La Paz Waterfall Gardens is the perfect place to visit wildlife and waterfalls in Costa Rica. Centrally located, family friendly and gorgeous, this is an ecological attraction you won’t want to miss.
We’ve been to almost every corner of Costa Rica with our kids- from off the grid family farms to remote Pacific beaches to chasing waterfalls in the Central Valley. Because, well, Costa Rica with kids is awesome.
What’s not always awesome is trying to see wildlife with kids in Costa Rica. While the country offers countless opportunities to see all kinds of wildlife, the truth is, wildlife viewing often requires silence and patience. Both of which are often in short supply when hiking with young children.
So I was looking for a place where my kids could see all of the awesome wildlife we find in our Costa Rica field Guides. I wanted something centrally located from the San Jose airport, and a place that was super family friendly. Thanks to Instagram, I found out about a place called La Paz Waterfall Gardens. We had a great time there this past Sunday- and want to especially thank the team for allowing us to experience the gardens and lunch free of charge. All opinions are my own.
About La Paz Waterfall Gardens
La Paz Waterfall Gardens is a privately owned animal sanctuary that also has a hotel, dining, waterfalls and hiking on site. It’s been open for almost 20 years.
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Where Is La Paz Waterfall Gardens located?
La Paz Waterfall Gardens is located just about 20 km away from the Poas Volcano. You will pass through either Alajuela, Grecia or Naranjo on the way to the gardens. They are about 1.5 hours away from Juan Santamaria International Airport in Alajuela, and about 2 hours from San Jose Center.
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What can I expect to see at La Paz Waterfall Gardens?
La Paz Waterfall Gardens has extensive grounds and you can see wildlife, vegetation, and waterfalls all in the same area.
You will enter the main center to purchase tickets, and then you will receive a map in either English or Spanish that will outline all of the activities offered. There is a suggested route, and I do think it is a good one.
You can expect to see:
- Snakes (in cages)
- Poisonous frogs (sleeping during the day)
- Milking Cows
- Felines/Jungle Cats
- 5 waterfalls
- and more!
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What does the admission price include?
Admission price includes a tour of the grounds so you can see all the aminals and do all the hiking around the waterfalls and Trout Lake.
Admission does not include meals- you can take a picnic and eat it outside, or you can eat the buffet lunch.
Before you arrive at the waterfall section, you will receive some bread, coffee or agua dulce in the restored traditional Costa Rican house.
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What is the food like?
Honestly- the buffet was awesome. One of the best buffets I have ever had in Costa Rica. The food is traditionally prepared and doesn’t taste like it’s been made in ginormous quantities.
There is traditional Costa Rican white rice, Costa Rican black beans, salsas, chips, tortillas, a full salad bar. Then, there are different meats to go with the food. We had meat in red sauce and some amazing pork ribs to choose from. Oh and there were Costa Rican tacos too!
There is also a full pizza bar with 6 kinds of pizza, hot dogs, french fries and chicken tenders. There was dessert too- arroz con leche and fruit. Unlimited tea and fruit juice were also available.
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The dining area has a full bar- cost is additional.
You can also eat at the Peace Lodge Hotel. It’s next to a beautiful lake and there are lots of hiking trails there too. We didn’t go over there, and I really wish we had.
Admission price is steep- as of writing this post it was $45 for adults and $29 for children. Costa Rican nationals cost $26 and $17 respectively. the buffet lunch is $14 for adults and $8 for children.
Is it a zoo? Where do they get the animals?
While we love to see wildlife in Costa Rica, we are especially careful when it comes to animals who are in cages. Costa Rica isn’t great about regulating caged animals, so we do our research to make sure that the wildlife was legitimately trapped and humanely handled.
The animals at La Paz are rescue animals. The MINAE in Costa Rica, which is the governing board of wildlife, found it did not have the funding to complete the animal rescue for felines in danger in Costa Rica.
They reached out to La Paz Waterfall Gardens to partner with them to rehabilitate jungle cats and an agreement was made. You can read more about the jungle cat rescue here.
Is La Paz Waterfall Gardens wheelchair accessible?
The main grounds of La Paz Waterfall Gardens are wheelchair accessible- to a point. A wheelchair would not be able to do everything in the park.
The waterfalls are definitely not wheelchair accessible. In fact, I am in pretty decent shape and I was huffing and puffing along the trail as it is tons of steep stairs. This is definitely a place for people who are mobile.
I should also note that the waterfalls are not privately owned. So if you wanted to just see the falls, you could drive down to the very bottom of the hill past the paid section, park, and see them for free.
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How long can I expect to spend at the gardens?
I think the best time to arrive at La Paz is early- we spent most of the day there and I would have liked to be there even longer. I would arrive right in the morning and spend the first part of the day hiking the waterfalls. This is because it often rains in the afternoon here and the stairs are numerous and get slick.
We did the waterfalls last, but we had to rush. Plus everyone was going in the recommended order to the falls had a lot of people trying to view them and beat the rain.
I’d then grab lunch and spend the afternoon wandering around the gardens and viewing wildlife. At 3:30 the felines eat, and I really wish we had gotten to see that. I didn’t even know it was happening until we got home, so I wish I had checked the map info sooner.
There are over 3.5 kilometers of hiking trails, and we didn’t hike up around the lodge. I wish we had, as the lake area looked to be sublimely beautiful and I would have liked to see it.
If you aren’t going to spend all day at La Paz, you could visit Corso Lecheria in the morning and then head to La Paz, as they are only about 8 minutes apart.
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What Should I Take To La Paz Waterfall Gardens?
If you are going to stay all day, definitely take water and snacks in a day pack, as those items are really pricey. Definitely take sunscreen and bug spray- there are lots of bugs in the forest. I thought it was chilly there so we had long-sleeved shirts in the morning.
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Take raingear as it often rains- they do sell ponchos on site but they cost $25. We just took some cheap ponchos and a light umbrella and it worked great.
Definitely take a camera- the photo opps are amazing. Drones are also (currently) allowed at La Paz. I really wish I had used mine more there!
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Why Is La Paz Great For Kids?
This is really my favorite part of the article. Because I think the Waterfall Gardens are the ideal spot for families with young children. Here’s why:
The maps- you receive a map in English or Spanish with all of the attractions. My girls LOVED being the “guides” for our day
Each of the attractions has a bilingual employee who knows tons about all of the wildlife. So the kids were able to ask questions and get expert answers.
There are lots of little games for kids along the way. We loved that in the ranarium, the frogs were sleeping. so the girls had to look for a little tag to find each frog. They loved it!
The felines- my girls were in love with the felines. And what is cooler than getting to watch felines devour raw meat?
Finally- I loved seeing the entire life cycle of a butterfly in the Butterfly Garden. We even got to see a butterfly pop out of the chrysalis. I had never seen that before and it was spectacular.
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