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Almost everyone who visits Costa Rica wants to see wildlife– but it’s impossible to control wild animals for viewing! For those traveling with young children, older visitors, or those who are just impatient, visiting the animals at La Paz Waterfall Gardens in Costa Rica is the perfect solution.
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 these 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 I wanted to share that experience with you.
Visiting La Paz Waterfall Gardens
La Paz Waterfall Gardens is a privately owned animal sanctuary and wildlife refuge that also has a hotel, dining, waterfalls, and hiking on-site. It opened in 2000, and has been housing animals rescued from illegal trafficking by the Costa Rican Wildlife Ministry.
It’s the #1 most visited animal sanctuary in Costa Rica and has over 100 animal species on the property. Located in the cloud forest of the Vara Blanca region, near the Poas Volcao National Park. There are 2.2 miles (3.5 kilometers) of hiking trails and 5 waterfalls on the property. The total area of the gardens is 70 acres, and 40 of that is cloud and rainforest.
You need for sure 2 hours to spend here, but we spent the whole day- even eating a great buffet lunch, and it was the perfect day trip from our hometown of San Ramon, Costa Rica. We then stopped for ice cream on the way home at Lecheria Corso.
The park is open from 8 am-5 pm 365 days a year, and you don’t need reservations to enter- they can accommodate quite a few people. There is a really nice hotel on site as well called the Peace Lodge. It is a luxury accommodation and has the prices to match.
Get To La Paz Waterfall Gardens Nature Park
La Paz Waterfall Gardens is located just about 20 km away from the Poas Volcano. The closest nearby town is Grecia, but Naranjo and Alajuela city aren’t far either and could offer great places to stay if you aren’t going to pay the hefty price at the Peace Lodge.
From San Jose center, you’ll take Route 126 north for about 90 minutes until you see the gardens. You’ll drive a windy, two-lane road for the last 30 minutes, but the road is well-marked. The only bummer is if you get stuck behind a big truck. This is a great side trip between La Fortuna and San Jose if you have some extra time.
If you are leaving from the San Jose Airport then you can expect about an hour’s drive. Many people combine a trip here with a trip to the Poas Volcano. I highly recommend you visit the volcano first, as it tends to get cloudy in the afternoon. You can then lunch at the waterfall gardens and head back home in the later afternoon.
Animal Sightings At La Paz
Unlike the nearby Zoo Ave, La Paz Waterfall Gardens has extensive grounds and you can see wildlife, vegetation, and waterfalls all on the same property.
If you are looking for a great animal sanctuary in Guanacaste, I highly recommend Centro El Rescate Las Pumas.
You can expect to see:
- Snakes (in cages)
- Poisonous frogs (sleeping during the day)
- Milking Cows
- Felines/Jungle Cats
- Butterflies (this is the largest butterfly observatory in Costa Rica)
- 5 waterfalls
- and more!
Admission To The Gardens
You will enter the main reception area 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.
Admission price includes a tour of the grounds so you can see all the aminals and do all the hiking around the beautiful 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.
Wanting to head to the beach on your Costa Rica trip? Here are our 20 favorite Costa Rican beaches.
Eat At La Paz Waterfall Gardens Costa Rica
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!
Related post: 30+ Foods To Try In Costa Rica
The dining area has a full bar of Costa Rican cocktails– 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 $50 for adults and $34 for children. Costa Rican nationals cost $30 and $21 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.
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.
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.
Check out all of our favorite San Jose Costa Rica day trips!
Packing For The La Paz Trip
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.
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!
Related post: Costa Rica Packing List (For Families)
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.
How much does La Paz Waterfall Gardens cost?
Adults are $50, and a buffet lunch for $14 is available. Children cost $34 and the buffer lunch for children is $8.
Can you see La Paz waterfall for free?
Yes. At the entrance to La Paz waterfall gardens simply drive a bit further (about 5 minutes) to the base of the waterfall. You can hike but you cannot swim in the waterfall.
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Welcome! I’m Christa, a former high school teacher married to a handsome Costa Rican and mother of two bilingual daughters. I love all things Spanish and bi-cultural, (especially travel and food!) and you’ll find my observations on life here. Thanks for stopping by