If you only have time to do one thing in Costa Rica, don’t miss La Paz Waterfall Gardens next to Poás Volcano National Park just north of San José.
La Paz Waterfall Gardens is a privately owned ecological park near the Poás Volcano National Park. La Paz includes 70 acres (28 hectares) of land including approximately 40 acres of cloud forests and rainforest and 30 acres (12 hectares) of pastureland which is being reforested. With a conservation and sustainable ecological mission, La Paz strives to preserve the natural environments of waterfalls and rainforest lands with all their living species (flora and fauna) while also making them accessible to ecotourists.
You, and children traveling with you, will have many wonderful educational experiences at La Paz Waterfall Gardens. Like to hike in high altitudes? Want to experience rain and cloud forests? Interested in walking up to the edge of amazing natural waterfalls? Would you like to see an aviary of tropical birds, or a Butterfly Observatory? Or, how about seeing a Serpentarium or Ranarium (tropical frogs!), Monkey Exhibit, Hummingbird Gardens, Orchid Exhibits? This is a very educational place for children and teens to explore.
There are about 3.5 kilometers of walking trails throughout the park. These curve through the main park areas and exhibits with a dedicated trail for viewing the waterfalls. The waterfall trails descend and climb and there are several bridges over rushing waters below.
“Tico or Tica” is the informal term that Costa Ricans (men or women) call themselves. The Casita Tica is a replica of an old, traditional Costa Rican farmhouse where you’ll be served coffee or “agua dulce” with a traditional cheese or bread (“pan”). You will be invited to sit in a very comfortable Costa Rican rocking chair either inside or on the hacienda-style porch around the outside of the house. Bird watchers look for tropical birds while you watch the oxen nearby. You might even catch a ride in the brightly painted traditional Costa Rican ox cart (a "carreta"). To see how these carts are still wood crafted and painted by hand you’ll want to plan a visit to the town of Sarchi on another day. It’s also a great place for souvenir shopping.
“Agua dulce” deserves to be explained, because the translation “sweet water” is not completely correct or adequate. It’s a very typical hot drink in Costa Rica and a favorite in the colder high altitudes where coffee farmers, pickers and families live. It is made by mixing your choice of hot milk or hot water with Costa Rican-harvested sugar cane molasses. Made with hot water, agua dulce is like a sweet tea. Made with hot milk, it’s like a rich hot chocolate in many northern European and North American cultures. While you’re in Costa Rica, don’t miss trying a traditional agua dulce either!
You’ll need a minimum of two hours to see it all if you hustle. Otherwise a leisurely visit can easily take a half to three-quarters of a day to see it all. If you have the time, stay longer. Revisit the butterfly observatory or just watch the hummingbirds or monkeys for a while. It’s fascinating. Take lots of photographs. Start your visit with a Costa Rican-style breakfast at one several restaurants, or at least a cup of coffee. The restaurants range in casual styles and menus, serving a mixture of typical Costa Rican dishes as well as the usual fast food combinations. Plan to stay for lunch and afternoon coffee –Costa Rica style!
Remember, in rainforests it rains! Walking in a cloud forest is like walking through water, so it’s a good idea to bring a rain coat or poncho. If you forget, the park has them for sale in the souvenir stores, but they are a little pricey. Be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes (preferably closed shoes with traction). Hiking surfaces can be slippery. Casual shorts or comfortable pants and a lightweight jacket are good. Please keep in mind that the park ranges in altitude from 5,200 feet to 4,200 feet so it can get chilly when the clouds and breezes roll in.
Given its nearness to the Juan Santamaria International Airport in Alajuela city, it is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Costa Rica. From Alajuela, it is about 30-45 minute drive through ever-higher coffee country and just around the corner (so to speak!) from the Poás Volcano National Park. From San José, it is 2 hours or less depending on traffic between San José and Alajuela. Don’t miss La Paz Waterfall Gardens!
Cover Photo © iStock/Gary Gray
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