La Paz Waterfall Gardens

blue morpho butterfly

We celebrated the inauguration of Costa Rica’s new president Carlos Alvarado (exiting times folks!) by taking advantage of the national holiday and heading to La Paz Waterfall Gardens for a day trip. It’s located near Po谩s volcano (currently closed due to recent emissions) which is about an hour north of San Jos茅’s airport. It’s a beautiful area with green rolling hills and lovely vistas as far as the eye can see. The gardens are part zoo, part rescue center along with typical Costa Rican culture exhibits and part of the exclusive Peace Lodge Hotel with prices starting at $300 per night. Fancy schmancy!

 

I admit I knew the place was a tourist destination and was skeptical of the $44 entrance fee per adult (non-residents) and $28 for kids (seriously!?!), but I’m happy to say that I was pleasantly surprised by how well done it was focusing on sustainability and natural settings, and I loved how you could actually walk through the aviary with toucans flying overhead and butterfly garden and see the butterflies coming out of their cocoons, and enter the ranarium and look for colorful native frogs in their own natural space, rather than trying to find them in their tiny cage behind the glass.

 

The snakes and jaguars were thankfully behind glass. 馃檪

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There are also a number of beautiful waterfalls that you can visit via a couple of very easy trails, a little cafe and lovely gift shop at the end of the trail, and a shuttle bus that will take you back up to the entrance…where there is another beautiful gift shop. We skipped the souvenirs and instead enjoyed the free Britt coffee and chocolate samples. Ha!

 

Good thing we skipped the shopping at the gardens, because we had to stop at this amazing gift shop on the way home! What a riot.

 

Of course, Oscar wasn’t going to lose yet another opportunity of leaving a gift shop empty-handed. What can we say? Nothing says PURA VIDA more than a wooden machete with a painted hummingbird.

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Now to check out that fancy Peace Lodge some day and visit the gardens when all the daytrippers are gone!

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Exploring Rinc贸n de la Vieja Volcano

Las Pailas trail and landscape view at Rinc贸n de la Vieja Volcano
Hiking in Rinc贸n de la Vieja National Park

Costa Rica has 5 active volcanos and over 60 inactive or extinct ones…all lined up almost in a perfect row where the Pacific and Caribbean tectonic plates meet. Arenal is probably by far the most well-known and picturesque volcano, but we decided to get off the beaten path while renewing our visas at the border with Nicaragua and check out Rinc贸n de la Vieja (‘the old lady’s corner or nook’), an active volcano with 9 craters!聽

It’s easily accessed from Liberia and there are different sectors which you can visit. Las Pailas is the most popular and offers a couple of fantastic hikes from the visitor’s center. A friendly ranger helped us choose the shorter 3k Sendero Las Pailas聽which took a good 2 hours (with little ones) and it was perfect for us. It started off extremely hot and desertlike so it was good that we headed downhill stopping at well-marked spots to see the Laguna fumarolica (fumarolic lake), bubbling water pots, boiling mud pots, a ‘volcancito’ and other smoking fumaroles along the trail.

It was really cool and the kids loved it. At about the halfway mark, we crossed a small river and entered a completely different ecosystem that was much greener, lusher and offered shade with tall forest (complete with blue morpho butterflies!) for which we were grateful as it was mostly an uphill hike from that point. Thank goodness for our snack pack to keep everyone going!

We were hoping to relax and enjoy a well-deserved soak in the Rio Negro Hot Springs after the hike but as it was already past 1pm (and well past someone’s nap time), we instead opted for a quick bite to eat and back to our AirBnB oasis for the late afternoon. 聽There are plenty of hot springs in the area and even an upscale spa (Simbiosis Spa), where you can relax with a mud bath and a massage. Both of 聽these, the hot springs and the spa, are part of the lovely Hotel Hacienda Guachipel铆n. Duly noted for next visit also. 馃檪

Las Pailas Ranger Station
Las Pailas Ranger Station

There is also a hike to a beautiful waterfall (Catarata La Cangreja) from Las Pailas Ranger Station where you can take a refreshing dip, but as it is about 5k each way and takes about 4 hours AND you have to start hiking before noon, we smartly decided we’d better save that for a day without the kids. The trail to the summit is currently closed due to the eruptions in 2012.聽The Santa Rosa sector also has a ranger station and over 12k of trails.

We only had a taste of this amazing volcano complex, but there is so much to do here. There are some great hotels in the area that offer hiking and horseback riding, not to mention the hot springs and spa possibilities. Hoping we can return soon!

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Our amazing AirBnB outdoor oasis – maybe better than the hot springs!

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase or book a hotel using one of the links, we receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Exploring Guanacaste: Liberia

Let’s be honest, not many people go to Costa Rica to hang out in Liberia, but it actually has an interesting history. It was once part of Nicaragua, has been nicknamed the “White City” for its historic whitewashed colonial homes and is capital of the province of Guanacaste, land of sabaneros (cowboys), beaches and volcanos. However, as it contains聽the country’s second international airport, it’s mostly known as a jumping off point to discover the other parts of the province, especially the beautiful beaches of the Nicoya peninsula (Playa Tamarindo, Playa del Coco, Playa Hermosa, etc.) less than an hour away.

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Granizado vendor in the main plaza of Liberia

But, let me tell you, it’s actually a pretty cool ‘real’ Tico town with few tourists and a bit of a Wild West flavor. We spent a couple nights in the area in order to visit Nicaragua and renew our visas, but also to explore Liberia and nearby Rinc贸n de la Vieja National Park, an active volcano (stay tuned for next post)!

There’s not a ton to do there, but it’s definitely worth a stop as there are some historic colonial homes from the 1800s along Calle Real, a lovely main plaza and a modern church (which wasn’t my cup of tea, architecturally speaking, but hey, to each their own).

My highlight was visiting la Ermita de la Agon铆a, Liberia’s oldest church built in the mid-19th century. It’s a beautiful colonial church constructed of adobe and wooden beams, and there was a wedding going on when we stopped by so we were able to take a peak inside.

Of course, we have to find a playground in every city to let off some steam and right next to la Agon铆a is a nice park with playground that we enjoyed multiple times. 馃檪 This one even had ariel acrobats practicing on their silk fabric which they had hung from the huge trees as well as jugglers. It was like a two for one deal…circus show + playground. Score!

Liberia also offers the Museo de Guanacaste,聽set in an imposing fortress like structure which was used as a jail currently undergoing a renovation, as well as the Museo del Sabanero (Cowboy Museum) which was unfortunately closed when we wanted to check it out.

As far as food goes, there is a sushirestaurant there. Yes SUSHI! It’s called Sushi To Go and we had to try out as we haven’t had sushi since we arrived. I know…the things we’ve sacrificed! Ha! Palmer and I tried to temper our enthusiasm and keep expectations in check (we even hauled out the iPad and iPhone for the kids…we weren’t going to let anything stop us from enjoying this meal), but we were pleasantly surprised how awesome it was. Good service and delicious sushi! So, if you’re ever in Liberia and need a sushi fix, check out Sushi To Go!

I’m sure Liberia will soon be on the tourist map as it has all the makings of a great destination – rich cultural history, pleasant main plaza and modern church along with the historic La Agon铆a and a couple of unique museums…oh, and don’t forget sushi! What more could one want?