Costa Rica’s Ojo de Agua Water Park is the Central Valley’s best kept secret

Michael Krumholtz | January 26, 2017
Ojo de Agua

BELÉN, Heredia — When I first heard about Ojo de Agua in Heredia, it was described as “Gringo-free waterfront relaxation” by a Latin culture magazine. After living in San José for three years and traveling throughout Costa Rica, I had never even known that this place existed, despite it being just 15 minutes from my apartment.

It’s like Ojo de Agua is the last secret kept from Gringos and international tourists who seemingly swarm every stretch of beach in Costa Rica.

The water park popular with locals is also one of the few public pools available in the Central Valley where residents can go to cool off in the summer heat.

Ojo de Agua
The lake for paddle boats. Michael Krumholtz/The Tico Times

Making Ojo de Agua’s low tourist profile even more remarkable is the fact that the water park has been open since 1937. So though most Gringos you talk to may not know what Ojo de Agua is, talk to a Tico and they’re likely to tell you a long story about how they used to visit the park “cuando eran chamacos” (when they were kids).

For a look at how the park used to be in the golden years, the 1940s technicolor travel footage from Metro Goldwin-Mayer has a really cool minute-long clip of Ticos in the original pool with the same waterfall that’s there today.

 

Multiple expansions and temporary closures since that grand opening 80 years ago have turned the park into a respectable and overall enjoyable place.

Unlike other pools in the area that are little more than hoses sticking out of concrete holes, Ojo de Agua has enough attractions to warrant spending an entire day there. With two huge pools, a small waterfall, a lake, basketball courts, football fields, and a restaurant, anyone can have a good time.

Ojo de Agua
Ojo de Agua's small, but popular, waterfall that pours mountain water. Michael Krumholtz/The Tico Times

The water park is also surprisingly clean. Natural spring water from the mountains near Barva, Heredia shoots out at a rate of 5,000 gallons per minute from the Ojo (“Eye”) above the waterfall. Though the water is super cold, it provides a refreshing break from the hotter Central Valley days.

ojo de agua
El Ojo de Agua (or "Eye of the water") that sources water into the park's waterfall and pools. Michael Krumholtz/The Tico Times

An Olympic-sized pool that gets as deep as four meters (13 feet) at the entrance is adjacent to smaller baby pools and has two high platforms for diving.

On the far end of the park, past the restaurant and game room, is an even larger pool. Again, the water is frigid throughout the park, so it would normally be best to go on particularly hot days.

Ojo de Agua
The main pools upon entering Ojo de Agua. Michael Krumholtz/The Tico Times

On our recent trip, my girlfriend and I spent hours swimming and lying by the pool on a sunny afternoon. We had long been searching San José for a pool and finally found a good, cheap option (tickets are just 1,500 colones) with Ojo de Agua.

After taking out the paddle boats for a ride through the lake, we ate arroz con pollo at the restaurant and shared a few drinks. Even the beers and food are relatively cheap, whereas most other places requiring an entrance fee usually jack up prices once they get you inside their gates.

Ojo de Agua
Jesus welcomes all his children to Ojo de Agua. Michael Krumholtz/The Tico Times

At one point we looked around the larger of the pools and laughed as we, two foreigners, realized we were probably the only non-Ticos inside the entire park. In a country full of international tourists, this really may be Costa Rica’s last hidden destination.

IF YOU GO

Cost: 1,500 colones ($3) per person. Storage lockers and paddle boats available for rent at 1,000 colones each.
What to bring: Towels, sunscreen, football, basketball, etc. Outside food and drink is not permitted in the park.
How to get there: Ojo de Agua is located just a few hundred meters south of Juan Santamaría Airport in San Antonio de Belén and can be accessed off the General Cañas Highway.

16 Comments »

  1. The Ojo de Agua is is in Belen, Heredia.
    https://wego.here.com/?map=9.98591,-84.19534,14,normal&fb_locale=en_US

    Comment by Tom Rosenberger — January 26, 2017 @ 8:03 am

  2. Thanks, Tom. Story now corrected.

    Comment by Karl Kahler — January 26, 2017 @ 9:46 am

  3. As a Peace Corps trainee in 1974, our training center grounds bordered Ojo de Agua. So at least one little group of gringos has known about the water park for a long time!

    (How is this spam?)

    Comment by D.W. Jefferson — January 26, 2017 @ 10:23 am

  4. Normally, I like finding out about what’s available here in Costa Rica, however I think that there was a good reason that this pool was kept a secret from Gringos. Gringos come in prices go up and often the “real” Costa Rica is then lost or changed. And the place will then become over crowded. Let the ticos have some of their own special places!

    Comment by Linda — January 27, 2017 @ 8:33 am

  5. When I was a Peace Corps trainee in 1974, our training center bordered Ojo de Agua. We used to enter through a hole in the fence to swim there! We always paid though, it was very inexpensive. So I guess a few gringos have known about this water park for a long time.

    Comment by D.W. Jefferson — January 27, 2017 @ 8:55 am

  6. I wonder if Linda doesn’t have a valid point.

    Comment by Jeanne-Catherine Ellis Z — January 30, 2017 @ 4:37 am

  7. This “Gringette ” knew about this fun place when I moved here 26 years ago..Fun for kids but the freezing water was too much for me but I do agree that Gringos would just, as in Escazu (The Zoo ) and Santa Ana drive the prices UP…so let’s leave it for the Ticos eh?

    Comment by Debbie King — February 1, 2017 @ 8:32 am

  8. Interesting article, thank you.
    I was told, years ago, that the Ojo de Agua complex was a gift to the citizens of San Jose from the citizens of Puntarenas, to whom most of the water was piped gratis. I wonder if that is correct?
    MR

    Comment by Mark Rhys — February 2, 2017 @ 9:09 am

  9. How the prices have worked more fairly for Tico’s has been the use of their cédula to get a different admitting fee, while us gringos will pay double or more. The wildlife refuge in Alajuela is a good example.

