leona – the Last Stretch

A large and calm blue pool emerged before us and I saw a rope in the water, stretched towards the cave in the back. I could faintly hear a roar of crashing water coming from the cave and my excitement level peaked again as our guide explained to us the next step.

catarata la leona last pool

We had to swim through the canyon into the cave, using the rope to pull us along and in the cave, was the waterfall. Todo bien? he asked.

As soon as we said yes, he jumped into the water right away and motioned us to follow him.

Luckily the water level was not too deep and the current was not that strong so it was easy to swim to the cave. When I reached the cave, he lifted me up out of the water, hoisted me onto the rocks and told me to turn around.

As soon as I turned around, the incredible Catarata La Leona waterfall appeared before my eyes. We finally made it to the waterfall after trekking up rocky hills, climbing through caves and swimming through river pools!

Catarata La Leona

Catarata La Leona is not big but being hidden inside a cave made it all more special, especially considering we had to swim, climb and trek through the forest and rivers to get there!

Tips for Visiting

shoes
  • What to wear: Swim suit, clothes that can get wet and dry fast (I wore Roxy board shorts and a Nike dri fit shirt) and closed toed shoes.
    • You must have closed toed shoes because of all the rocks.
    • Yeison and I both wore closed toed KEEN hiking sandals which are great for water and land.
    • If you wear tennis shoes and socks, your socks will get soaking wet. I hate the feeling of wet socks so I love my hiking sandals.
    • Ladies, you can wear your swimsuit when it’s swimming time but I do not recommend wearing JUST a bikini.
    • Our guide told me about many ladies who wore only a bikini which literally got washed away down the river due to the strong current. Yikes!
    • If you want to wear just your swimsuit during the swimming part, wear a one piece.
  • What to bring: Change of clothes, towel, sunscreen, hat, waterproof camera (we used our GoPro 8) and waterproof backpacks and dry bags.
    • The guide did provide us with their own dry bag but unfortunately it had a hole so Yeison’s phone got wet and it died 🙁 So bring your own and make sure it is waterproof and in good condition because it will get wet!
    • My Aqua Quest backpack and dry bags worked perfect and didn’t get wet at all. I also highly recommend a waterproof phone pouch.
  • The finca has changing rooms, a rustic bathroom and a small picnic area.

Tour Length

The Catarata La Leona hike takes around 3 hours total but they are very flexible, so it’s OK if you take longer on the hike. For example, they’re fine if you want to spend more time taking pictures. Or if someone in the group is a bit slow. They aren’t on a strict schedule and won’t make you turn back if you don’t finish within a few hours.

Best Time to Go

Peak dry season (January through April). The paths are dry, there isn’t any mud and no real strong river current. If you go during rainy season, you have to be more prepared for mud and a stronger current. We went end of January 2021 and the water level never went over our heads and the current wasn’t strong.

One of our friends went beginning of December, right at the end of the rainy season and she said the road was in awful conditions and the current was incredibly strong. They had to wear lifejackets.

Who Can Do The Catarata La Leona Hike?

As you can tell, this hike is not for the faint of heart which means you can’t be claustrophobic or acrophobic, you need to know how to swim and you need to be in decent shape. The actual distance is not long but it isn’t on a straight forward well maintained path. No ankle or knee problems, you must be able to walk on natural paths.

Luckily, there are several trails the guide can take you. There is the straightforward path that still requires the river crossing a couple times but does not take you through the caves or canyons. We saw a couple groups on this trail, mainly those with kids and older guests. Families can definitely do this tour. They will also give lifejackets to anyone who wants one and to kids and when the current is stronger.

The trail we went on was the more adventurous one and our guide said if we didn’t have the dogs, there is even a more adventurous trail to take.

If anyone in your group does not want to do this hike, they can hang out in the calm river pools by the parking lot.

Plan Your Visit to Catarata La Leona

You can visit Catarata La Leona as a day trip from the Guanacaste coast. It is about one hour from Playas del Coco and the Papagayo Peninsula and about 2 hours from Tamarindo and Flamingo. It is only a 30 minute drive from Liberia and a 1 hour drive from La Cruz.

Set aside an entire day for this day trip. They do offer food for purchase at the finca if you want to eat/drink something afterwards.

They also offer entrances to the river pools and a white water tubing tour for an extra charge.

Please contact us if you would like to book this as a full tour with roundtrip transportation and bilingual guide.

Is Catarata La Leona Dog Friendly?

The Catarata La Leona hike is dog friendly. Our pups had a BLAST! They were so tired the next couple days. Tired dogs are happy dogs!

However, it’s not for all dogs. For the swimming part, we brought lifejackets for our dogs since they aren’t experienced swimmers but are excellent hikers and very athletic on land (they are 3 and 4 years old). The park doesn’t provide dog lifejackets, you will need to bring your own. Patacón (our brown dog, 50 pounds, large) had a Ruffwear life jacket, Lily (white dog, medium size 26 pounds) had a Gabefish Dog Life jacket.

I don’t recommend it for small size dogs like chihuahuas/maltese or senior dogs.

catarata la leona dog friendly
dog friendly swimming
catarata la leona dogs
Dog friendly hike in Costa Rica

Looking for more hikes? Check out our top recommended hikes in Costa Rica!

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