Costa Rica is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Millions of people visit the country every year just to experience its rugged beauty, dynamic geology and vibrant culture. Few locations better exemplify all that Costa Rica has to offer than Rincon de la Vieja and its surrounding national park. With breathtaking natural beauty, a wide variety of activities for people of all ages and a close proximity to excellent accommodations, Rincon de la Vieja Volcano is well worth the visit for anyone exploring the wonders of Costa Rica.
Once upon a time, a young princess named Curabanda fell in love with a man named Mixcoac. Unfortunately for her – and for him – Mixcoac happened to be the leader of a rival tribe in the Guanacaste Province area of Costa Rica. When Curabanda’s father found out about his daughter’s star-crossed love, he captured Mixcoac and threw him into the gaping mouth of a nearby volcano. Curabanda, heartbroken and wracked by grief, spent the rest of her life as a recluse near the volcano’s smoldering crater. Over time, she became a great and powerful witch who was said to possess extraordinary healing powers.
That, at least, is the traditional story of how the Rincon de la Vieja volcano came to bear its unusual name. The name is often translated as “The Old Woman’s Corner” and sometimes shortened to “Hag’s Hideout,” recalling the tale of the grief-stricken princess and her mystical powers. Whether you choose to believe the legend or not, there’s no doubt that Rincon de la Vieja is a beautiful and dynamically active place. Eruptions are fairly common, including a series of eruptions and accompanying lahars in the first half of 2017. Fumaroles, hot springs and other geologic features also dot the slopes of the 6,286-foot volcano, serving as a constant reminder of its explosive potential.
Though the volcano itself is inarguably the star of the show, there’s also much more to see and explore in the region surrounding the great mountain. The volcano is part of Rincon de la Vieja Volcano National Park, which is located within the broader Guanacaste Conservation Area and the Area de Conservación Guanacaste World Heritage Site. As part of a large and highly active volcanic system, the park features a variety of fascinating geologic features. Large numbers of hot pools and springs can be found in several places along the volcano’s slopes, some of which are frequented by tourists and locals seeking to soak in them and enjoy the purported therapeutic benefits. Bubbling, acidic mud pools are a common sight as well. Fumaroles frequently belch sulfurous gases, geysers send boiling water shooting high into the air and steam vents expel gas and vapor. Indeed, some parts of the park bear a striking resemblance to the famous volcanic fields of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.
Of course, a wide network of hiking trails spiders through the park and winds along the flanks of the volcano itself. The trails leading to the peak of the volcano are intermittently closed due to volcanic activity, but there’s still plenty to see throughout the park. The hiking trails are often steep, but they are typically well-maintained and reasonably accessible for most people. The park features several distinct habitats. These include highly endangered tropical dry forest at lower elevations and dwarf cloud forest at higher elevations. The brilliantly-colored emerald toucanet, a number of rare and vibrant quetzals and over 300 other species of birds can be found throughout the area. Several species of monkeys, cougars, kinkajous, jaguars and other mammals also call the park home.
The region of northwestern Costa Rica that is home to Rincon de la Vieja and its parent park has a hotter and drier climate than you’ll find elsewhere in the country. High temperatures in the afternoon typically range from the middle 80s to the lower 90s, while the low temperatures overnight rarely fall below the middle 70s. The dry season runs from November to August, while the rainy season typically peaks during the months of September and October. Even during the rainy season, precipitation is often limited to occasional pop-up showers and thunderstorms during the heat of the afternoon. However, it’s important to note that you’re more likely to get wet if you plan to climb the volcano’s highest elevations. You should also pack sunblock and plan to use it liberally, as the low latitude and relatively high elevation of the area make solar radiation and sunburn a real threat at virtually any time of the year. Similarly, it’s a good idea to pack more water than you think you’ll need for your trip. The area is relatively remote and you probably won’t have an opportunity to buy refreshments during your excursion.
If you’re planning to embark on a trip to Rincon de la Vieja, you have several options for reaching your destination. The first choice is simply to drive yourself. The town of Liberia is the most common jumping-off point because of its proximity to the park, and it will also give you an opportunity to stock up on any supplies you may need for your adventure. From Liberia, reaching the park’s Las Pailas section requires just a short trip north on the Inter-American Highway. Take the well-marked turn and follow the road past the village of Curubande de Liberia until you see signs marking the park entrance. If you’re planning to drive yourself, however, it’s a good idea to rent a rugged vehicle that is suited for off-road travel. Like many of Costa Rica’s parks, the roads in the area are unpaved and can sometimes become difficult to traverse.
If you’d rather not take the wheel yourself, you can instead hire a taxi in Liberia to take you to the park. This option may be more costly, but it’ll allow you to sit back and enjoy the scenery. Alternatively, most of the lodges in the area offer services to assist you in arranging transportation to and from the park. This takes the stress out of planning your trip, but be sure to ask in advance to ensure that the lodge of your choice offers this service. Finally, a number of guided tours and excursions offer transportation as part of their service packages.
As one of the more unique parks in all of Costa Rica, Rincon de la Vieja has a little something to offer for everyone. You’ll find some of the best hiking in the region, though some of the trails near the volcano are steep and not suited to novices. If you intend to tackle any of the park’s more challenging trails, it may be best to hire a guide. In addition to hiking, the Rincon de la Vieja National Park is also a wonderful attraction for birders and anyone else hoping to catch a glimpse of Costa Rica’s rich wildlife. The hot springs are highly popular as well, and many visitors enjoy touring the variety of exciting geologic features found throughout the park area.
If you’re looking for something a bit more action-packed, you’ll also find a number of high-flying adventures in the area. Adventure tours incorporate zip lining through a tour of the lush forest canopy, horseback riding on trails that run all across the countryside, splashing through a waterslide adventure and so much more. These tours typically include a buffet lunch and transportation to and from your hotel or lodge, so they’re a great way to explore the area in a streamlined and stress-free way. There are also tubing trips on the nearby waterways, waterfall canyoneering expeditions and plenty of other ways to get your kicks. At the end of your day, you can even swing by one of the local spas for a relaxing treatment that uses the same nourishing volcanic mud found in the park’s bubbling mudpots!
Though Rincon de la Vieja isn’t among the most popular Costa Rican destinations, there are still plenty of places in the area to rest your weary head. You won’t find the lavish, all-inclusive resorts that are common in tourist areas, but places like the Blue River Resort & Hot Springs nonetheless deliver an outstanding, upscale experience. Blue River Resort clings to the north side of the mountain, offering on-site access to several of the volcano’s relaxing hot springs and tranquil waterfalls. The romantic setting and pampering treatment are ideal for honeymooners and traveling couples, but the site is also well-equipped to cater to solo travelers and large families alike.
Hacienda Guachipelin also delivers a fantastic experience for anyone planning to explore Rincon de la Vieja. It’s located just a short distance from the park entrance. Even better, it features an adventure tour company that is based right on the property. The hotel is actually a functional ranch, so you can expect a rustic, peaceful setting that comes complete with on-site animals. It’s a great choice for families and any other travelers looking for an adventure-packed time with basic, affordable accommodations. For a more upscale twist on the same theme, you’d also do well to check out Hotel Borinquen Mountain Resort. The resort offers tons of activities and on-site features, and you’ll also enjoy spacious lodgings and attractive amenities.
There’s always something to do in the beautiful country of Costa Rica, but if you’re planning a visit, a trip to Rincon de la Vieja certainly deserves to be on your list. The region’s dynamic geology, wide variety of outdoor activities and rich biodiversity combine to make it one of Costa Rica’s true overlooked gems. Depending on your timing, you may even be treated to a spectacular volcanic display!
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