Bajos del Toro is the waterfall wonderland of Central America.
If you haven’t heard of it, that’s cool, because it is relatively unknown. I hadn’t heard of it either until a few months ago when my friends decided to plan a trip there. Surprising considering it was just 6 years ago that I spent 4 months in Costa Rica – 6 weeks of which I was living in a town just an hour up the road.
Bajos del Toro can be found in Costa Rica’s central highlands just an hour and a half outside of San Jose near the Poas Volcano.
Bajos del Toro is Costa Rica’s best-kept secret.
If you are looking for a place to step off the typical tourist track in Costa Rica, this is your spot. In Bajos del Toro you can immerse yourself in the utterly idyllic sights and sounds of nature and have it all to yourself.
No photos in this blog were taken at an ungodly morning hour where there was no one else was awake. All were taken after 10 am. That should give you some context on how many people were around – none.
How did I learn about Bajos del Toro?
Because of my favorite activity – chasing waterfalls. Through a ton of Instagram and Pinterest research, my two girlfriends, Rose and Megan found this area called Bajos del Toro.
After reading on all of the waterfalls in Costa Rica, we decided that Bajos had the best variety of waterfalls (tall, short, wide, skinny – those are the scientific terms) and the largest concentration of waterfalls in a small area. As a bonus, it had these glorious blue pools surrounded by these epic rock formations. I haven’t seen much like them!
As I mentioned above, I had never heard of it. So as we discussed the possibility of the trip, I messaged some of my Tico (Costa Rican) friends to get more details. While most of them 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. That is my cup of tea.
Everything looked great from the research and all of the photos we browsed, but we had some concerns due to the time of year we were visiting. Since we were traveling in the rainy season, we worried that maybe some of the waterfalls and pools would be murky or brown due to runoff.
We took a chance anyway and I think you will see from the photos that it paid off!
A Little Background on Our Trip to Bajos Del Toro
Initially, when Rose and Megan asked me about joining them, I put it off for a bit trying to decide. After one long workday, I saw a super cheap flight and jumped on it. Usually 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 entirely 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.
I did as any travel junkie would and I hustled right up until the trip. This made it possible for me to join Rose and Megan in Costa Rica for 4 days. A super quick trip, but vale la pena (worth it).
I think the invitation to Costa Rica came because I had some familiarity with the country. I speak enough Spanish to get around and 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. This time I was just along for the ride or perhaps the drive.
Even though I got to lay low on the travel details, I am excited to share with you what we found, what we learned along the way and tips and tricks to my your trip spectacular.
For the first time in a long time, I don’t think I would have changed a thing about this trip. Okay, I could have done without the terrifying rainy, foggy, night drive back into San Jose on our last night. I guess since we survived, it merely makes for a great story now. However, I don’t recommend driving in Costa Rica as a foreigner at night.
I think everything worked out travel perfect. Which means that it did not go perfectly if you breakdown the details, but it was perfect in the overall feeling. Part of that was the company – sometimes it is about who you travel with. And part of it was because this wasn’t my first rodeo in Costa Rica – it was my 4th trip. I didn’t go in with any expectation, and I didn’t have the feeling of missing out on anything.
For some reason, Costa Rica has always been a destination that I don’t need to do everything. I guess I always figure I will be back. Good news, it keeps happening.
So here are the details:
WHEN TO GO
December – April is the best time to visit Costa Rica in general because it is the dry season. This is also high season, so be aware that there will be more travelers and things will be more expensive. We visited at the end of August, which is the rainy season. In the central mountain region of Costa Rica during the rainy season, it will be cloudy and quite a bit cooler than you might expect so be prepared with rain gear and jackets. It was nice when we visited because it is was very quiet.
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.
Rent a Car
With my familiarity with Costa Rica, we decided that we were 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 safe, just do not drive at night if you are unfamiliar with the roads, signs, language, etc. Side note: petty theft can be common, so keep your valuables with you. Also, there are some tricky spots around San Jose heading out of the airport.
If you are going to venture to Bajos del Toro, I think you need a car.
Take Public Transit
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 of cabs and buses to find us. This 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. Once in 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 an excellent 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 an ideal 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. Be careful driving in this area of Costa Rica because it regularly rains keeping it very green, but this also makes 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 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 loved Aurora Lodge. You will need a 4×4 to get there as it is way up a bumpy, rocky mountain road from the town. Once you get up to the house, it is a perfect tranquil retreat with excellent views.
If Esteban, the host, is there, he can provide a wealth of information on the area and other spots around Costa Rica. Get turn-by-turn directions before you head there because it can be pretty hard to find. We learned rather quickly that 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 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 mountain road. This is 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 straightforward 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 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 in visits to a couple more waterfalls.
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 super 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.
These are such a unique find. The Pozos Celeste or blue water pools are 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 loved the rock formations that surrounded the pools. This is part of your Rio Agrio entrance and they are a few minutes 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 impressive 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 thought it was well worth it! The walk starts 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. 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 more extended hike requirements, so we skipped it on this trip. I will be heading back to see more someday!
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. The best part about it: 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 the only one that worked well however, at some points, I popped over to Claro.
I sometimes travel 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 the local currency far outweighs the conversion fees. If I have time, I will often try to find a place not in an airport to get money 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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