A lot of people come to Costa Rica thinking it is a small country you can explore in just a couple weeks. It’s only 19,700 square miles (51,100 square km). That is about a third the size of the state of New York and about 20% of the size of the United Kingdom, just to give you an idea. However, that doesn’t mean Costa Rica acts at all like a small country.
Costa Rica has three different kinds of forest (tropical dry forest, rainforest, and cloud forest), two coasts (Pacific and Caribbean), mountains, islands, and valleys. You can find at least 12 distinct microclimates within the borders of Costa Rica. The point is, it’s impossible to visit the entirety of Costa Rica in one trip. Personally, I think it would be tough to visit each unique corner of Costa Rica in one year. There are just so many breathtaking views, fascinating animals, beautiful birds, and unique tropical flora to see in so short a time.
I always take my family and friends who are visiting Costa Rica for the first time to La Paz Waterfall Gardens because it provides a solid introduction to a lot of what you can see in Costa Rica. It had been a couple years since I visited so I was excited to go with a work partner who had never been before.
The journey to the park takes you through misty forests and steep hills between the Poas Volcano and Braulio Carrillo National Park. Here you will see one of our microclimates, the mountainous rainforest, where the temperatures are colder than the rest of the country and it rains a lot. Rain might sound like bad news to you, but that means it stays beautiful and green year-round.
At La Paz, you get an up-close introduction to some of our favorite bird species at the aviary, including two different kinds of quirky toucans, colorful parrots and macaws, and many different kinds of tanagers, among many others. Everyone enjoys strolling through the butterfly garden, especially when the naturalist guides encourage the butterflies to land on your nose or fingers! The frog garden gives you a face-to-face view of Costa Rica’s musical frogs while the serpentarium gives you a safe view of our snakes in their natural habitat exhibits.
One of the things I love about this place is how much you get to interact with Costa Rica’s nature. There’s a big difference between seeing pictures of monkeys on a tropical beach and having a treat snatched out of your hand by the dexterous tail of a monkey. Of course, it’s important to note that all of the animals at La Paz are rescued and taken care of in appropriate habitats. This isn’t a zoo.
For example, the big cats at La Paz, which is one of my favorite areas, were rescued from different private owners who had them as illegal pets. Now they live their days lounging in the sun like any other feline. Personally, I find it crazy that all of these cats are native to Costa Rica. Only a lucky few have actually seen a jaguar in the wild, but at La Paz Gardens, you can see them up close. They are simply spectacular.
However, the one thing you have to try, at least once in your life is feel a hummingbird land on your hand. There is nothing like it. I didn’t really know what was going to happen when I had the feeder in my hand and held it out like an offering. Then, the first hummingbird flew over and started checking out the feeder. It was a brilliant green color with curious eyes. Hesitantly, it zipped around my hand, analyzing everything about me, before darting in to take a drink.
As soon as it got close to my hand, I felt the power of its wings. It was incredible how powerful the wind of its flapping was, considering how tiny it is! Then the most magical thing ever happened. The little bird landed on my fingertips while its long, curly tongue flicked into the feeder. It was so lightweight I could barely feel its little feet gripping my hand. You just can’t imagine something so tiny and fragile, yet with such powerful wings until you feel it yourself. I hope you can experience these amazing little creatures close up someday.
That sensation of awe followed me the rest of the day, walking from waterfall to waterfall. It infected everything I saw. The water was breathtaking, the roar impressive. The green seemed brighter and the drizzle of rain less annoying.
I will never forget that sensation. I can only hope to take that awe and apply it to the rest of my life. That would be beautiful, wouldn’t it? To see the magic in everything.
There is so much magic to find in Costa Rica and I can only thank La Paz Waterfall Gardens for sharing a little bit with my friends and me.