Visiting Rincon de la Vieja, Costa Rica

Costa Rica packs an extraordinary diversity of landscapes and climates into one tiny nation – from rainforest to foggy mountain peaks to beaches galore. No single place in the country exemplifies this staggering variety more than the popular tourist destination Rincón de la Vieja. There, in one location, visitors can dip in a refreshing waterfall pool, hike in the skirts of a volcano, luxuriate in hot springs and mud baths, or simply stroll through a jaw-dropping array of volcanic fumaroles, boiling mud pots and even a “baby volcano.”

At times, the park makes you wonder if you’ve landed on another planet, yet it’s just an hour from the provincial capital of Liberia and its international airport. Rincón de la Vieja offers visitors a chance to see something truly out-of-this-world that’s also accessible – an unforgettable adventure, close at hand.

The Star of the Show: Rincón de la Vieja Volcano

The volcano around which this destination revolves is the largest volcano in the Cordillera de Guanacaste range, which includes five peaks. Its subterraneous heat powers the hot springs, healing mud treatments and spectacular sights that keep visitors coming back to this vibrant destination.

Where did it get its unusual name, which roughly translates to “the old lady’s corner”? The explanation often depends on whom you ask. It appears to have originated with an indigenous legend of a leader who, learning of his daughter’s love affair with an enemy chief, threw the suitor into the crater; the princess stayed close to the volcano for the rest of her life and became a powerful healer. However, other sources say it’s named for a witch responsible for the smoke rising from the volcano, or an old lady who creates the smoke as she tends her hearth.

What we do know for sure is that the volcano, its thermal waters, the incredible flora and fauna on its flanks, and the views from its peaks have created a traveler’s paradise – and a number of lodging options, from rustic to luxurious, have sprung up to serve a wide variety of tastes.

Rincón de la Vieja National Park

This national park, along with the Santa Rosa and Guanacaste National Parks, makes up the Guanacaste Conservation Area – meaning that Rincón de la Vieja is an ideal starting point or base camp from which to explore other sights in the province of Guanacaste as well.

The park is divided into two sectors. The area known as Las Pailas is home to the park’s famed Circular Trail, a fairly flat loop to explore the park’s geothermal features. These include boiling mud pots and fumaroles, or geothermal vents. This easy, 3-kilometer loop is suitable for families, although caution must be used near Rincón de la Vieja’s mad-hot attractions.

Las Pailas also features more challenging hikes, including trails to two waterfalls, Escondidas and La Cangreja. The Santa María sector of the park includes a strenuous hike to a lookout point, but also moderate hikes: the Colibrí (Hummingbird) Trail, the waterfalls in the Enchanted Forest, and hot springs. With so many options available within the park’s more than 34,000 acres and two peaks, rangers, guides and hotel personnel can help you choose the perfect route for your tastes and ability.

The park also offers camping facilities, a lunch area, drinking water, restrooms and parking.

Tours and Activities in Rincón de la Vieja

The Rincón de la Vieja tours and activities in the area surrounding the famed volcano are varied and numerous. Within just a few kilometers of the park, you can take a horseback ride, fly through the trees on a canopy tour, rappel down a waterfall, or seek your thrills in white water.

Those looking for a more sedate vacation, or ready to pamper tired arms and legs after exhilarating hiking and adventure, have no shortage of options, thanks to the Rincón de la Vieja hot springs. Thermal waters and mud baths abound, at various price points: you can head to a luxurious spa for massages, facials and mud wraps, or visit more rustic locations for an al fresco volcanic mud bath experience.

The variety of available activities mean that travel companions or family members with different tastes or desired activity levels. One traveler can soar through the forest canopy on a zipline or ride through the forest while another soaks and sips his or her way through the day.

Getting to Rincón de la Vieja

Most of Rincón de la Vieja’s attractions are approximately 30 minutes from Liberia, which, in turn, is within an hour of a wide variety of beaches along the Pacific coast. Liberia is home to a wide variety of hotels, services, and the Daniel Oduber International Airport. A visit to Rincón de la Vieja fits nicely into a Guanacaste itinerary combining the wonders of Rincón de la Vieja with a beach vacation.

Travelers heading to Rincón de la Vieja from Costa Rica’s Central Valley and its capital, San José, can expect a five- to six-hour drive. A four-wheel drive vehicle is recommended for a visit to Rincón de la Vieja.

When to visit Rincón de la Vieja

Rincón de la Vieja is in the northwestern province of Guanacaste, one of the driest and hottest regions of Costa Rica. Like much of the rest of the country, its dry season runs from December to April, and the rainy season or green season – which, in Guanacaste, generally means a short afternoon rain shower – runs from May to November.

Both seasons offer benefits: the dry season boasts reliably sunny skies, and a better chance of clear view of the volcano or from its lookout points. However, the green season offers more spectacular vegetation and, in many cases, smaller numbers of fellow visitors during the low tourism season. What’s more, the waterfalls, fumaroles and mud pots are often at their best during the rainy season, when their levels are higher.

No matter when you go, it’s a good idea to ask your hotel staff, private guide or park guards for information about the current status of trails, waterfalls and volcanic attractions, so you can make the best decisions about which routes to take and how to have the best possible experience of this unique place.

Plan a Trip to Rincón de la Vieja, Costa Rica

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