This polished storybook garden complex just east of Volcán Poás offers the most easily digestible cultural experience in the Central Valley and is the largest animal sanctuary in Costa Rica. Set aside at least two hours to experience the gardens, but you could easily spend an entire day exploring the natural wonders on offer. Guided tours are available to book and there are several bars and restaurants available on site for when you've grown tired of feeding the birds and want to indulge yourself.
What can you see there?
Guests walk 2 miles (3.5km) of well-maintained trails to five jaw-droppingly scenic waterfalls, and can also wander around zoo-like displays including a butterfly conservatory, get up close to hummingbirds and hand-feed toucans. Tour a serpentarium and ranarium (frog garden), witness wild cats eating meals, and explore the lush rainforest populated by monkeys and sloths.
Can you stay at the gardens?
Feel like you've stepped into a fairy tale at this over-the-top lodge, with its exquisite villas boasting majestic valley views, fireplaces, private decks with Jacuzzis, and huge bathrooms with waterfall showers. Guests get free access to the gardens. This highly imaginative setting, with its multiple pools and interactive animal experiences (toucan and hummingbird feeding), will have kids over the moon; it's an ideal spot for families. Disappointingly, breakfast is not included in the pricey room rate (add an extra $20/12 for adult/child).
La Paz Waterfall Gardens is 45 minutes from San Jose airport and is perfectly located for a day trip from San Jose if you're basing yourself there. It's nestled between two national parks – Parque Nacional Volcán Poás and Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo – that provide no end of wildlife and photo opportunities if you'd prefer to extend your stay in the area.