Dramatic volcanoes, misty cloud forest, and deep river valleys make Costa Rica an ideal destination for the adventure minded.Travel and Leisure
I’ve dreamed of exploring the jungles of Costa Rica ever since I was a kid. When I saw some of the canyoneering opportunities that existed along the lush volcanic slopes, I put canyoneering in Costa Rica high on my bucket list.
Watch the video to see the action, then finish reading the trip report for the details.
Canyoneering wasn’t the only adventure on our list though so if you’re planning a Costa Rica adventure vacation, check out the other activities we did: jungle exploring, snorkeling, kayaking, river rafting, and hiking to a volcano crater.
In preparation for our Costa Rica trip, I researched the many canyoneering routes on Ropewiki.com and the Toros Canyoneering Group website. I didn’t want to just sign up for one of the more commercial operations that take large groups to high-traffic, low-difficulty routes. I connected with Daniele Rocchi from the Toros group. He agreed to guide us and helped us coordinate all the details and navigate the weather and the forecast.
Our canyoneering adventure was scheduled for April 26, the morning after our arrival. April is not the best month to go canyoneering in Costa Rica because it’s the start of the rainy season which means flash flooding limits access to many canyons. With this in mind, we planned for several options with Mordor canyon being our first choice and Gata Fiera or Gata Media being bailout options if the rain didn’t cooperate.
Well, it wasn’t only the rain that we had to worry about for our trip. Our flight that was originally scheduled to arrive in Costa Rica on April 25 in the early afternoon, was delayed so we didn’t arrive until April 26 at about 6:00 am. Our whirlwind Costa Rica adventure didn’t have room for canyoneering on any other day, so we were very worried that we wouldn’t get any canyons in.
Daniele helped us work it all out though. When we landed in San Jose, we grabbed our rental car (4×4 is highly recommended), and headed to Bajos Del Torro, where we were to meet Daniele and Allan, our guides for the day.
Everyone says you should be very scared of driving in Costa Rica, but I found it to be no worse than driving at home in Utah, just a little less organized. We drove over what Daniele told us was the steepest road in the whole country. Even driving at night or in the rain wasn’t too bad if you’re alert and confident.
The trail starts in the town of Bajos del Toro. This little town sits in a canyon between two large volcanos. Rivers flow all around this area and waterfalls can be seen coming down through the rainforests on both sides of the canyon. The drive to the trailhead was a bit over an hour from the airport so this canyon is very accessible from the capital city.
We met Daniele and Allan in town and they took us to the exit where we left our rental car as the shuttle vehicle. We loaded into Daniele’s car and headed to the trailhead. As is common for many Costa Rican Canyoneering routes, the entrance and exit are both on private land so permission is required to access Gata Media Canyon. All rivers in the country are public land but access to them can be restricted.
Daniele secured permission for us to access the canyon before we started the trip so that wasn’t a concern, but if you’d like to get permission, you can find the right contact info on the Ropewiki post on Gata Media.
The adventure starts with a 45-minute hike up a dirt (mud) road to get up the side of the volcano. It can be hot and is almost always humid, so plan accordingly and bring plenty of water.
We arrived at Quebrada Pilas, the small creek where the route starts, after a beautiful hike up the side of the volcano where we donned our wetsuits and quickly jumped in the river because those wetsuits got hot fast!
The water was a beautiful turquoise color from the volcanic minerals that come from upstream. Each river in the area is a different color. After rains, they’re often brown and not blue due to sediment runoff so if you’re set on seeing the blue waters of Costa Rica, plan on at least a day after any heavy rain.
The canyon has low flash flood danger because it has many exit opportunities so we weren’t too concerned with the weather, but it stayed dry and a bit overcast all day. Perfect! The canyon only gets deep at a few places, but it felt secluded and wild almost the entire descent.
From the entrance to the river, we started out with a short walk downstream as we got our river feet under us and got used to the slippery river stones. After about 3-4 minutes, we came to the first obstacle – a series of fun waterslides. If we had all day, we could have hiked up these slides many times. They were a blast!
After a few more minutes, we came to rappel 1 over the waterfall named El Salto del Tepescuintle (Paca Jump).
This first rappel is straightforward once you get to the anchor, but a traverse along the top of the waterfall to the LDC anchor station has a bit of unwanted exposure, so the Toros group has placed a bolt on the LDC wall to provide a secure traverse to the anchor station.
The rappel is about 90 feet and is mostly free-hanging. It’s a great start to the canyon.
After the first rap, we kept moving down the watercourse with intermittent slides until we got to rappel 2. Rap 2 is also about 90 feet over the top of one of the twin waterfalls known as Las Gemelas, The Twins or sometimes called Blue Falls. You can actually hike to these falls without any technical ropework, as detailed on MyTanFeet.com, but coming down over the falls as tourists snap photos below is reminiscent of dropping into the Golden Cathedral in Escalante or The Zion Narrows after dropping out of Mystery Canyon back home in Utah.
The anchor is on canyon-left using a solid tree. The rap isn’t hard but does have the potential to put you in the waterfall if you drop in from the watercourse, so rigging properly for class-C with releasable rigging is essential (as it almost always is). We used the Munter Mule to rig.
After finding some good photo spots of the twin waterfalls, of Quebrada Pilas and Quebrada Gata that have very different blue colors, we continued downstream in Quebrada Gata that now has more water in it after passing the confluence. After another 20 minutes or so and after several fun slides and jumps, we came to rappel 3 which drops over the majestic Catarata Celestial or Celestial Falls.
Rap 3 can be a bit deceptive for the first-timer, but with Daniele and Allan as our guides, we were able to slide down the first part of the falls (about 15 feet) and then carefully make our way to the anchor station for the second section of the falls (rappel 4). You can rappel down the first slide section, but it’s not necessary if you know how to navigate the watercourse.
Rappel 4 is about a 65-foot drop from two LDC bolts.
The moss-covered rocks can be deceptively slick.
After descending Celestial Falls, we also played in the deep pool below the falls and swam behind the waterfall.
After a bit more exciting down-canyon negotiating of jumps and slides, we came to rappel 5, Hombre Muerto, or Dead Man Falls which is also about 65 feet. The falls are strong with a nasty hydraulic at the bottom, but staying on the left side of it keeps you out of the watercourse and on your way.
The entire trip, we were on the lookout for any Costa Rican wildlife, and near the end of the canyon, Alicia spotted a snake. Back home, she’s known to pick up any snake she finds that doesn’t have a rattle, but here, she was a bit more cautious and asked if she could pick this one up first. With approval, she grabbed it. It looked like some type of racer to me. I later identified it as a Speckled Racer (Drymobius margaritiferus).
The canyon gets a bit deeper here and after another slide or two, we found ourselves near the end of the adventure. The canyon exit is a green ladder ascending on the left above the large pool at the power plant.
Climb up the ladder and follow the dirt road to the main road and then turn left and walk down the road a bit to the shuttle car parked at the Catarata del Toro. Permission must be given to use this exit as well as to park here, but it made a very convenient loop.
The whole trip was done in less than half a day with four of us. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to hit any of the other awesome-looking canyons in this area. Oh well, I guess we’ll have to plan another Costa Rica Canyoneering trip!
Learn more about canyoneering