Rincón de la Vieja National Park (HD) – Costa Rica Vacations
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Rincon de la Vieja Volcano, composed of nine separate but contiguous craters, is the largest of five volcanoes in the Guanacaste Mountain Range. The still-steaming volcano gives its name to the 35,000-acre national park that surrounds it. –
Rincon de la Vieja National Park was created in 1973 to protect the 32 rivers and streams that make up the area’s important watershed. Within its borders, the park also houses the largest population of Costa Rica’s national flower, the guaria morada (Cattleya skinneri), a species of purple orchid. In addition to plant and mammal life, 300 bird species also make their homes here, and birdwatchers eagerly look forward to toucans, eagles and even the elusive quetzal.
In comparison to some national parks, Rincon de la Vieja National Park seems designed for human exploration. Described as only gently active, the volcano sees very few minor eruptions. At its base, the park’s acres are threaded with trails and paths leading out to waterfalls, volcanic craters, fumaroles, mud cauldrons and hot springs. The Sendero Encantado leads along the park’s lowlands, winding through cloud forest and plains brimming with purple orchids before connecting to the park’s more famous Las Pailas hiking trail.
Las Pailas translates to “The Cauldrons” or, in this case, “The Mud Pots.” A short circuit trail weaves through woods shaded by giant strangler figs, and leads past a seasonal waterfall, sulfurous and steaming fumaroles, a small volcano and, finally, the famous boiling mud pots. Just east of Las Pailas, the Sendero Cangreja sends hikers to tumbling waterfalls that cascade into cool, calm swimming holes and lagoons, including the popular Hidden Waterfalls and La Cangreja Waterfall.
Thrill-seeking park guests may also make the eight-hour roundtrip trek to the Santa Maria crater at the volcano’s summit. The hike usually begins at the Santa Maria ranger station, east of Las Pailas, but hikers may also begin from the Las Pailas ranger station. Scrubby mountainside, tall grasses and a rugged trail await, leading travelers across fossilized lava flows and loose lava rock. The views from the volcano’s summit are fantastic, and on a clear day, it is possible to see straight to Lake Nicaragua.
At the volcano’s base, visitors can relax at Los Azufrales, Rincon de la Vieja’s hot-sulfur springs. Bubbling at a cozy 107 degrees Fahrenheit, the springs are ideal for bathing and unwinding. (Experts recommend a maximum 30-minute limit per soak.) A nearby cool-water stream is ideal to cool off after a stress-relieving dip in the hot springs.
Guests are required to hike only one trail in Rincon de la Vieja National Park before reporting back to the ranger station. If you fail to do so, the park rangers must begin to search for you.
The park’s Pacific (western) side is dry between December and April; the Caribbean (eastern) side is lush and rainy year-round, and sees almost 200 inches of annual rainfall.
Hiking, swimming and bird and wildlife watching are very popular activities in Rincon de la Vieja National Park. While horseback riding arranged by local lodges and hotels is very common outside the park, it is not permitted within the park’s boundaries. Camping is allowed in the park; please ask park rangers for more details and rates.
There are two ranger stations at Rincon de la Vieja National Park: Las Pailas (also known as the Las Espuelas station) and Santa Maria, the park’s headquarters.
Trails wind throughout the park’s nearly 35,000 acres, giving visitors access to Rincon de la Vieja National Park’s volcanic attractions, including sulfurous fumaroles, bubbling mud pots, and a small volcanic crater. Geothermal heat warms the park’s hot springs, and several rushing waterfalls provide perfect cool-off spots after a long hike or heated soak in the therapeutic waters. Trails also lead to the volcano’s summit from both ranger stations.
For a brief park overview, the Las Pailas circuit trail is highly recommended, and its paths play out like a “best of” tour through the park’s most spectacular scenes. Or try the Sendero Cangreja, a trail that weaves through wooded greenery before ending at the park’s most celebrated cascades, the Hidden Waterfalls. For more recommendations, speak with a park ranger.
Flora & Fauna:
Rincon de la Vieja is home to more than 300 bird species, including curassows, bellbirds, parrots, hummingbirds, owls, woodpeckers, tanagers, motmots, eagles and quetzals. Mammals are prevalent here, and coatis, deer, peccaries, two-toed sloth, squirrels and howler monkeys often greet park visitors.