FREE: Montezuma Waterfall, Costa Rica
Updated: Jul 11
I'd thought I was clever by getting an "early start" and catching the 8am bus from Santa Teresa to the nearby tiny town of Montezuma (home of the local waterfalls). Silly me, with my inferior notions of what "early" means.
After two buses and one very long stop in Cobano, I arrived in the impossibly tiny town of Montezuma at exactly 11am. Right when the hottest part of the day officially starts... although unofficially, one could say that it starts upon waking. Sweating profusely, I wandered around the steaming two blocks of cafes and restaurants in my ever eternal search for a lactose free latte (found one), had a smoke on the beach (which was tiny but pretty) and, feeling extravagant, bought some gallo pinto with eggs and bacon for the hike (lately I've been cooking all of my own food to save money).
Gallo pinto, at a glance, is just a serving of the local beans and rice. But it's sooo much more! Unlike other Latin American countries, the staple dish in Costa Rica is cooked differently: the beans and rice are partially cooked together in a special recipe. While admittedly a tad bland on one hand, on the other hand it's fucking delicious and the perfect accompaniment for most anything. Bland in an intoxicating way, like mashed potatoes. Apparently it's more complicated than it looks, and involves a couple of important steps (see recipe at the end of this post), depending on who you ask / which country you're in (Nicaragua also makes a mean gallo pinto).
Anyway, caffeinated and armed with food and water I set off walking the 200m from town to the trail entrance. The easy access was a pleasant surprise, I'd thought I would have to take a taxi at least part of the way. The trail entrance was clearly marked, and the trail was well worn and easy to follow. It ran parallel to the nearly dry river (dry season in Costa Rica is from Nov - Feb) for about 15 minutes, ending at an impressively big waterfall. And it was chock full of tourists enjoying themselves. I took a few pictures but held off swimming because I wanted to see waterfall 2 & 3 and I was wearing my hiking boots.
The trail to the upper falls was just across the stream from the trail I'd come in on, and headed straight up the hill via a grueling set of about ohhh 300 vertical stairs (in 100F / 97% humidity). After a few stops to catch my breath and stylishly drag my arm across my face dripping with sweat, I reached a little checkpoint at the top. A teenage boy informed me the price to pass was 2,000 colones (almost $5USD) and only opened the gate after I agreed (I may have argued a little bit, because Montezuma is advertised as a "free" waterfall). Once I stepped through I could see his sulky also teenaged girlfriend lounging on the bench - apparently I'd interrupted a solid make-out session. Sorrrr-eeee lol!
It was well worth the short climb and $5. The trail led to the top of a second waterfall gushing down a steep cliff. As I gawked with fellow hikers, we watched several guys deep breaths, visibly sweating from nerves, and jump on down to the small pool of water waiting below. I considered it, because I love jumping from heights into water, but I've had a couple of painful ear moments (I've broken both of my eardrums in the past) and I didn't feel like risking it on my own. Instead I continued up river, humming "just around the riverrr bennnnd" like the dork that I am, until I found a suitably isolated spot. I busted out my sandwich, drink, and j, dunked in the river, and leaned against a boulder as I drank in the quiet beauty. It was all worth it, as it usually is :)
Gallo Pinto Recipe (edited, courtesy of www.costa-rica-guide.com)
1 lb (450g) cooked black beans
8-10 sprigs fresh cilantro, not dried!
1 small or medium onion
1 clove garlic
½ small red or yellow sweet pepper
3 cups (700 ml) chicken broth
2 cups (350 ml) white rice
½ teaspoon (2.5 ml) salt
1 tablespoon (15 ml) vegetable oil
1-3 tablespoon (15-45ml) oil
1. Chop cilantro, onion, garlic, and sweet pepper very fine.
2. Add 1 tablespoon oil to a large pan and sauté the dry rice for 2 minutes over medium high flame, then add half of the chopped onion, sweet pepper and cilantro and sauté for another 2 minutes.
3. Add water or chicken broth, bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to simmer until rice is tender (20-35 minutes).
4. Keep about 1 cup (175ml) of the “black water” with the beans. This is what gives the rice its color and some of its flavor. Sauté the rice, beans, reserved chopped onion, sweet pepper and cilantro together in vegetable oil for a few minutes. Sprinkle with a little fresh chopped cilantro just before serving. Disfruta! (Enjoy!)