Costa Rica is full of natural wonders, but there’s one that frequently makes my heart skip a beat – The La Paz Waterfall. Tucked away in the shadows of the Poás Volcano, this 70 acre private sanctuary is home to a host of wildlife, jungle trails, and five beautiful waterfalls.
Journeying to the La Paz Waterfall
By Car: If you’re heading from San José, the drive to La Paz is an enchanting one, winding through the Central Valley’s beautiful landscapes. The drive usually takes around 1.5 to 2 hours. Opt for a 4×4, especially during the rainy season, and make sure your GPS is set to the La Paz Waterfall Gardens, Vara Blanca. The roads, for the most part, are in good condition, with clear signages directing you.
By Bus: While not the most direct route, you can take a bus from San José to Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí, getting off at the intersection for Vara Blanca. From there, taxis are available to take you to the gardens.
By Tour: Several companies offer day trips from San José or nearby tourist hubs, including transportation, entrance fees, and sometimes meals.
The Mesmerizing Trails and Falls at La Paz
Once inside, five waterfalls await your discovery, set amid the cloud forest and rainforest landscapes. The most significant and perhaps the most photographed is the Magia Blanca waterfall, where you can venture behind the cascade into a small cavern. The walking trails are paved, making them accessible even for non-trekkers.
An Oasis of Flora and Fauna
La Paz isn’t just about waterfalls. The gardens are home to a remarkable array of plants and animals. The aviary showcases local birds, the butterfly observatory is one of the world’s largest, and there’s also a hummingbird garden where these little marvels flit around, seemingly posing for your camera.
The gardens also house rescued jungle cats, monkeys, and even snakes in the serpentarium. For a genuinely Costa Rican experience, don’t miss the ranarium (frog pond).
Local Tips for Visiting the La Paz Waterfall in Costa Rica
Start Early: Try to arrive early, preferably right when they open. Not only will this give you a jump on the tour buses that usually arrive mid-morning, but wildlife tends to be more active in the early hours.
Pack Smart: Bring a waterproof jacket or poncho (especially during the rainy season), comfortable walking shoes, and perhaps an extra set of clothes if you plan to venture close to the waterfalls.
Dining with a View: Many visitors aren’t aware of the dining options within the park. There’s a buffet-style restaurant that offers a variety of local and international dishes. The real treat, though, is the view. Positioned on a ridge, the eatery offers a sweeping view of the forest below and the distant Caribbean coastline.
Local Events: Engage with the locals and ask about any ongoing or upcoming events. On certain occasions, the gardens host local craft fairs or small concerts.
Beyond the La Paz Gardens: If you’ve set aside an entire day, consider exploring the surroundings post your visit. Nearby Poás Volcano is a popular choice, though do check its activity status before heading there.
Discounts and Deals: Though the entrance fee might seem a bit steep for some, look out for discounts or bundled deals, especially if you’re visiting other attractions in the area. Sometimes local hotels or tour operators have deals that can save you a few colones.
Respect Nature: While this might seem obvious, it’s essential to remember that many of the animals in the gardens are rescues. Refrain from tapping on the glass in the exhibits, using flash photography, or trying to feed the animals.
La Paz Waterfall Gardens offers a condensed Costa Rican experience – from gushing waterfalls and lush trails to an impressive showcase of local wildlife. Whether you’re a seasoned traveler, a nature enthusiast, or someone looking for a leisurely day trip infused with beauty, this sanctuary in the heart of Costa Rica promises memories that will last a lifetime.
Image via Flickr by Constanza S. Mora