While staying at the Peace Lodge in Costa Rica, near the Poas Volcano, we took a day to visit the La Paz Waterfall Gardens (http://www.waterfallgardens.com/), which are right in the same property, and practically below the balcony of our (beautiful) room. It was one of the highlights of our month in Costa Rica, and well worth every colone we spent.
We went on a private guided tour with our 3 boys, as part of a package that we booked through the Peace Lodge. The tour is highly recommended! The guide shared details about almost every animal, insect and reptile in the gardens, and had permissions to hand us a toucan, let the boys feed the monkeys bananas and give us each plastic feeders to attract hummingbirds right to our faces. It was amazing!
Our guide then took us through the butterfly garden, where scientists breed butterflies and release them, and 20+ species are available to observe on native plants. They will happily land on your hand, and a few times per day, you can help the workers release newly hatched butterflies, which was a unique experience.
Next we visited the snake house, which was fascinating and scary for some of us. Rich let the guide put a snake around his neck, but the boys took a pass on that one! We got to see most of the varieties of poisonous and non-poisonous snakes in one place.
The reptile house has a huge assortment of frogs, salamanders and toads. We saw the famous Costa Rican tree frog, with its multicolored skin, who is often used in advertisements for Costa Rica. It’s beautiful in person and you can hold them on your hand, or just admire them up close as they sit on a leaf and stare at you.
The Jungle Cat exhibit houses five out of the six species of endangered Central American Cats including Ocelots, Pumas, Jaguars, Jaguarundis and Margays. This was an amazing experience, getting up close to these magnificent creatures, and the signs (in English and Espanol) were interesting and informative.
An important note: the center that previously housed these animals lost government funding and had to close. The MINAE (the Costa Rican Ministry of the Environment) did not have the resources to care for the 35 felines so they were placed under the care of La Paz Waterfall Gardens. The cats were either very old, injured, or had been exposed to humans for too long to be released back into the wild.
La Paz Waterfall Garden’s mission is to preserve the genetics of the wild cat species in Costa Rica. They are completely against the capture or trade of illegally confiscated animals and seek to one day release the offspring of their cats into protected zones, if a safe and reliable training program can be developed to do so.
After the Jungle Cat exhibit, we walked down to the waterfalls, and visited the gift shop at the end of the trail. For those not inclined to walk all the way back up to La Paz, there is a regular shuttle bus that takes anyone up from the shop to the entrance to the Peace Lodge. There are over 3.5 kilometers of well-marked and paved walking trails in and around the gardens, including down to the series of 5 waterfalls, which cascade their way down to the largest waterfall, a beautiful and lush scene that almost demands your attention.
La Paz Waterfall Gardens is open from 8am to 5pm daily. There is a restaurant next door at the Peace Lodge that has great (and reasonably priced) food for lunch and dinner, so you don’t need to go into town to find food.
You can reach La Paz from San José airport in about 1.5-2 hrs, or you can drive from the north through La Fortuna, which took about 3 hours. We’d recommend hiring a car and driver. The roads are just crazy and poorly marked in Costa Rica, and it’s also less expensive overall than renting a car yourself.
For more information on the Peace Lodge, read our review of it.