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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.