Wednesday, February 11, 2015

La Paz Waterfall Gardens of Costa Rica

We had one final adventure awaiting us in the mountains of Costa Rica: La Paz Waterfall Gardens. The morning excursion up to the rim of Poás volcano had ended in foggy (non)views and I was worried that the cloud cover and rain would make for an uncomfortable afternoon at the famous attraction. To reach the northeast slope of the volcano from the Poás National Park we had to drive south all the way to Poacito, then east, and then north. The gardens opened in 2000, and are adjacent to the Peace Lodge, deluxe accommodations complete with Jacuzzis, fireplaces and waterfalls in room; they are also booked months in advance. We made the short trip back up the slope of the volcano and entered.

The main attraction of the 70 acre park is the series of five waterfalls connected with a 2.5 mile trail, but there is no shortage of amazing exhibits and museums. We started at Trout Lake, walking behind the man-made waterfalls and admiring the view.

The Aviary is a sanctuary for rescued birds that cannot be released back to the wild, similar to the Alturas Wildlife Sanctuary we had visited on the south coast. Wildly colored macaws, grosbeaks and tanagers flitted about in the enclosure, and Lauris and I even had the pleasure of meeting a toucan, face to face.

The butterfly observatory contained over 20 different species and included a station allowing visitors to follow the lifecycle of a butterfly. Although beautiful, I found it sad that these outrageously colorful creatures were enclosed, and there seemed a disproportionate amount dead. I would much rather visit the Roper Mountain Science Center butterfly garden

In the monkey exhibit we met spider monkeys, white faced monkeys and white tufted eared marmosets.

The hummingbird garden was rather unbelievable. The brochure boasts that “this is the only documented place in the world to find 26 hummingbird species” and although I can’t say how many different species we saw, I do know that despite the rain and cold the garden was alive with the humming of tiny wings and the chirruping as they chased one another around from feeder to feeder.

It was a quick glance at the Serpentarium with its thirty snakes before entering the jungle cat exhibit. It was depressing to see these cats pacing their enclosures, although interesting to see animals we will never see in the wild: jaguars, pumas, ocelots, margays, jaguarundis…

There was a beautiful orchid garden – I found my photographs did not do the display justice.

The frog exhibit was pretty cool, with poison dart and leaf frogs hiding throughout the house. It was actually pretty tricky to find them, although we did spot a handful.

One of the most interesting exhibits was Casita de la Paz. The reproduction of a rural farm was built using only tools available to the average farmer a century ago, and actors in period costume were on hand demonstrating various farm chores. A hand-painted carreta was the tool once used to transport coffee beans; it was in the 19th century when the custom began to paint the cart in bright colors with geometric designs. Metal rings were added to strike the hubcap and chime when in motion, and the spokeless wheels are bound with a metal belt.

And then it was on to the waterfalls. The five waterfalls are El Templo (85ft), Magia Blanca (120 ft), adjacent Encantada (65ft) and Escondida (15ft) and finally La Paz (110 ft). The trail is constructed in such a way that there are multiple viewpoints for a majority of the waterfalls, and with Templo we took in the view from in front of the falls before crossing the river and having a look from a different perspective.

The usually unimpressive view of a waterfall from the top (in this case Magia Blanca) was rendered indisputably astounding with a backdrop straight out of the movies.

Each waterfall seemed more breathtaking than the previous, and as the sun came out for the last portion of our hike, the experience became simply magical.

Magia Blanca waterfall (look for the boys for scale)

The area gets on average 14.5 feet of rainfall per year. Because of the change in elevation and aspect, the trail covered both cloud and rainforest. I thought it interesting that the La Paz river flows east to the Caribbean, but rainfall on the other side of the volcano flows west, towards the Pacific.

Encantada & Escondida with Magia Blanca visible in the background

One of the most ingenious design aspects of the trail construction is that it is mostly downhill, and a shuttle takes you from the end of the trail back up to park reception. (That way you can save your strength for other important things, like 40th birthday celebrations.) We opted to retrace the shuttle bus route once in our rental car in order to drive all the way down to the bottom of La Paz waterfall, as the only view afforded by the trail was from the top.

The La Paz Waterfall Gardens were an incredible addition to our Costa Rican experience. The opportunity to see five such magnificent waterfalls in such close proximity with the ease of a paved trail and stairs connecting the lot was not one to be passed up, especially when combined with the chance to see more native animals close-up with the facilities at hand to make the rainforest a little more comfortable for a family with small children. On our trip back to the cabin we reflected on the previous week and realized that despite the end of clean/dry clothes to wear and the wet/rainy weather, the gardens were the crowning event of our Costa Rican adventure. 


  1. OH My Gosh---you know me!!!! I LOVE LOVE LOVE the waterfalls.... Of course, I'd love the gardens also. What a fantastic place.. WOW!! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Betsy, I thought of you while on that trail! (And I know you two would have gotten some fantastic pictures - my little point and shoot just doesn't do these falls justice!)

  2. This place looks and sounds absolutely amazing - at least the waterfalls and general nature. (Not so much the dead butterflies and such.) Great way to top off the trip!

    1. If there is one thing I learned, it's that the Costa Ricans know how to pack a ton of stuff into one tour/attraction! I would definitely go back - it was a great last day... obviously except for the butterflies and such.


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