    Comment by Lawrence Berkshire — February 2, 2017 @ 2:29 pm

  10. As a “Norte Americano” who has been visiting Costa Rica for the last four years I must take objection to the casual use of the derogatory term “gringo”. This is a racist word with negative connotations towards a large group of people. Unlike the descriptive word “tico”, which Costa Ricans have chosen to call themselves, people from the US have no such friendly attachment to the word “gringo”. It is a word used to debase us and our culture.
    While I sympathize with your weariness of the tourist influx to your beautiful country, especially in the “high season”, as you call it, name-calling only legitimizes negative stereotypes. If we must judge other people, let us do it on an individual basis inferred from individual actions and/or merits.
    Continued negative attitudes towards me and my family by Costa Ricans will only serve to cause me to re-evaluate where I choose to spend my vacations. Panama is looking better all the time.

    Comment by Gary Pahl — February 5, 2017 @ 6:49 am

  11. The word “gringo” is not racist at all. It is a word invented by the Mexicans during the Mexican-American War and actually means “green go”. It was used by the Mexicans to tell the Americans that they should leave their country which then included Texas, California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Montana, and Colorado. Have I left out any state? In other words, the Costa Rican use of “gringo” is probably justified as Costa Rica has become the unofficial 51st state of the United States.Please have some sensitivity to the nationalist feelings of the Ticos as they are seeing their country being taken over by Gringos, Cubans, Dominicans, Nicaraguans, Europeans and Russians, etc..

    Comment by William Windsor — February 6, 2017 @ 11:57 am

  12. In my earlier email today I forgot to indicate that the green in “green go” refers to the green color of the military uniforms worn by the American soldiers confronting the Mexican military forces.

    I would also mention to Mr. Gary Pahl that we “gringos” are true experts at inventing racist and insulting names for minorities and racial groups. For example, we call the Chinese “chinks”, the Italians “WOPS”, the Spanish and Latinos “spicks”, the Jews “hebes”,
    the Irish “miks”, the Germans “krauts” and let us not forget the Blacks that we have annointed with “nigger”. Mr. Pahl should get off his hypocritical high horse or simply move to Panama where he will also hear the term “gringo”. Thank you, W. Windsor

    Comment by William Windsor — February 6, 2017 @ 2:06 pm

  13. I have returned to add to my earlier comments concerning the use of the term “gringo” by Ticos. I have been visiting Costa Rica myself since 1983 and I actually lived in San Isidro de Heredia for 3 years and I pray that I may someday return to this blessed country to retire. That said, I have heard Ticos and Americans use the “gringo” term countless times over the years and I have never been offended by same. I must contradict Mr. Pahl when he states that “people from the US have no such friendly attachment to the word “gringo”.It is a word
    used to debase us and our culture.” I cannot agree with this conclusion. Please allow me to explain. First of all, as an “old gringo” I can honestly say that many old timers in Costa Rica often use “gringo” when referring to a fellow American or Norte Americano. This is done without any particular objective or malice.
    My good friend Frank Harvey and I would often greet each other with words such as “Hey gringo how’s it going?” What is the big deal here? Talk to any of the “old gringos” in Costa Rica and I believe that they will not find any real offense in this word.

    Only one time did I feel that a Tico called me a “gringo” in an insulting fashion and that involved a Police incident in Barrio Amon in 2002. The police officer called me “Senor gringo” and when I stood up to him he corrected himself and called me “Senor Norte Americano”.

    Mr. Pahl and other recent visitors and residents from the USA should humble themselves and fully realize that Costa Rica is not our country and the Ticos both love us and hate us. Let us be honest and confess that we have brought both good things and evil things to Costa Rica.

    Comment by William Windsor — February 6, 2017 @ 11:45 pm

  14. Wow, Mr. William Windsor, who’s on a high horse? I was taking issue mainly with the Tico Times stereotyping North Americans in print, thereby helping to perpetuate the word gringo’s common usage. I stand by my assertion that the term is mainly derogatory. Incidentally, your claims about the origin of the term is incorrect. This from visualthesaurus.com:
    The etymology of gringo from Griego meaning “Greek” had already circulated in Spanish-language dictionaries for a century, well before the Mexican-American War. In a 1787 dictionary, El Diccionario Castellano, Esteban de Terreros explained: “Foreigners in Malaga are called gringos, who have particular kinds of accent that deprive them from easy and natural Castilian speech, and in Madrid the name is given especially to the Irish for the same reason.” (Irish soldiers joined the Spanish army in the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries, so Spaniards would have been familiar with their “gibberish.”)
    I might add, just because a bunch of old expats enjoy calling themselves gringos doesn’t make it fine and dandy. I have heard plenty of black people call each other “nigger” but I doubt if any of them would support the return of the common usage of that word by the population at large.
    Incidentally, I have no plans to move to either Costa Rica OR Panama…just visiting.
    Respectfully, G. Pahl

    Comment by Gary Pahl — February 7, 2017 @ 11:55 am

  15. Amazing that a description of a lovely water park degenerated into an invective of name calling. Perhaps your discussion, if you wish to continue it, should be taken elsewhere – maybe a web site on Tweets in the Night and Executive orders.

    Comment by Barbara Steenstrup — February 8, 2017 @ 9:52 pm

  16. Back in 1965, at nine years old, rode horses to park. Was happily surprised to know it’s still there. Family lived just outside of San Jose for 3 years. My horse was white, named Gringo.
    Wonderful childhood memory.

    Comment by Tracey Davis — February 17, 2017 @ 6:28 am

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