If you’re on a super tight schedule, with only enough time to visit one more attraction while you study abroad in Costa Rica, you better choose to visit La Paz Waterfall Gardens. The waterfall itself is located within a privately owned ecological sanctuary, just one hour north of San Jose. Although this park charges one of the highest entrance fees, you’ll quickly realize why.

La Paz Waterfall Gardens and Animal Sanctuary is home to some of the country’s most famous waterfalls, exotic cloud and rainforests, and houses over 100 different species in the animal sanctuary. It also maintains about 3.5 kilometers of hiking trails that wrap around the waterfalls. These trails not only allow for beautiful views of the waterfalls at all angles, but you can also spot monkeys, toucans, hummingbirds, butterflies, big cats, snakes, and a variety of other reptiles and insects.

The waterfall itself is the true attraction, though, falling over 100 feet. It’s the most photographed and visited waterfall in all of the country. The platforms have been created so that visitors get a perfect view of the spectacular falls, surrounded by lush, green jungle. The crashing of water is the perfect background music to the Pura Vida vibe that rings throughout the country.

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During your trip, you might also choose to visit the hummingbird garden where you can find 24 species of hummingbirds interacting naturally in their spacious observatory. Then, step through the Orchid garden and find your way to the Frog Pond where you can spot some of Costa Rica’s most dangerous, colorful frogs like the dart frog or green leaf frog. For reptile lovers, a Serpentarium with 30 different snakes found all over Costa Rica can also be found.

A butterfly observatory–the largest in the world–lets you interact with hundreds of butterflies in an area the length of a football field. This unique experience is a great educational opportunity, as guides are on hand to answer any questions or point out special mentions such as eggs, caterpillars, or camouflaged butterflies.

If you’re feeling hungry, you can catch your own dinner in the trout lake. If that’s not your style, a big trout bar will let you feast on fresh caught fish, or head to the Colibris restaurant where you can order from a variety of dishes.

Aside from some of the more entertaining and exciting exhibits you can find in the park, the most interesting aspect is probably how it all came to be.

La Paz Waterfall Gardens Nature Park opened in 2000. Construction of the trails began in 1998, and were fully developed without the need to cut down one tree or vine system. To avoid using heavy machinery in the forest, the supplies were carefully carried down on foot. Upon its opening, the trails and butterfly observatory were complete. But the owners continued to add more exhibits in hopes of sustaining the natural ecosystems found in the area. By 2004, the Colibris restaurant and serpentarium were completed. Just one year later, the Frog Pond and trout lake were also introduced.

Though the mission is clear in its objectives to preserve and protect the natural environment, the park has done wonders in providing opportunities to the surrounding local communities. 95% of the employees come from within a 12 mile radius of the park. Formerly, the economies of these communities relied heavily on farming and agriculture–the same methods that led to the devastation of natural lands in Costa Rica. Now, these same families have the opportunity to not only make a living, but to do so while conserving their own native lands.

The park is made up of 70 acres; 40 acres maintaining the cloud and rainforests, 30 acres cut for pasture land by the previous owner. Current owners are in the process of reforesting the 30 acres of land.

Preparing for Your Trip

– The park is open from 8am-5pm, and you should set aside 2-3 hours for your visit
– The entrance fee is $44 for adults, and $28 for children ages 3-12; our local travel partner can help you plan your trip
– Therefore, manage your time well; the early bird gets the worm, as you can see
– Bring a rain jacket. Even if it isn’t raining (which likely, it will), the platforms overlooking the waterfalls are fairly close and you will get wet
– Wear your hiking boots. Because of the rain, trails can get slippery and muddy, so make sure you have proper gear to keep you moving forward. This park is not recommended for those with limited mobility