Rincon de la Vieja National Park was created on November 16th, 1973, to protect and conserve watersheds that supply water to the city of Liberia, as well as the local flora and fauna. It is part of the Guanacaste Conservation Area (ACG in Spanish). It is located in the northwestern part of Costa Rica which comprises a remote volcanic complex in the Guanacaste Mountain Range, encompassing the Rincón de la Vieja and Santa María volcanoes, as well as the dormant Cerro Von Seebach.
The name Rincon de la Vieja is translated as ‘Old Woman’s Nook’ and refers to the legend of a young girl whose lover was thrown into the volcano by her father, after which she became a recluse with healing powers. This probably originated from the local Guatuso indigenous tribe, who believed there was an old witch on the summit of the mountain, who was thought to send columns of smoke into the air when she was angry. The park’s remoteness has allowed it to maintain a unique healthy and abundant population of wildlife. Visitors can also find thermal mud pools, waterfalls and freshwater lakes ideal for swimming. In fact, the heat has lead to one of the largest geothermal electricity generation plants in the world located right here.
Rincon de la Vieja National Park is a still relatively undiscovered gem of the Costa Rican territory. It is home to an incredible combination of volcanic geological wonders and pristine tropical forests that span six life zones. As you ascend the flanks of the volcano you will pass through varying elevations, accompanied by changes in the flora and fauna around you. Of course, the main attraction is the smooth cinder cone volcano, Rincon de la Vieja (1895m / 6217 ft), an andesitic stratovolcano comprising of nine contiguous craters that sprinkle the volcanic national park. Among the craters is the Santa Maria Volcano, the highest peak at 1916 m (6385 ft). It was formed by the simultaneous explosion of several volcanic cones that grew and merged into a single mountain. It has been possible to identify 9 sites of volcanic activity on the summit, however the most active area is on Von Seebach peak which contains a crater with an acidic lake, continually venting steam and the occasional volcanic hiccup. This collection of volcanic peaks are the most active in the Guanacaste Mountain Range, where major volcanic activity occurred during the second half of the 1960′s decade. In fact, the last major eruption of Rincon de la Vieja occurred about 3,500 years ago. All subsequent eruptions, including numerous historical events dating back to the 16th century, being the last eruption in 1998.
It is possible to reach the summit of Rincon de la Vieja Volcano, which is best done during the dry season from February to April, if you want to get any views, due to a higher probability of sunshine and clear skies. However, one of the best times to visit Rincon de la Vieja National Park is in the rainy season (from May to November) as this is when the fumaroles and boiling mud pots are most active, and is also the time when the hot springs form small streams with very hot water, and solfataric lakes (containing sulfur dioxide) fill small hollows with constantly bubbling muddy water. Ironically this very evident activity is also the reason why the volcano is considered safe. Volcanoes that are literally ‘letting of steam’ are less likely to have a big eruption as they are not building up pressure. However, the crater is usually covered in clouds and so it is not the best time to hike to the top. If you want to do this, check weather reports and head off early in the morning to have the best chance.
The hike to the volcano’s summit, is a somewhat rigorous all-day endeavor, but certainly worth the effort. The trail traverses several life zones and distinct ecosystems as it climbs higher up the mountainside. The 8 km trail starts from Las Pailas Ranger Station. The first 6 km have a upward gently slope, and the final 2 km ascend steeply to the crater, where you will arrive, out of breath, to view the spectacular volcanic landscape. With luck, clear skies will reveal an uninhibited view of endless country-virtually the whole Costa Rica, including both coasts and the shimmering sea beyond. Be careful at the top because it has strong winds combined with low visibility. There are no rails or guards to stop you leaning over the edge and considering that you are standing on gravel and ash it is not advisable to do so unless you wish to plunge 200m into the acidic lake! Moreover, it may start out warm at the bottom, but you are likely to find it a little or a lot cooler at the top, so you need to be prepared with long pants and rain jacket.
