Do it! I promise you won’t regret it.
In Costa Rica’s central highlands near the Poas Volcano lies a waterfall wonderland known as Bajos del Toro. If you haven’t heard of it, that’s cool, because I hadn’t either up until a few months ago when my friends decided to plan a trip there. Just 6 years ago I spent 4 months in Costa Rica, 6 weeks of which I was in a town just an hour up the road and I still hadn’t heard of it. Bajos del Toro really is Costa Rica’s best kept secret.
If you are looking for a place to step off the typical tourist track in Costa Rica and immerse yourself in the utterly idyllic sights and sounds of nature, this is your spot.
So how did Bajos del Toro make it onto my radar?
We were chasing waterfalls. Through a ton of Instagram and Pinterest research (thanks social media!), Rose and Megan found this area called Bajos del Toro that they figured had the best variety of waterfalls (tall, short, wide, skinny – those are the scientific terms), plus it had these glorious blue pools surrounded by these epic rock formations. I really haven’t seen much like them!
As I mentioned above, I had never heard of it, so I messaged some of my Tico (Costa Rican) friends and while they had heard of it, they didn’t seem to know much about it. This clarified for me that yes, it was off-the-beaten path and that, my friends, is definitely my cup of tea.
Everything looked great from the research and all of the photos we browsed, but we had the slight concern that maybe some of the waterfalls and pools would be murky or brown because we were traveling in rainy season. We took a chance anyways and I think you will see from the photos that it paid off!
Initially when Rose and Megan asked me about joining them, I put it off for a bit trying to decide, but after a long work day, I saw a super cheap flight and jumped on it. Normally it wouldn’t require any deliberating if someone asked me to go to Costa Rica (always just say yes, pura vida), but in this case I had a lot of travel commitments already on the calendar.
Honestly, up until 3 days before the trip, I still hadn’t fully made up my mind whether or not I was going to go. Sure I had the flight, but I had a lot “real life” work to take care of. So I did as any travel junkie would and I hustled right up until the trip and decided that, yes, I was in fact going to join Rose and Megan in Costa Rica for 4 days. A super quick trip, but definitely vale la pena (worth it).
I think the invitation for Costa Rica came because I had some familiarity with the country and I speak enough Spanish to get around or at least order food. It also might have been because I had a drone, but either way, I am glad I got the invitation.
The beauty for me on this trip was that I wasn’t the planner. I didn’t come up with the logistics, I didn’t scout out the spots, I was just a long for the ride. Or perhaps the drive. But, now I get to share with you what we found, what we learned and for the first time in a long time, I don’t think I would have changed a thing. Okay, I could have done without the terrifying rainy, foggy, night drive back into San Jose on our last night, but since we survived, it merely makes for a great story now.
I think everything worked out perfectly (travel perfect – did not actually go perfectly if you breakdown the details, but perfect in the overall feeling and fun factor) because that this wasn’t my first rodeo in Costa Rica (it was my 4th trip) so I didn’t have the feeling of missing out on anything plus I didn’t go in with any expectations, which is always the best way to be. For some reason, Costa Rica has always been a destination that I don’t need to see or do everything because I always figure I will be back. Good news, it keeps happening.
So here are the details:
GETTING THERE AND AWAY
To get to Bajos del Toro, you fly into San Jose’s Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO). From Miami, it is a quick 2 1/2 hour direct flight – it’s shorter than most Caribbean islands.
With my familiarity with Costa Rica, we decided that we were definitely renting a car and wanted to have a 4×4 for this trip. By car, the drive took us 1 1/2 hours – 2 hours, but we stopped along the way.
Renting a car in Costa Rica is pretty common, just do not drive at night if you are unfamiliar with the roads, signs, language, etc. It is pretty straight forward and safe (petty theft can be common), but there are definitely some tricky spots around San Jose heading out of the airport.
If you are going to venture to Bajos del Toro, I definitely think you need a car, however, there is another option if you are opposed to renting cars internationally. We had a fourth member, Jen, join our adventure while we were already in Bajos del Toro. She took a couple cabs and buses to find us, which made her travel day significantly longer than ours, but probably more adventure filled.
From the airport you can use the Moovit app to get you on a bus to Zarcero. From Zarcero, you can get a taxi or a ride to Bajos del Toro. If you can’t find the bus in Alajuela near the airport, you can also Uber to the San Jose Grecia Terminal station where there is bus service from San Jose to Zarcero operated by TUAN (Transportes Unidos Alajuela Naranjo). Note: There is not a single centralized bus station in San Jose, you have to find the station that has buses to the areas in the country you want to go.
Buses in Costa Rica are a great option for many places that you might want to go, but for Bajos del Toro, you will likely want to have a car when you are there. It is also a great stopover on the way to La Fortuna and Arenal for something different and significantly quieter.
The main road is paved through Bajos del Toro, but side streets are not and always be very vigilant driving in this area of Costa Rica because it is regularly rains (keeping it very green) which can make the sharp turns very slick.
For getting around, I used a combination of Waze and Apple Maps, but always looked at the map to make sure it was taking me to where I wanted to go before just trusting it. Bajos del Toro is basically one long road with waterfall stops all along it. In general, people can point you to the main areas and we didn’t use GPS when driving around there. Also, the addresses in Costa Rica are a little different for GPS, so having GPS coordinates will also help.
