If you don’t have much time in the north-west of Costa Rica (Guanacaste to be precised) and have to do Llanes de Cortes, Tenorio National Park AND Heliconias all in one day, it most definitely is possible but it is hard work and if you’re doing it with kids, you’ll need to find a way to make it fun.
Don’t worry though because I do have some suggestions.
If you don’t want to do these in one day, have no fear, I will be writing the National Park of Tenorio as a separate post too. I think each of these places is wonderful in their own way and if you have the time don’t rush them. You’ll definitely get more out of your trips, if you savour each one!
Llanes de Cortes
This sassy waterfall will set you back $22 for a car, two adults and two kids and you’ll need to be there for opening time which is 8am. Why do you need to be there for opening time? Because the entrance gate has an incredibly early closing time of 3:30pm!
There is a 1km drive between the paying booth and the car park on a non-surfaced road. Once you’ve parked, there is a 5 minute walk down the concrete steps to the falls.
It is perfectly safe to swim here and there is a life guard on duty. Sadly you’re not allowed anywhere near the actual falls as the lifeguard is a happy whistle blower quick to remind you of the rules.
In 2016 a hurricane swept through the area and many of the trees came down including a big one which has blocked the left hand view of the waterfall.
Our kids had fun jumping into the water off the tree. The water was cold at first but they got used to it.
Tenorio National Park
Tenorio was our favourite park and by far the most beautiful we visited in Costa Rica. The forests are abundant with natural life and the azul waters of the Rio Celeste sparkle in contrast to its surroundings.
The entrance fee is $12 for adults, $5 for kids and payment by credit card is available.
I set my kids a challenge for Tenorio as to how quickly we could see EVERYTHING and get back to the car. We did it in 2 hours and 16 minutes and despite the quantity of people there, we ran around half of it.
This is the benefit of having kids who love trail runs however we did miss a considerable amount of the wildlife here, only just managing to see an ant-eater and some birds briefly.
My tip would be NOT to rush this park. It is spectacular, despite the mud! If you can, hire a guide as they take powerful binoculars to help you spot the wild life. I saw people seeing more wildlife in Tenorio than any other place we’ve been to in Costa Rica.
Las Heliconias Rainforest
The entire track from the main road to Heliconias, which is about 7km, is a dirt road with lots of stones and rocks. It’s a very long, slow and bumpy ride!
This place suffered a lot in the hurricane of 2016 and lost a considerable chunk of its original pathways and bridges. They have been re-built but sadly they lost the HUGE tree from the second bridge that you’ve probably read about. The route up to the crater is also closed and unlikely to open any time soon. This means you cannot access Tenorio Nat. Park from Heliconias.
I decided that I was going to run the shorter route which comprises of three bridges and I managed to do it in 20 minutes. Usually this route should take you about 90 minutes walking. I scared off ALL the wildlife that was around me and only vaguely heard the howler monkeys somewhere deeper in the forest.
Why did I run it so quickly? I’d ordered pasta pesto and wanted to get back in time for it!! Sadly they’d microwaved my pasta alongside the bread roll that came with it. The result was not great.
My top recommendation for Heliconias would be to pre-book a night tour with a guide. Take your time and enjoy the forest and see what it has to offer in the dark.
You can access this map online and download it for free.
It’s a full day
It’s a full day, crammed with excitement and I really don’t recommend that you rush Tenorio and of course it would be better to visit Llanes de Cortes waterfall in the heat of the afternoon but if you can’t, there’s nothing you can do.
As you can see visiting all three of these is possible however I would only recommend visiting two. Las Heliconias is, in my opinion, the weaker of the three choices and if you wanted to drop one, this would be the one I’d recommend not to see.
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