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Guide to Hiking in Rincón de la Vieja National Park

May 17, 2021

In northwestern Costa Rica is the beautiful Guanacaste province, most often talked about for its white-sand, pristine beaches.

However, within this popular province is Rincón de la Vieja National Park, a hiker’s and nature lover’s paradise. If you are flying into the Liberia International Airport, your drive to this biodiverse national park is less than an hour and a necessary adventure.

Where is Rincón De La Vieja?

It is located along the Cordillera de Guanacaste featuring two volcanoes, Rincón De La Vieja volcano and the Santa Maria volcano. This national park lies within a mountain range separating the Pacific side and the Caribbean, which each have their own unique weather.

This provides diversity in the flora and fauna, creating an unforgettable experience of natural mineral hot springs, waterfalls and of course Costa Rica’s unique wildlife. As with most national parks in Costa Rica, it operates 6 days a week — Tuesday to Sunday — and is closed on Mondays.

When translated to English, Rincón De La Vieja means “old woman’s corner.” There are various tales from the local people behind the meaning of this name. One is that a kind, elderly woman lived on top of the mountain cooking for tired travelers and the smoke was from her fire. The opposite tale is that the woman inhabiting the top was an old witch and when she was angry you would easily know because she sent smoke out in columns for all to see.

Hiking Trails

There are various hiking trails for all different levels and two different sectors to choose from, the Santa Maria sector or the Las Pailas sector. Las Pailas sector is the most popular of the two, so you will want to start your exploration early.

The operating hours are 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Muds Pot Trail (Sendero Las Pailas Trail) is one of the shorter hiking trails of only 3 km, taking approximately an hour depending on your pace.

It is not a difficult hike as it does not have any steep inclines, which makes it the most common trail. Just as the name entails, within this loop you will come across boiling mud pots, which is the same type of volcanic clay often used in spas. However, note that these mud pots are not for relaxing in as they are not safe due to their extreme temperatures.

As you hike through the tropical forest, there are fumaroles which are openings in the ground that let out steam and gases as well as mini geysers. This hike is like no other hike that you are probably accustomed to back home. As you continue on the loop further into the trail is a volcanito — meaning little volcano — accompanied by more bubbling mud pots.

La Cangreja Waterfall (Sendero Catarata La Cangreja) is two trails in one and is quite lengthier with one way being close to 10 km.  Two different paths lead you to two different waterfalls, both that are worth visiting.

If you are only going to choose one path, then La Cangreja is the waterfall you want to visit. It is often referred to as the blue lagoon because of its bright color from the minerals of the volcano. The water sparkles and also has a beautiful pool of water below.

The second is Catarata Escondida, which is a smaller waterfall but hosts plenty of wildlife. Both these directions are full of Costa Rica’s natural wildlife of monkeys, coatis, birds and iguanas. There are two different landscapes during this journey, the first is where you are immersed under the tress like a canopy providing shade feeling the thick jungle around you. However, the second part begins to open up and offers a spectacular view when you come out to a clearing of acres upon acres of dry forest and hills.

If you are looking for a serious hike and adventure, the trail to the summit is the best route for you, the Active Crater Trail (Sendero Crater Activo). It is approximately 8 km in length one way; however, before committing to this trek ensure the trail is open. It has been closed due to volcanic activity and the unsafe gases emitted from its crater.

This trek is the most difficult because of the ascent and can take anywhere from 6 to 8 hours in total. During this remarkable climb, you will experience the cloud and tropical forests, and keep your eyes open for the extensive wildlife of jaguars, pumas and tapirs which call this ecosystem home. Upon your success to the top, you will bear witness to the remarkable crater below.

If choosing the less populated Santa Maria sector, it is recommended you have a 4 x 4 due to the road conditions. Here you can explore the Hummingbird Trail (Colibri Trail) which will lead you to an old sugar mill and onto the easy path to Sendero Pailas de Agua Fria where the pots of water are cold this time because of the carbon dioxide. This trail is approximately 2 km in total.

Continuing is the Enchanted Forest Waterfall Trail (Sendero Catarata Bosque Encantado) which is still quite an easy walk to a small and remote waterfall.  If adding this route on it will be 3 km in total. As many do not venture onto this area because of the road to reach this sector, you may have this waterfall and hot springs all to yourself.  Sit back, relax and enjoy the sounds of pure nature and Costa Rican bliss.

If you decided to experience the full trail, it is a 6 km roundtrip, and you will be happy you chose to walk the entirety as here is Sendero Agua Termales. A private hot spring within the forest, a truly magical experience.  A cold river accompanies the two pools of hot springs letting you experience both temperatures of relaxation after a day of hiking.

Going to Rincon de la Vieja

When choosing to hike within Rincon de la Vieja National Park you will want to take into consideration which season you are exploring in. With the green season, it typically rains in the afternoons and evenings, so you should begin early to enjoy the drier terrain and better weather.  Ensure you have good hiking shoes or at least good closed-toed shoes and plenty of water (Plastic bottles or non reusable are not allowed)as temperatures are often over 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

The park does have potable water at the admissions area when paying for your entrance fee; however, there is none available on the trails. As well bathrooms are only available at the entrance, where they also provide maps to help you stay safe and on the correct path.

Walking through the lush canopy forest while hearing the sounds from the wildlife can be the perfect day of hiking. Then treat your body and feet after your adventure while laying within the earth’s natural spa of hot springs. Rincon de la Vieja offers everything you could imagine Costa Rica is all in one National Park.

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