Visitors gaze at a tumbling waterfall from an observation platform.

La Paz Waterfall Gardens include the world’s largest butterfly enclosure, an aviary, snake and frog exhibits, hiking trails, and spectacular waterfalls. Photo © Christopher P. Baker.

Splendid nature and wildlife park La Paz Waterfall Gardens (tel. 506/2482-2720, 8am-5pm daily, adults $38, children $22) is at Montaña Azul, about four kilometers (2.5 miles) north of Vara Blanca. It features trails through a soaring hangar-size aviary with a separate climate-controlled butterfly cage. There’s also a hummingbird garden, a serpentarium (snakes), a walk-through ranarium (frogs), a monkey exhibit, plus a trout lake and orchid houses.

It features trails through a soaring hangar-size aviary with a separate climate-controlled butterfly cage.A highlight is the vast walk-in aviary, with everything from macaws and toucans to guans (don’t wear earrings, which the macaws like to swoop down and seize). The Jungle Cat Exhibit is worth the price of admission alone and offers a rare chance to see ocelots, margays, jaguarundis, pumas, and even a jaguar. All have been placed here by the Ministry of the Environment (MINAE) because they were old or injured or had been exposed to humans too long to be released back into the wild.

The various exhibits are accessed by riverside concrete trails that eventually lead steeply downhill to four waterfalls. Standing on the viewing platform at the Templo Fall, you’re pummeled by spray blasted from the base of the fall. Continuing downriver, a metal staircase that clings to the side of the cliff descends to the Magía Blanca (the largest cascade), Encantada, and the La Paz falls—a pencil-thin roadside fall that attracts Ticos en masse on weekends. It’s a daunting climb back, but shuttles back to the hotel are offered from the roadside trail exit. The Casita de la Paz recreates a traditional farmhouse. The restaurant has a superb buffet plus marvelous views. Bird-watching tours are offered.

Last admission is 3pm. The entrance fee includes a huge buffet lunch. Guided tours are offered by reservation only, including the Behind-the-Scenes Animal Encounters Tour ($45) and guided tours that include transportation from and back to San José (adults $65, children $55).

Excerpted from the Tenth Edition of Moon Costa Rica.