Not Puerto Viejo: Our Day at La Paz Waterfall Gardens

This post is long, but there are more photos than words. That is blatantly false.

If you must skim, at least read the section on Frogs. It was the best.

Last time, I left off telling you that we were running out of money and couldn't stay in Manuel Antonio even though we really wanted to.

The original plan was to drive across the country and spend three days frolicking in the Caribbean sea and visiting rescue centers. But I guess the universe had something else in mind. We decided not to fight it to avoid getting lost and stranded in the middle of Costa Rica and settled on exploring the area around San Jose. My navigational track record made that decision lots easier.

Now here's where we got lucky. Andrea and I have a family friend (really she's my mom's friend) who lives in Costa Rica, not too far from the airport. She's a very generous and welcoming person in general, but it still meant a lot that she let us crash at her place for the last three days.

Our first day adventure was to La Paz Waterfall Gardens. I found this place by using the "Nearby" feature on the TripAdvisor app. We were on an animal-viewing high and weren't ready to come down from it, so we decided to endure the $38 admission fee for the hope of seeing a sloth. LPWG is a private ecological tourist attraction. It's filled with hiking trails, five fab waterfalls and a large amount of animal exhibits. I hesitate to call it a private zoo because that has a weird connotation to me, but in essence, that's what it is.


The birds were the first stop on our hike, which I can hardly justify calling a hike since it's basically a walk along a paved path. But it is a long walk, so maybe that makes it a hike. Anyway, we walked through a hanging plastic chain barrier to be welcomed by some handlers hanging out with toucans! I'd never seen a toucan up close and personal before, and although I'm a fan of birds of prey, I'd always had a general aversion to getting close to other birds.

But this. This was different. This was awesome.

The handlers placed a toucan on Andrea's arm and I snapped photos like a crazy person. Andrea had no poker face about this whatsoever. She was beyond excited and it showed.

Next thing I knew, it was my turn. They placed the toucan on my arm and I was instantly overcome with respect for the gorgeous bird I was looking at.

See that blue band around my wrist? That's not a bracelet, that's the toucan's foot. It was the feature that stuck out to me the most. Yes, the bird's beak is insanely cool, but blue feet? That was not at all what I was expecting.

We moseyed past the parrots and the rest of the aviaries before arriving at the scariest place on property: the butterfly garden.


Believe it or not, my sister and I are terrified of butterflies and moths. I can't speak for my sister, but my fear dates back 15 years. I was 10, walking with my mom to pick up the mail from our apartment's mailbox one night. There was a bright yellow light bulb shining, so of course there were moths around it. They were flying around us when one of them decided to try and perch on my mouth. It got right up on my lips and flapped about for what felt like 10 minutes but I'm certain was 2 seconds. And I just remember tightening my lips fearing that this thing would try to crawl into my mouth.

It was really horrifying.

There were a couple of times where we made a break for it out of sheer panic, staring strangers be damned!

Ok, no joke, as I was writing that last sentence I thought, I would rather free dive with sharks than have a butterfly land on me, out loud to myself.


The reward for not screaming our heads off in the butterfly sanctuary was monkeys. I have to admit that having seen monkeys in the wild a few days earlier made seeing these rescues a little less exciting, but I snapped photos regardless.


Hint: there are no hummingbirds in this photo.

Here's where I start making no sense. I am scared to death of butterflies, but I have no qualms with hummingbirds. I love those zippy little birds that have wings that beat anywhere from 50 to 200 times a SECOND. Seriously, how could you not like hummingbirds?

I'm sure someone out there is wondering the same thing about butterflies.

I caught some pretty cool shots of the hummingbirds. I paid special attention to the ones that looked like Flick from Pocahontas.

jungle cats

Next up were the cats. This was the highlight of our visit to LPWG for both of us. We've loved big cats since childhood so we were both really excited to see them. True to form, most of the cats were lounging around.

We oohed and aahed at the pumas, the margay and the ocelots but were stopped dead in our tracks at the sight of the majestic jaguar. We were instantly mesmerized by the way this animal walked. Seriously, I can't even pretend to make this moment less nerdy than it was. We stared at the jaguar long enough for a group to catch up to us, snap photos, jaguar watch for a bit, and move on.

