Ojo de Agua, Costa Rica’s famous water park, is open again.With a natural spring spilling out 359 liters of water a second – more than 5,000 gallons a minute, enough to constantly fill four pools and a lake and provide a green oasis for outdoor recreation – the park is more than 60 years old. It closed last April for much needed repairs and reopened the day after Christmas.
Ojo de Agua is in San Antonio de Belén, about 20 kilometers from the Central Valley cities of San José,Heredia and Alajuela.With a lake and ample areas for walking, sitting or playing a strenuous game of fútbol or tennis, it promises to be a safe and decent place for families, cautious older adults, spunky teens, rambunctious kids and tourists seeking a totally Tico experience.
There’s nothing like cool, clear water to refresh body and mind, or a day in the countryside for de-stressing. And Ojo de Agua is close enough for Central Valley residents to avoid a long trip home with an empty picnic basket, wet towels and worn-out kids.
Nine lifeguards with first aid and paramedic training watch over the swim areas and are prepared for any emergency.Maintenance personnel keep the area clean and safe.
Regulations prohibit hard liquor, knives, fires and skimpy swimsuits. Picnic fare is fine, but should be pre-cut and -cooked. A restaurant, ice cream shop and snack bars provide food and beverages including beer, so you need not come too loaded down.
It is the water that attracts visitors – as many as 9,000 on weekends – and the constant flow means a complete change of pure water 12 times a day in each of the four pools, so no chemicals are needed.
The Olympic-size pool, 33 meters long and nine deep under the diving tower, is fine for early morning laps, dives and dips before going to work or before the crowds come in.
A smaller, round pool is deep enough for learning to swim, floating around on rubber dolphins and sharks, or batting around water balls.
A larger pool on the lower level has a waterfall at one end that gives a good massage and spews out a hefty current for swimming against the tide – perfect exercise.
The shallow end, separated by a barrier and a bridge, is for kids, with a seating area for parental vigilance. There’s also a real small pool for real small kids. An upper-level area is all sand, just like a beach, for little folks to dig in with shovels and big folks with toes.
Ojo de Agua means “eye of water” but also refers to a spring, and the spot where the water thunders out of the ground is fixed up to suggest an eye. Some visitors bring containers to take water home. Ojo de Agua is government-owned and administered by the Pacific Port Authority (INCOP) but is concessioned to Consorcio Nemo, headed by José Pablo Chávez, who has added attractions such as kayaks and the mini beach.
Ticos began coming to the spring and river to bathe and behold the beauty of the countryside long before it became a park. In 1934 the first pools on the upper level were constructed, and in 1937, under President Ricardo Jiménez, the area became a national recreational park that drew people from all over the metropolitan area, many arriving by oxcart to enjoy a swim and a day outdoors.
Because the abundance of water is piped all the way to the Pacific ports of Puntarenas and Caldera, the park was placed under the administration of INCOP.
However, in later years the park faced difficult times. Low on a list of priorities for INCOP and with limited funds, the park was neglected, and with a wider array of entertainment for the public, Ojo de Agua lost its popularity, although early mornings still saw a slew of sport addicts swimming laps or doing water therapy in the pools, running around the lake or working out on the soccer field. With years of grime and corrosion affecting the park, it was forced to close last April for serious repairs and cleanup.
The park opened again Dec. 26 and immediately made a splash with summer crowds who came to enjoy new and old attractions. Parents who came when they were kids now bring their children. Older adults come for water exercises. Teens come to meet more teens. There’s fun for everyone.
The park, however, still has a few lapses. Broken sidewalks around the lake are hazardous for runners and people with disabilities, and dressing rooms should have attendants in case of needs. The parking area will be repaved someday, and they need a better system for checking clothes and gear.Where do you put a locker key while you swim? Or run? Or play soccer?
The park opens at 6 a.m. for before-work workouts and closes at 4 p.m. Entrance is ¢600 ($1.20) or ¢300 ($0.60) for older adults with identification or a gold card, and free for children under 6. Parking costs ¢500 ($1). Storage lockers are available for ¢1,000 ($2) plus a ¢1,000 deposit. The park’s phone number is 2441-0655.
Buses every half hour from San José,Heredia and Alajuela bring the park within easy reach; they leave San José from behind La Merced Church, Heredia from Los AngelesPark and Alajuela from the bus station. By car, it’s a short drive along theGeneral Cañas Highway
to the Firestone turnoff, then following the road south to the park.