Lush and verdant, misty and rainy, greens of all shades imaginable, the resounding thunder of waterfalls, abundant flora and fauna; that's how one would describe the La Paz Waterfall Gardens in Vara Blanca (Costa Rica). This Waterfall Garden Park is a well-kept facility that was built to give easy access to 5 magical waterfalls in the dense rain forest areas. The easily marked trails run from the main visitor center to the last waterfall with an option of trekking back on a steep terrain or climbing aboard a shuttle for a quick hop back to the visitor center. The access to these areas are mostly self-guided with a detailed map from the visitor center and clearly-marked directions on the trails. For an additional fee, guided-tours are also available.
The trails run around a number of attractions before actually leading to the waterfalls. The trail, first leads to a bird cage that houses a number of tropical birds including the colorful Toucans that Central America is so famous for. Though it's a huge netted enclosure, the grounds are lush, the birds fly free all around the visitors and give a sense of being in the middle of a jungle. After passing the main bird cage, there is an option to continue walking on the trail to see butterflies, insects, monkeys and humming birds in their own separate enclosures. Fishing enthusiasts often seek an alternate trail that leads to a trout lake and a trout bar. The Butterfly observatory is a unique setup which allows the visitors to witness the complete life-cycle of a butterfly (from egg to caterpillar to butterfly). They have used it as a breeding ground for a large collection of colorful butterfly species. Another unique aspect of this observatory is that student internship programs are available to learn more about their growth and behavior.
The hungry visitors on the trail can relax and catch a quick bite in one of the restaurants in the path. Casita de la Paz is a mock-up of a traditional Central American house and living. A friendly Tico offers delicious warm sugar drink and freshly made tortillas to sample. A ride on the Ox-driven cart takes you to a trip down the past. There are more offerings in the form of Serpantarium, Orchid gardens and a frog exhibit along the way. Venomous and colorful snakes of Costa Rica can be found in Serpantarium exhibits. Many snakes camouflage really well in their surroundings. Often, help of an experience eye is needed to spot them. Like the Ranario frog pond of Monteverde, this frog exhibit has a huge collection of Central American frogs such as the poison dart frog, the red-eyed tree frog and the flying frogs.
After all the exploration of the fauna, its time to see the waterfalls. This portion of the trail inside the rain forests that lead to the different waterfalls (El Tempo, Magla Blanca, the twin falls of Encantada & Escondida and finally the La Paz) is the longest, the steepest and the most scenic too. The trail traverses through the dense jungles that give a real sense of being in an exotic rain forest as seen in popular Hollywood blockbusters. It's a real treat to the senses as the eyes feast on lushness beyond comprehension and the body soaks in freshness beyond conventional belief. The real beauty sets in when it's raining in the gardens. Numerous other small waterfalls suddenly come to life and all the plants and trees in the forest seem to sway to the wind in a rhythmic pattern. In short, mere words just cannot describe the magical experience.
The La Paz Waterfall Gardens is open every day of the year between the hours of 8 am and 5 pm. The last shuttle pick up is at 5 pm from the exit trail near the La Paz waterfalls. The entrance fee for an adult visitor is $32 (Child - $26) for the self-guided tour. Costa Rican influenced Lunch buffet is available at the Colibries restaurant near the visitor center.