I'm a writer and editor based in Hawai'i, and I enjoy discovering ways to enjoy the freedoms of travel.
You Often Have to Pay to See Nature in Costa Rica
While working on the shores of Lake Arenal, my friend and I heard tell of a FREE beautiful nature activity nearby . . . our ears perked up immediately.
Usually, tourists have to pay a fee to enter a nature park or see a waterfall, thanks to ecotourism. Ecotourism is great because it helps preserve nature, but paying to see everything can get frustrating sometimes, especially when you're on a budget. Thankfully, there are still a few exceptions to the rule—like Libano waterfall, not too far from Lake Arenal.
Getting to the Waterfall: From Lake Arenal to Libano
We hitched a ride from Lake Arenal Hotel (a cool eco-hotel/brewery) to Tilarán, a small town near the lake. From there we got a taxi for about 4,000 Colones ($6 USD) to the even tinier town of Libano. It was about a 20-minute winding drive through idyllic rolling farmland hills. The taxi driver dropped us off in front of what looked like the only little store in Libano and told us to ask them for directions to the waterfall.
The friendly store owner told us to walk about 1 mile (1.5 km) down the road (continuing on road 926 if you look at a map), then turn right at a sign saying “Marvillosa” where the road forked. Though the sun was out in full steaming force, we were giddy with the freedom of finally having a day off. We were also walking through more pretty farmland, so we didn't mind a bit.
Costa Rican "Living Fences"
Along the road and as far as the eye could see, there were "living fences" surrounding fields, where the farmers use live branches from certain species of trees that can propagate from a cutting as fence posts. This means that eventually, each fence post will become a full-sized tree, providing shade and shelter to animals in the unnatural cleared areas made by humans. It also means you're planting more trees on Earth. It's just one of many genius Costa Rican ideas for sustainability that I've come to love.
Getting From Libano to the Waterfall
We came to the Marvillosa fork after about 10 minutes, turned right, and kept walking down the paved road. After about five more minutes, the road veered sharply to the right and up a hill. To our left, there was a huge stone entryway—like for a fancy house, except the gate was open, and there was nothing but a dirt path on the other side. Found it!
The dirt trail was a short, fun hike through the jungle (only about ten minutes) with just enough incline and decline to make it interesting and work up a sweat for the chilly but refreshing swim!
Take a (Careful) Jump Into the Pool
The waterfall was much grander than I expected—I guess I've grown so accustomed to being charged for seeing nature in Costa Rica that I figured if it was a free waterfall, it must be a tiny one. Nope!
It was lovely, and we jumped off a high point into the water a few times since the pool was deep enough (but always check the depth before you jump into the water, it's a really easy way to snap your neck, and it only takes one mistake). It felt glorious with the spray of the falling water and sunshine on our faces.
You Might Run Into Some Libano Locals
Literally, the only tiny mar on all this perfection was experiencing some alarm when we were sunning like lizards on the rocks afterward and found that we were not the only ones on the rocks. Some gigantic freaking spiders were hiding in the shadows.
I mean, the size of my hand kind of gigantic, and though I'm an average-sized girl, I've been told I have "piano fingers." So yeah, they were pretty big! But to my arachnophobes out there, a) they were pretty thin and spindly, not furry, and b) they didn't make any sudden movements; in fact, they didn't move at all. These are the kind of important spider facts that I know some of you will appreciate, so don't let this deter you from an awesome adventure!
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Getting Back to Lake Arenal From Libano Waterfall
Getting back to Tilarán, we had two options: call a taxi (if you don't have a Costa Rican SIM card, you can ask the Libano shop owner to call one for you) or hitchhike. Being cheapskates, we chose hitching, but before we even had a chance to stick our thumbs out, a car stopped.
Señor Julian Gomez Owes Us a Date Now
A courteous elderly cowboy by the name of Julian Gomez politely offered to give us a ride all the way to Tilarán, and we happily accepted. As he carefully drove, we chatted about the countryside we were passing through (he was a local and the proud owner of a hotel nearby) and dancing (he said he was quite the dancer back in the day, but when I asked if he still danced he laughed in disbelief and said he's too much of a viejito, or "little old man," now).
He pulled over to the curb in Tilarán to drop us off, turned to me in the front seat and grabbed my hand, looked deeply into my eyes and then back at my friend, and said sincerely, "If it was any other weekend, I would invite you girls out for a beer, but I have things to do today. It was a genuine pleasure to meet you both and give you a ride today, and I hope you will remember me." Well, our hearts were naturally melting as we said "hasta luego" to Señor Gomez and a beautiful day in Costa Rican nature.
5 Tips to Be Safe on Your Costa Rican Adventure
I’ve been to Costa Rica many times, and it’s a truly incredible, one-of-a-kind place. The people are amazingly friendly and the nature is unparalleled. Still, it’s always smart to follow a few travel tips.
1. Hitching Has Its Risks
I’m a female in my thirties and traveling alone, and I’ve had great experiences hitching in Costa Rica. However, there’s always a risk when you jump in a car with a stranger. Follow your gut if you feel comfortable doing this, but if you don’t, just grab a taxi! They’re easy and totally affordable. Make sure you choose the right kind of taxi, though.
2. Never, Ever Jump Into Water Without Checking Depth
I mentioned this once already, but it bears repeating. My family knows someone who became a paraplegic from a jump into the water without checking. Check. The. Depth. First. And then have fun!
3. Learn at Least a Few Conversational Phrases in Spanish
It's an instant compliment to a local when you respect them by attempting to speak in their language. You'll make so many friends, trust me. Try Memrise or Duolingo or other free apps a few weeks before you go.
4. Don't Act Like Bait
This means leaving your valuables in the hotel and not walking around alone at night. Costa Rica has relatively little crime compared to its neighboring countries, but there's no reason to tempt a potential criminal.
5. Keep Costa Rica Clean
It goes without saying, but don’t be a jerk and leave your trash anywhere. It’s a gorgeous country, and Costa Ricans are very proud and passionate about keeping their land pristine—let’s all help keep it that way!
This is the nicest, cleanest country in Central America because everyone here plays a part. If you're feeling particularly loving towards nature, take a trash bag with you to the beach sometimes and pick up any rubbish you find (perfect combo with shell searching).
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.