Thursday, May 26, 2011

Travel Thursday: A Day at the La Paz Waterfall Gardens in Costa Rica

view of the Doka Estate
I put out feelers yesterday to see what people were interested in reading about for this week's Travel Thursday.  The fab food I dined on while in LA and Boulder or a recap of one of my many adventures in Costa Rica?  There wasn't much response but what I got was a request for Costa Rican adventures. So here goes.

In the wee hours of Saturday May 7, the Frontier Airlines plane carried much of my family from Colorado (where my youngest brother had just graduated college the day before) into San Jose, Costa Rica. I scored a window seat and as I woke from my not so satisfying airplane nap I open the shade and peered out the window to see lush, green land, dotted with mountains and clouds below.  The flight attendant came over the loudspeaker, welcomed us to Costa Rica and educated us, or at least me on Costa Rica's motto, Pura Vida which means pure life.  From what I saw out the window to this idea of pure life and what I thought also meant living life purely and to the fullest, I had a feeling I was going to like this small Central American country.

growing coffee beans at the Doka Estate
We were picked up outside of customs, whisked to our local hotel in San Jose, the Doubletree Cariari, where we took a quick nap, showered & ate some breakfast before Oscar, our driver & tour guide for the day, picked us up.  Oscar greeted us warmly, was full of energy and ready to show us his country.  We headed out planning to see the Poas Volcano.  Unfortunately our trip coincided with the very beginning of the rainy season so it was pretty gloomy and the clouds were hanging quite low. Oscar cautioned us that we may or may not see the volcano because of the clouds.  On our way up to the park, we stopped for a cafe con leche by the road near the Doka coffee plantation.  We took some photos of the coffee plants and the gorgeous view and had the first of many cafe con leches on the trip.

hiking to see the volcano, or not?
no volcano?!
From there we hopped back in the car  for another 20 minutes or so and arrived at the Poas Volcano National Park.  It had just started raining and of course only two of the seven of us had rain coats, I was one of us without a raincoat.  It wasn't raining too bad so we braved and hiked the 15 minutes to try to catch a glimpse of the Volcano.  Alas, we had no such luck when we reached the sulfury smelling viewing point we were disappointed to see a mass of fog where the volcano is supposedly, the smell of sulfur was the only oindication that there was an active volcano behind the dense fog.  After a few minutes and some fun pics with one of giant leaves that were all over the place, we headed back to the car for another 40 minutes drive to the La Paz Waterfall Gardens and Nature Reserve.

the first of many Imperials on our trip
We pulled up at the gardens & reserve, paid our fees and headed to the cafeteria to eat lunch before exploring our surroundings.  The meal was buffet style, which isn't my fave but I wasn't expecting gourmet a tourist destination.  If you ever go to La Paz and get a bite to eat, skip the french fries and pizza and other American food that you'll find at the beginning of the line.  The real Costa Rican food is towards the end, warmed corn tortillas, salsa, gallo pinto (rice & beans), potatoes and chicken await you at the end of the line.  Fortified with some food and of course an Imperial (Costa Rica's answer to Coors Light, easy drinking and the perfect thirst quencher on a hot day) we headed off into the nature reserve.

DD the bird whisperer and the girls with their new buddies
Our first stop was the bird house, with bird-ophobe me (I know there's a proper word for it, but I like my take on it) being less than thrilled to enter this area, I sucked it up and went in.  I snapped some shots of the brids flying around the sanctuary, but drew the line at entering the Toucan area.  Everyone except my mom and I went in. Some of them even got the gentle birds to land on their arms and eat out of their hands.  Very cool, but far too much for me. And definitely too much for Mom, who yelled "No!" when they first tried to touch the birds.   

From the birds we moved onto the hummingbirds, butterflies, frogs, snakes, monkeys, orchids and various other mammals like sloths and other jungle cats before getting to the waterfall portion of the walking tour.  To see the waterfalls we had to hike up and down many flights of stairs, but the views made it so worth it.  The waterfalls were gorgeous, so much so that there was a wedding being set up at one of the viewing platforms.  After my actual wedding location, I'd have to say overlooking a tropical waterfall would be up there on my list if the Boy and I ever renew our vows.

amazing view for a wedding
After a short bus ride back to the main lodge, exhausted we hopped back in the van for another 45 minute drive that turned out to be quite eventful when we saw a cow with a rope around her neck wandering down the narrow and windy road.  Being animal lovers and since my father grew up around lots of farms, he decided to get out to tie the cow up so at the very least she couldn't wander more and it would hopefully be easier for her owner to find her if she was in one place. Unfortunately the cow was not on board with this plan and initially charged at Dad when he picked up her rope. Bear in mind this is all happening with us safely in the van and Oscar, also safely in the van, giving Dad instructions on what to do.  Lucky for all of us, no one got hurt, the cow was safely tied up and we left with a pretty great story of Dad rescuing a cow and DD, my sis' boyfriend, promising to do the same thing if at any point on  the trip we came across a goat.   Needless to say we all prayed to see a goat for the rest of the trip.

the cow safely tied back up

After the cow incident we continued on to Grecia a town with an historic church made entirely of metal. There was a wedding going on when we got there so we didn't get to look around too much and instead headed across the square for an ice cream cone, something I highly recommend since my Pina (pineapple) ice cream was pure perfection.

Red Metal Church in Grecia
After another 45 minute drive we were back at our hotel to crash from the long day of travelling overnight and trekking to the sights surrounding San Jose. 


Doubletree Cariari by Hilton is a nice hotel that's convenient to the airport with large rooms, a nice breakfast buffet and of course the trademark Doubletree Hot chocolate chip cookies

The Doka Estate offers tours, but if you have a full day planned like we did, stopping at a cafe on the side of the road is a great way to see the coffee growing and sample a cup.

Poas Volcano Park would have been great if the weather had cooperated or if we had wanted to take one of the longer hikes.  I'd suggest paying attention to the weather before making the drive up there unless you want to go for a longer hike regardless of if you see the volcano or not.

The La Paz Waterfall Gardens & Nature Reserve is very well done for an upscale type of zoo, it would be absolutely perfect for kids, but even as adults we enjoyed seeing so much of the wildlife, flora and fauna of Costa Rica all in one place.   It made a nice and easy first day on our 10 day trip. To really be immersed in it you could even stay at the Peace Lodge, the hotel that is right on the property.

Grecia - a small town with a lovely square and historic church. Could be nice for a picnic on a nice day.  Definitely stop for an ice cream directly across the square from the church. 

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