Rincon de la Vieja National Park
When driving through Guanacaste province, a mountain looms up from the plains to the east, its 1,900 meter height often capped by clouds. On clear days, a dull gray color is visible on its conical peak. This gray color is ash coughed up by the active, smoking crater of Rincon de la Vieja Volcano. One of the most visited of Costa Ricas National Parks, Rincon de la Vieja offers the chance to hike up through old growth forest to the steaming crater of an active volcano. Other trails access bubbling mud pits, steam vents, waterfalls and beautiful views of the Guanacaste plains stretching all the way out to the Pacific Ocean.
Location and how to get there
Rincon de la Vieja dominates the skyline of northwestern Costa Rica. From Liberia, the largest city in Guanacaste, it takes about an hour to drive up the dirt road to either of two park entrances. A 4WD is recommended at any time of the year and is necessary during the wet season (May to December). The entrance to the road for the Las Pailas Sector of Rincon de La Vieja is on the east side of the highway 5 minutes north of Liberia and is signed. On the way up, you will pass through a private section of road where a toll is charged. The Santa Maria Sector can be reached by following signs from the south side of Liberia.
The 14,000 hectare Rincon de la Vieja National Park protects several types of habitats. Just outside the park on the Pacific Slope are windswept savannahs, grasslands and tropical dry forest. This drier habitat makes a transition to moist forest at the park entrance and grades into cloud forest near the top of the volcano. The perennially wet Caribbean slope of the volcano is cloaked in rain forest. The combination of distinct forest types gives Rincon a very high degree of biodiversity with related species replacing each other in different habitats. For example, Banded Wren occurs in the drier areas, Rufous and White Wren in the moist forest, and Bay Wren in rain forest. Rincon de la Vieja is big enough to support large, rare animals such as Jaguar, Puma, Tapir, Great Curassow and King Vulture. Floristically, the park is also very diverse with orchids being especially prevalent. One orchid species fairly common at Rincon is the Guaria Morada; Costa Ricas national flower.
Hiking in Rincon de La Vieja National Park
Rincon is a great place for hiking; several trails access different areas of the park. A trail from the Santa Maria Sector connects to the Las Pailas Sector and the main trail to the 9 craters on the summit. Although the trail is well marked, once it exits the forest at the higher elevations, clouds may obscure the rocks used to mark the trail. For this reason, a guide is a good idea if hiking to the summit. Other trails from Las Pailas lead to a series of beautiful waterfalls, bubbling mud pits and hot springs. Although it’s never a good idea to leave the trail when hiking through wild areas, it could actually be fatal at Rincon de la Vieja; some areas near the trail have boiling water and mud just beneath a thin crust that you could easily step through.
Camping is possible within the park (watch your food with the extremely bold Coatis), a few eco-lodges are found along the road leading to Las Pailas, and a good variety are found in and around Liberia.