Spectacular Nauyaca Waterfalls in Costa Rica

by Scott Setterberg July 25, 2018

Spectacular Nauyaca Waterfalls in Costa Rica

It was a sweltering 100º Fahrenheit with 90% humidity in late November 2012 when I first encountered Nauyaca Falls in Costa Rica.  Tucked away in the mountains about twenty minutes above the Pacific surf community of Dominical, Nauyaca Falls is not an easy stroll of a hike.  Most visitors ride horses to the falls, but arriving at 1:30pm meant the horseback tours were already finished for the day.  Feeling confident in my hiking ability, I set out on the long, arduous journey with thirty pounds of photo equipment strapped to my back, not knowing how strenuous the excursion would be.

A few dozen yards from the parking lot, a wooden suspension bridge revealed itself, hovering above a peaceful, casually flowing stream.  Once across the bridge and after a sharp left-hand turn, the escalation began, and for the next seventy-five minutes, I trekked through the wet, muddy jungle, nearly every step relentlessly uphill.  With each bend in the trail, the feeling of hope that the hike would finally be over, was crushed by the revelation of another devastating, steep climb.

The sense of relief upon arriving at the falls cannot be overstated, but was also overshadowed by the excitement and anticipation of experiencing the magnificent natural wonder.  At this point, the roar of the water was deafening, and still without seeing the falls, two options were given.  The most natural option continued forward and lead to the upper falls, where three towering 135-foot cascades plunge onto gigantic, sedan-sized boulders resting awkwardly below.  

Upper Nauyaca Falls, Costa Rica

While undeniably spectacular, I knew from online research that the better vista was below the lower falls, so after capturing a few misty shots of the upper falls, I quickly regressed back to the area of two options, then continued down to the lower falls where the real magic happens.

At the lower falls, three twenty-something year-old Ticos (Costa Ricans) were gathering their belongings, ready to make their descent after a relaxing day enjoying the falls.  As they left, I was reminded of something I am constantly stunned by - the lack of people at Costa Rica's remarkable locations.  Not always, but most of the time, I find myself completely alone starring in awe at the stunning scenery of this amazing country, and that was the case at Nauyaca Falls.  

After setting up my tripod, the sun miraculously streamed through the dense cloud cover and illuminated the upper half of the scene in rich golden light before retreating as quickly as it arrived.  After capturing several images (see the header photo), and knowing I needed to cross the stream for a perspective including the entire upper and lower falls, I hesitantly waded waist-deep through the fast-moving water, leaning against my extended tripod for increased stability.  Once near the other side, I settled uncomfortably on a partially submerged rock, and set up for the shot.  

Quickly depleting daylight forced a longer-than-desired exposure time, and the mist from the lower falls combined with a light rainfall, making it nearly impossible to keep my lens dry throughout the long exposure.  Several attempts failed, but I continued to dry the lens, adjusted my camera settings to a slightly faster exposure, and impatiently waited for a slight break in the conditions before quickly bracketing a series of shots and anxiously hoping to hear the sound of the closing shutter before the next water droplets arrived.  A quick monitor check looked clean so I packed up, sat for a few minutes and admired the magnificence, and thanked Nauyaca Falls for providing such a jaw-dropping experience. Afterwards, I carefully crossed the rushing stream again, and began the long journey back to basecamp. 

Lower Nauyaca Falls, Costa ricaThe return to the parking lot was a race against impending darkness and I arrived in total blackness, wet, hot, dirty, and completely exhausted.  Since this experience, transportation to and from the waterfalls has become available, and we gratefully take advantage of that service.  

You can explore Nauyaca Falls on the 7-day, 6-night, South Pacific Costa Rica photo tour.  Click the title for the full itinerary and booking information and grab your spot! 

See you soon in Costa Rica!

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Scott Setterberg
Scott Setterberg


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