Another fun thing we did during my parents’ visit was to go to La Paz Waterfall Gardens. The website described it as a large property with a resort hotel, hikes to several waterfalls and some animal displays. One Sunday, we decided we would go check it out, maybe for a couple of hours.
The fun started on the drive. We found ourselves on a twisting road running along the mountaintops with lush green fields falling away to each side. It looked simultaneously like something out of Switzerland and Kauai. After driving for an hour, we arrived to a nearly empty parking lot. When I inquired at the front desk as to the entrance fee I thought I misheard when he said $42. Excuse me?!? Admittedly, the kids were half price, but this is an astronomically high entrance fee for Costa Rica. I was contemplating the drive back without having seen anything when my dad offered to treat everyone (thank you, dad!). Feeling terrible for having suggested such a pricey activity, we got our entrance bracelets and maps.
These anxious feelings started to dissipate after we stepped through the doors and onto the terrace overlooking the valley through which we would be walking.
It was breathtaking. We took some time to explore the plants and bird feeders here and to look at the map and plan where we would go. We also took a moment to use the facilities. I mention this because it was here in the bathroom that I started to get a glimpse of what we were paying for, and also the sense that maybe it would be worthwhile. These bathrooms were exquisite and the nicest I’d been in anywhere in Costa Rica. The sinks alone were works of art with frog sculptures as handles. In any case, it was a good sign. We headed down the hill.
That’s me looking impressed because even the handrails were super high quality. We were in for a treat. When we reached the bottom of the hill a fellow visitor showed us an orange-kneed tarantula that was just happening by. This is always a thrilling sight and one of the kids’ favorite critters.
Next we headed into the aviary. Like everything we were seeing, this was beautifully maintained and landscaped. The kids starting running through it, exclaiming at everything they were seeing. They really loved these ducks.
Then we came to the toucan room.
Did you know that toucans have tongues with feathery tips? I found this out because this one stuck its tongue out at us! I have to say, these have become one of my favorite birds.
My mom was allowed to feed one of the toucans, which was pretty exciting. Much later in the day we came back through and the kids also got to feed them seeds we foraged from the ground. They were surprisingly gentle.
We really appreciated all the beautiful spaces that had been created everywhere. The kids enjoyed climbing into this waterfall and exploring all the nooks and crannies.
Next, we came to the butterfly and insect house. This was a huge two-story space with thousands of butterflies flying around.
On every wall were plants or bilingual signs or mosaics or stained glass. It was a feast for the eyes.
The exhibit on the life cycle of butterflies was especially good as it contained a wall of chrysalises from several species, all in varying stages of metamorphosis. Some were emerging as we watched! It was really interesting to have a side-by-side comparison of how the chrysalises differed from species to species.
Other specimens were no longer living, but equally interesting.
After this, we walked the well-paved path through the jungle, encountering another creepy along the way. I’m fairly certain this is a millipede. Check out how big it is!
The path emptied into a lovely hummingbird garden with multiple different types dive-bombing the feeders.
Next, the path led us to the snake house, which was pretty awesome. Here were multiple species from all over the country with well-written (bilingual) descriptions of their habitats, eating habits, venom level and my favorite attribute: temperament. The most venomous and deadly snake in Costa Rica is the fer-de-lance. The sign described it as entirely “ill-tempered”, which struck me as funny, but only because it was behind some seriously thick glass.
I would definitely not want to meet one of these in a coffee field! It was also neat for the kids to see several venomous and non-venomous snakes side by side and observe how their head shapes differ.
After the snake house, the path cleverly takes visitors directly into the huge buffet area. Seeing what all was on offer, Matt and I happily treated everyone to lunch on the lovely open terrace. The food was awesome! There was traditional Costa Rican food, pizza, hot dogs, chips, guacamole, rice pudding, coffee, juices, something for everyone. Since buying lunch got one unlimited access to this smorgasbord, we tucked in with gusto. Then we went back for seconds while the kids ran around. It was turning into a truly spectacular day. But the best was yet to come, especially for Django.
From the lunch terrace, the path continues on to the large cats, specifically jaguars. These are Django’s favorite large cats and it was his first time seeing them up close. He was pumped.
An important aspect of the park is that it is a sanctuary, meaning none of the animals had been removed from the wild to be there. Additionally, in the case of the cats, their mission “is to preserve the genetics of the wild cat species in Costa Rica”. They even have a successful breeding pair among the jaguars. We learned a lot about these cats from the signs and it was thrilling to see them up close. In addition to the jaguars, we saw margays, ocelots and an adorable pair of pumas, who were mostly sleeping.
Next, there was an exhibit about traditional Costa Rican life, with an actual house built and outfitted as it would have been around 1900. It was really interesting. Did I get any pictures of the painstakingly constructed house? No! Instead, I chose to focus on the impressive woodpile, the coati who came to visit near the outhouse and a cute bird on one of the windowsills.
I’m sure that at this point you’re wondering where the waterfalls are in all of this. They’re next! After what was already a very full day, we arrived at the hike to the five waterfalls that give this park its name. Again, the paths were lovely and led us through the jungle.
We emerged at the first waterfall, along with hordes of other visitors.
We noticed a path to a bridge off to the side that looked less crowded and made for that. Mountain goats that they are, the kids found another path down to the beach.
It was ridiculous. We had already had an incredible day walking through the park and seeing all the animals. At the end, there was yet another magnificent part with the waterfalls. It was a bit of a hike down to them, sometimes on (well-constructed) stairs hugging a cliff face. There was vista upon vista of gorgeous falls.
The adults continued to have fun all the way down to the bottom.
But, by the end of the trail, the kids had just about had it. Now here’s a real moment! This picture cracks me up. Doesn’t matter how gorgeous the surroundings, right? Sometimes kids have just had enough.
Now we just had to convince the kids to make the hike back up to the car. We did this with bribes of juice and rice pudding up at the buffet that would be closing in 30 minutes. Hurry!! We regrouped back on the lunch terrace, now virtually deserted. I kept thinking the staff was looking at us funny as we had what amounted to an early dinner. We were determined, however, the wring every last moment out of this day. And, as the late afternoon clouds rolled in, bringing a misting rain, we all felt very satisfied. This was one of our best days here yet.