La Paz Waterfall Gardens

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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!

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 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.

Weekending: Playa Bejuco

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We just discovered a new little slice of heaven after a fun-filled weekend and thought we should share. Playa Bejuco is located on the Central Pacific Coast about 2 hours from San Jos茅 or 1.5 hours from Atenas (if traffic is moving – we hit a major accident and it took us much longer than expected) and halfway in between the major tourist areas of Jac贸 Beach and Manuel Antonio National Park. We didn’t know anything about it beforehand, but we found a place on AirBnB that looked great and was located right near the beach so we thought we’d give it a try.

And wow, we were blown away by how awesome it was – away from the big touristy beach areas, it offers an almost deserted wide and long sandy beach that is great for boogie boarding (though you still have to be careful of dangerous rip currents), shelling, making sand castles and gorgeous sunsets.

We did see a few surfers as well, but it seems that the beaches north of there are better for surfing. We joined the Ticos and pulled our car right up to the beach under the palm trees and based ourselves there for the better part of the morning. No need to lug a cooler and food, towels, sunscreen and toys a mile down the boardwalk! There are a couple small hotels, but virtually no other services except for the occasional ‘pipa fria’ (cold coconut water) or ‘granizado’ (snow cone) vendor, unless you head out to the main road, Route 34, so we brought our snacks and bevies with us. Exiting onto Route 34, there’s a little shopping complex called Esterillos Town Center which along with a grocery store and a few Tico restaurants also offers a pizza place and a middle eastern restaurant that also has live music on certain days.

We also checked out the tiny town of Esterillos Oeste also located on a beautiful beach just a few miles north of Bejuco and discovered a quaint laid-back Tico town complete with a few nice-looking outdoor restaurants, surf shops, grocery store, a few lodging options, church and soccer field. What else do you need?!

We can’t wait to go back and explore this area a bit more. Perhaps we’ll enjoy some horseback riding on the beach, a surf lesson and a day trip down to Manuel Antonio.

Pura Vida!

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