La Paz Waterfall Gardens

The 15 passenger van is careening around curves and buses and school children and parked cars and hairpin turns. Oddly, we are careening UP the mountain. The roads are two lanes: no shoulder, no guard rails. We are traveling at maintained speeds of at least 40 miles per hour and only stop when we are impossibly blocked by other vehicles. The van is cool; the air conditioning is on full blast the entire two hour trip. This is a good thing, because I am getting a little nauseous and if it were warm in the bus there may have been an incident.

We are heading to La Paz Waterfall Gardens, just north of Alajuela in Central Costa Rica. Just a little day trip. My driver, Ray, is competent, even skilled, and the danger I sense is real, but no worse for us than any other vehicle on the road. Our guide, Arlin, and the other passengers, a mother and adult daughter from Mexico and a couple from Argentina, are relaxed and talking, seemingly unaware that the edge of the road drops directly into a deep ditch which would flip us over and send us hurling down the beautiful jungle mountainside should our driver miss the road by anything more than 12 inches.

My husband and I are in San Jose for a sketch workshop he is attending. So while he is walking the streets of San Jose, I am taking this tour alone. The traveling together is fun and good, but he loves to sketch and can spend hours doing so. I ultimately end up entertaining myself for several hours at a time or sometimes full days. Today is one of those days.

Recently I’ve been working intensely on my Spanish. I spoke Spanish fluently as a child because I was raised with a Spanish speaker in my home. But as I grew older I used it less and less and I’ve spent more time trying to get it back than it took me to lose it -many times over. Sometimes I can barely remember English words, lol, so remembering Spanish words can be a challenge. But fortunately I understand it better than I speak it. Since the entire tour group (besides me) were Spanish speakers, we got this tour in Spanish. All day, for ten hours, Spanish in the jungle. I had told our guide that if I missed anything I would ask questions and it worked out wonderfully.

Upon arrival at La Paz Waterfall Gardens, we were treated to a personal tour of the animal sanctuary. This is a beautiful place with photo ops galore. It’s like a small San Diego zoo… only the zoo is exactly where the animals would have originally been found. Lush and green, lovely walkways and enclosures, the nature park and animal sanctuary is a perfect place to spend a day.

After a buffet lunch of local cuisine and typical American fare, we headed toward the falls.

I was a little concerned about taking this trip because I don’t get around as well as I used to. Warnings abound on the tourist sites mentioning the level of difficulty. Not for the first time, I found the warnings to be overstated. In fact, all I had packed for our trip to Costa Rica were some heavy-soled flip flops and that’s what I wore. I was fine. My takeaway is wear whatever shoes are comfortable to you and you’re good to go.

There are a LOT of steps. These warnings of internet lore are true. The upside is most of them are downward. You start at the top, walk down, and a shuttle takes you back to the top of the park. It’s really not too hard and there are handrails the entire walk.

We didn’t experience any rain (yay!) but it is typical for it to rain at some point, so bring along a raincoat or poncho.

This is a perfect trip for people like me, who are not hikers and backpackers, to get out and experience the jungle in the mountains. Don’t let the internet tourist warnings about the difficulties put you off. I saw lots of people older than me and dozens of school children taking the walking in stride. Unless you’re in a wheelchair, you’ll be fine!

My warning to you is this: the ride up and down the mountain is the hardest part. If you are prone to carsickness, don’t stare at your phone or read, try to get a seat towards the front of your tour van or bus, and keep your eyes on the horizon! You will pass coffee plantations, strawberry fields, cow pastures, cute villages and school children walking along the road. As hard as the ride was, the ride was almost my favorite part. I highly recommend this tour.

¡Pura Vida! 🇨🇷