In my mind, the best way to start a holiday in Costa Rica is with a trip to La Paz Waterfall Garden. Approximately one hour to the north of San Jose by car, the “waterfall” is actually five different falls that range in height from 85-120 feet.
You can take in the waterfall’s grandeur on a large viewing platform. More adventurous travelers can walk down a series of steep, windy steps and actually stand under the waterfall. If you are fit and don’t have vertigo problems, I recommend both. It’s beautiful to see the falls at eye level. But looking out beneath them offers you a very different perspective of the sheer power and volume. Being surrounded by the sound of the water rushing past you is almost deafening.
The best thing about La Paz Waterfall is that the visit also includes an animal sanctuary, restaurant and lodge. The animal sanctuary, while lovely, is not as exotic as it may sound. Visitors will see butterflies, frogs and other amphibians. If you’ve never seen butterflies in their natural habitat, be forewarned, they are beautiful but the fly everywhere and tickle your skin when they land on you. And even as lovely and harmless as butterflies are, as it turns out, a swarm can intimidate and be a bit disconcerting for some people.
How do I know this? Well, thank you for asking. Read on…
At this point, I had known my friend (nicknamed “Yooner”) for 12 years, and had no idea she harbored a deep-rooted fear of insects approaching her. I mean, how often do two career-focused women share irrational fear of the threatening and unpredictable flight patterns of papilionidae? Well in my case, the answer was not until she was shrieking and running in circles. If traveling with a friend, it may be worth posing this question at least once before hopping a plane for Central America.
Not even five feet into the butterfly sanctuary the serene afternoon was sliced open by shrill screams. It sounded like the sound one would make after breaking a bone (or perhaps, stepping in some exotic poo). By the time I realized what was going on, my face gave my thoughts away. Even as she glared back at my bewildered amusement, her arms were up, waving frantically around her head and face. In short breaths she could spare from all her upper-body aerobics she said “I. Don’t. Like. Bugs.” As if that statement wasn’t clear enough, realizing there was no place to really “run” she yanked the hood of her sweatshirt over her head, pulling the strings together so only a very small portion of her face was exposed. It remained that way for the remainder of the day.
If you visit La Paz, know that “gardens” on which the sanctuary is located are not traditional flower beds. Instead they are natural Costa Rican vegetation (moss, grass, trees, etc.) for animals and birds. In an effort to emphasize eco-tourism, Costa Rica is very big on not disturbing natural habitats, letting them exist “as they are.” It’s beautiful and a fascinating contrast to our country’s approach. It seems to work well, and we left with a harmonious feeling.