The park has a variety of wildlife, such as over 300 species of birds, including the Three-wattled Bellbird (Procnias tricarunculata), Crested Guan (Penelope purpurascens), Emerald Toucanet (Aulacorhynchus prasinus), Blue-Throated Goldentail (Hylocharis eliciae), White-fronted Parrot (Amazona albifrons), Spectacled Owl (Pulsatrix perspicillata), Blue-crowned Motmot (Momotus momota), Laughing Falcon (Herpetotheres cachinnans), Black-faced Solitaire (Myadestes melanops), Montezuma Oropendola (Psarocolius montezuma), as well as quetzals, curassows, eagles, etc. Among the mammals that can be sighted in the park include monkeys (white-faced, spider and howler), peccaries, tapirs, kinkajous, deer, coatis, skunks, armadillos , anteaters, sloths, pumas, jaguars and many more. The volcanic vents and geysers are habitat for certain extremophile micro-organisms.
The east side of the park is exposed to Atlantic trade winds bringing a large amount of rainfall. The average recorded annual rainfall is 2,000 mm of rain. A drenching 200 inches (500 cm) is liable to fall in any given year, covering the mountainside with lush vegetation and keeping the average annual temperature at 26ºC. Conversely, the Pacific side has a distinct dry season, from February to April, making it ideal for visitors wanting to hike the higher elevations. It has various ecosystems and plant communities, due to the different altitude, rainfall and the effect of volcanic eruptions. In the upper parts forests are of low stature, the trees are twisted and covered with epiphytes. Tropical forests, including sections of montane and dwarf cloud forest, form the park’s base, providing safe haven for a host of flora and fauna. The park also has probably one of the largest populations of the national flower of Costa Rica, the orchid Guaria Morada (Guarianthe Skinneri), as well as a lot of trees like Spanish Elm or Ecuador Laurel (Cordia alliodora), Guanacaste or Elephant Ear Tree (Enterolobium cyclocarpum), Spanish cedar (Cedrela odorata), Gumbo-limbo (Bursera simaruba) and Autograph Tree or Copey (Clusia major).
Rincón de la Vieja is part of the watershed between the Atlantic and Pacific, of the northeast part of the country. This feature makes it a true “water factory”, which has been performing services for many years to the province of Guanacaste, especially to the city of Liberia. In this region thirty-two rivers are born, including the Colorado, Blanco and Ahogados. In addition, there are sixteen intermittent streams, which together supply rivers as important as the Tempisque.
Rincon de la Vieja is the most accessible of the volcanoes in the range, although it is still remote enough to maintain it’s natural wilderness, and up to the date with little negative impact from tourism. The nearest city is Liberia to the south of the park. There are two facilities at the park, the Santa Maria and Pailas stations for visitors information and guides, which are both on the southern side of the park.
A well marked trail system through Rincon de la Vieja National Park leads visitors to the Park’s attractions and between Stations. The lower slopes have many well marked trails that lead you to mud pots, fumaroles, waterfalls and swimming holes, most of which are near the entrance to Las Pailas. One trail leads to the summit. Another 5km trail leads you through forest and grasslands to Catarata La Cangreja where a beautiful waterfall crashes into a shimmering blue lagoon. There is also a 4.3 km trail to the Cataratas Escondidas, a slightly smaller waterfall.
There are other trails which zigzag their way through the park, covering over 1,525 vertical meters (5,000 ft). Some 3 km up the trail from the ranger station is a sulfuric hot spring, allowing visitors to relax in its naturally heated pools and then cool off in a nearby stream. In close proximity, a trail reveals a number of adjoining waterfalls with perfect swimming holes. Some 3 km beyond the hot springs, bubbling pools of mud can be found, where visitors can observe Rincon de la Vieja’s powerful geological forces at work. Always ask for local advice to know the best and safest trails at the moment, as steaming vents and boiling mud border all the volcano’s flanks. Guided trail tours can be arranged at either the Pailas or Santa Maria Station.
Camping is allowed throughout the park with restrooms, showers and picnic areas, however, food is not available onsite and should be packed beforehand. Camping areas at Rincon de la Vieja National Park are open 24 hours.