I couldn't get over how freaking beautiful its coat was. It was perfect. And seeing the way its muscles moved when it walked was beyond amazing. I was overcome with this feeling of utter respect for this animal. Andrea and I knew that if some Harry Potter magic caused the glass to disappear, we'd be perfectly safe. Call it hippie nonsense or tree-hugging mumbo jumbo, but we knew.


We eventually pried ourselves away from the jaguar (some rain helped) to explore the casita tipica or traditional home that LPWG has on property. We got to pet some oxen that were hooked up to an old traditional ox cart and walked around a replica farmhouse built by hand with tools from the early 20th century. The website advertises traditional food tastings and some other interactive experiences, but I'm not sure what the scheduling for those is. We didn't catch all the casita has to offer, but it was still really neat to walk through.


Next up was the frog exhibit. This might be tied for best experience of the day. We walked in to this large, humid room filled with all kinds of plants...and frogs! That's right, the frogs were roaming free through the room. Most of the frogs in the exhibit were nocturnal, so they weren't really moving around too much. There we were, minding our own business, trying to catch a frog sighting, when the frog guide came up to us and started pointing out where we could find certain frogs.

The guy-de (see what I did there?) took a liking to us and started telling us how to tell the difference between the male and female frogs. I'll let you in on it: the female tree frogs are larger than the males.

FYI: this is a female.

We walked us around the room pointing out frog species (in their Latin names, of course) and giving us fin facts about each. For example, these tiny frogs' skin would burn if we touched them because their skin is so thin and incredibly susceptible to changes in temperature. One touch from us and the poor frog's body would overheat.

I had a weird existential moment where the delicateness of life was plainly apparent.

These frogs are nicknamed "Blue Jeans" because of their blue legs.

Next thing I know, the guide is asking us if we're interested in seeing some of the frogs up close and personal. Andrea and I looked at each other and decided that yeah, even though we aren't frog people, we'd like to take a closer look at some.

The guy then leads us through a locked door into what is essentially a frog rehab office. He explains to us that this is where they keep the frogs that have been injured in some way as well as the where they monitor the tadpoles as they go through their transformation into frogs.

Let me be clear that Andrea is beaming the whole time. I, on the other hand, am split between identifying where the sharp objects are to use as makeshift weapons, if necessary (obvi) and allowing myself to enjoy this unbelievably cool moment in my life.

The guy lures out a red eyed tree frog from a glass enclosure and shows us her injury, a scratch on her eye. He lets us take as many photos of her as we want, always careful to show her good side to the camera. He then places her on Andrea's face and lets the frog kind of crawl around for a bit.

Then it was my turn. I never thought of myself as afraid of frogs. I mean, I never picked any up as a kid or sought out frogs in streams, but I also didn't think I was afraid of them. But in this frog rehab about to have a tree frog walk on my face, I have to tell you I was nervous. I thought she'd be sticky or that she'd leave slime on my face, or that my makeup would seep into her skin and make her sick. But I pushed down the fear and let the guide hold the frog up to my face.

I felt her soft, cold feet on my cheek and all my fears disappeared. And for that small moment I let my guard down and just soaked in the fact that I was lucky enough to be picked by this guy, who could have picked anyone, to come behind the scenes to have a red eyed tree frog walk on my face.

We got to see a golden tree frog who had a scratch on its nose, plus the tiniest frog I've ever seen ever. There was a whole exchange over the name of this frog, which if I remember correctly is gria in Spanish. Grio is the word for cricket in Spanish, and there was a minute of major confusion in where I thought he was trying to be funny by telling me he wasn't holding a cricket (male) because the truth was he was about to open up his hand to reveal a cricket (female)...which in hindsight doesn't make sense because how would he know the difference between the two?

In the end, he turned out to be a nice guy who really loves frogs and his job, not a murderer...and he left us with some amazing memories.


Last to come was the waterfall hike. We stopped to enjoy the marvelous views at each of the five waterfalls and even went off the paved path for a little bit!

Equally as awesome as the views was the sound of all that water careening past us.

The hike wasn't too strenuous. We were interested in climbing down to each viewing platform which meant we definitely had to endure some uphill walking. The good news is LPWG has done a good job of paving their path and providing railings to hold on to throughout the hike.

The hike ends on the opposite side of the grounds, but LPWG has its stuff together and sends shuttles to pick up visitors to take them back to the main entrance.

We ended our wonderful visit to La Paz Waterfall Gardens by sitting in the lobby mooching the wifi like the millennial tourists we are. I seriously recommend this place just on the waterfall hike alone.

♥ A