WHERE TO STAY
Airbnb will likely be your best bet for accommodation in Bajos del Toro, especially if you are traveling on a budget. There are few to choose from, but we really loved Aurora Lodge. You will definitely need a 4×4 to get there (though we did it without one, but I don’t recommend it) as it is a ways up a bumpy, rocky mountain road from the town. Once you get up to the house, it is perfect tranquil retreat with excellent views and if Esteban, the host, is there, he can provide a wealth of information on the area and other spots around Costa Rica. Definitely get turn-by-turn directions before you head there because it can be pretty hard to find and not many people in town are familiar with the house.
If you are wanting the off-the-beaten path feel of Bajos del Toro, but the luxury of a beautiful resort then El Silencio Resort and Spa will be the perfect choice for you. The eco-resort is located on a 500-acre private cloud forest reserve just on the edge of Bajos del Toro town. While we did not stay here, we did enjoy a beautiful and delicious candlelit dinner at the lodge.
There are not a ton of food options in Bajos del Toro, so I definitely recommend bringing food to cook in your Airbnb or visiting El Silencio for a nice meal. We also had a few meals at the Catarata del Toro because they had a cafe that served breakfast and lunch. We had dinner the first night in Zarcero, which has a lot more options, but is about 30+ minutes to get there on a windy mountainroad – not recommended for foreigners in the rain at night.
Check out the waterfalls, duh!
Some places offer tours to see all of the falls, but we found it was very easy to visit them on our own and at our own pace. We wanted to shoot video and photos, so it was great that we had the time to linger in each spot. We had two days in the area and really only made it to three locations. If you aren’t going to be spending so much time in each place taking photos and shooting video, you probably could fit another one or two waterfalls in.
This was recommended to us by Esteban, our Airbnb host, and it was spectacular. The hike was about 15 minutes out to the waterfall and crosses over the river in a few spots with these beautiful bridges. The hike was not difficult and is so idyllic as it winds through the rainforest. It probably took us an hour to get out there because we kept stopping for all the different photo opportunities. There are signs along the main road after you pass the town. You should come across it before you get to Catarata del Toro.
Such a unique find, these blue water pools are definitely worth a visit. It is about a 5-10 minute hike down to them (lots of small stairs first and then just the pathway). Even in the rainy season, these pools were still a cool, cloudy blue. The water is freezing, but still very beautiful to check out. I personally loved the rock formations that surrounded the pools. This is part of your Rio Agrio entrance and they are a few minute drive or a 20 minute walk down the road from the Rio Agrio parking lot.
This epic 270 ft waterfall is a must-visit if you are passing through this area. If you just have a limited amount of time or health issues that would prevent you from doing a hike, you can still check out the waterfall from the viewpoint from the top. It is an awesome sight to see this immense waterfall plunge into a dormant volcano crater. To get up close and personal with this waterfall is a bit longer of a hike than Rio Agrio or the blue pools, but we definitely thought it was well worth it! The hike starts off easy and then you hit a ton of stairs they take you straight down. It was probably 300-400 stairs down. I have included photos so you can get an idea. I didn’t find it particularly difficult, but we did take our time coming back up from the waterfall. Definitely bring some sturdy shoes (Chacos, Keens, Sneakers or Hiking Boots) and some water.
There are a ton more waterfalls in the area and I think any of them would probably be awesome. Some had longer hike requirements, so we skipped it on this trip, but I wouldn’t mind going back to check out more!
I used AT&T’s International day pass service for this trip and it was great. I wanted to be available to my office on Thursday and Friday in case they had any questions or needed me to handle anything and it worked perfectly. I had full cell service, texting and data everywhere just as if I was home. What I loved about it was that it switched providers to the best one in each place that I was without me having to do or know anything. I think in San Jose I was on Movistar, In Bajos del Toro, Kolbi was really the only one that worked and at some points I popped over to Claro.
I travel sometimes with a “dumb” phone that I can just stick a local SIM card in for local cell service and texting, but recently we unlocked an old iPhone since data has become such a big part of our lives. We used it a ton in South Africa, but since I was only going to be in Costa Rica for 4 days, the day pass worked great.
I used What’s App for communicating with locals in Costa Rica – you will find that most people in other countries have a What’s App account and use this app for communicating. Since I didn’t bring my unlocked or dumb phone with a local Sim card, using What’s App made it so that I didn’t get charged for long distance communication (I just used my regular data) when I needed to communicate with an Airbnb host or contact in Costa Rica.
I carried a little U.S. dollars and Costa Rican Colones. I always prefer to pay in local currency because many times the price works out to be significantly less than when quoted in U.S. dollars. I also find that if we want to get something from a roadside stop (Mamon chinos / Lychees / Rambutans and fresh coconut water!) that I will need local currency. Usually the savings of paying in local currency far outweighs the conversion fees. If I have time, I will usually try to find a place not in an airport to get currency before I go for the best exchange rate. In this case I did it on arrival in Costa Rica because I didn’t have much time when I finally decided I was going to Costa Rica.
While most think of Costa Rica and they think of the beaches and humid rainforests, this area of Costa Rica can get relatively cold. We were traveling at the end of August and it would get into the high 50s/low 60s at night and only really got up to the low 70s during the day. As a Floridian, this is pretty cold for someone who mostly packed swimsuits! Also, it will regularly rain on and off all around Costa Rica, so never forget your rain jacket!
**Most photos in this blog by the wonderful Rose Martin Photography!
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