Other nearby parks include the Santa Rosa National Park, Guanacaste National Park, Bahia Junquillal National Wildlife Refuge and Iguanita National Wildlife Refuge.
Las Pailas Sector:
Las Pailas Sector is within an area of forest, which is named after the volcanic eruptions that are located in the area, including fumaroles, mud pots and fumaroles gaps.
Las Pailas Sector offer visitors the opportunity to spend the night in the adjacent campgrounds, located 200 m from the information booth in a wooded area with capacity for 40 people. It has an information booth, restrooms, bathrooms with cold water, potable water and laundry room, as well as a lunch area, located in a beach area along the Colorado River, with tables and dumps, with access only during the dry season. At the entrance of Las Pailas Sector is a parking lot on a private property located outside the national park.
The entrance to Sector Pailas is located on the western edge of the park. To arrive at this site from San Jose, drive north to Puntarenas and then follow the Pan-American Highway to Liberia and continue for about 5 miles north on the Panamerican Highway, then turn to the west through a 20km dirt road to the sector. Due to the characteristics of the roads a 4WD vehicle is recommended. This route requires a total of 5 hours from San José.
From Daniel Oduber International Airport (LIR), follow the highway to Liberia and continue for about 5 miles north on the Panamerican Highway, then turn to the west through a 20km dirt road to the sector. Due to the characteristics of the roads a 4WD vehicle is recommended. Driving time from Liberia to Rincon de la Vieja is about 45 minutes.
Santa Maria Sector:
The Santa Maria sector was since the late nineteenth century and until 1973, one of the largest estates in the area. It’s activities were the dual purpose cattle (meat and milk) and the cultivation of coffee and sugar cane. Within this sector is the Casona Santa Maria, a small display to the public, with a maximum capacity of 20 people, access to which is subject to availability of staff. In addition, there is a gazebo, located on a small hill behind the Casona de Santa Maria, with a maximum capacity for 20 people, with year-round access. From here you can see the Miravalles volcano, the sorroudings of the village of San Jorge and the lowlands of Guanacaste near the Tempisque river.
This sector also has toilets, bathrooms, potable water, tables, grills and laundry room, as well as ample room around the house where visitors are allowed to leave vehicles.
The entrance to Sector Santa Maria is located in the southwest corner of the park. To reach this place from San Jose, drive north to Puntarenas and then follow the Pan-American Highway to Liberia and take the road that begins in the neighborhood of La Victoria, then take the road leading to the village of Colonia Blanca, then veering to the left. In total the path is 25 km to the administration office. Due to the characteristics of the roads a 4WD vehicle is recommended. This route requires a total of 5 hours from San José.
From Daniel Oduber International Airport (LIR), follow the highway to Liberia and take the road that begins in the neighborhood of La Victoria, then take the road leading to the village of Colonia Blanca, then veering to the left. In total the path is 25 km to the administration office. Due to the characteristics of the roads a 4WD vehicle is recommended. Driving time from Liberia to Rincon de la Vieja is about 45 minutes.
You can take a bus from San Jose to Liberia, which takes about 4 hours (Pulmitan Liberia Terminal, 2222-1650) and then take a bus from Liberia-Curubandé and/or Liberia-Colonia Blanca (which stops at the entrance of Santa Maria Sector). The bus to Curubande runs three times a day from the bus station in Liberia, with access throughout the year.
You can also take a flight from the Juan Santamaria Airport to the Liberia International Airport, either with Sansa Airlines or Nature Air every day. From here you can rent a car and drive to the park.
Location: canton: Liberia, province: Guanacaste, Costa Rica.
GPS Coordinates: 10.772675,-85.349739 (10°46’21.63″N, 85°20’59.06″W)
Size: 14,161 ha ( 34,800 acres)
Altitude: from 650m (2132ft) to 1965m (6449ft) above sea level
Schedule: from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Las Pailas Sector from Rincón de la Vieja National Park Phone: +(506) 2661-8139
Guanacaste Conservation Area Telephone (ACG): + (506) 2666-5051
INFOTUR Tourist Information: 1192