Visiting Rincon de la Vieja, Costa Rica
Visiting Rincon de la Vieja, Costa Rica
Forced to make a visa run after spending 3 months in Nicaragua, we decided to make the most of it with a trip to Costa Rica. We were headed towards Liberia, in northwest Costa Rica. We picked Liberia mostly because Cazzie lived there teaching English in 2012 for a couple of months, but also because of the stunning volcano park of Rincón de la Vieja.
Unfortunately our trip started with a pricey obstacle. While entering Costa Rica, we were held at the border due to not having documentation of an exit trip from the country. This would mean that anyone traveling through, with no exact plans of leaving, would need to buy a bus ticket at the border to prove that you intend on eventually departing from the country. Bus tickets at the border are 3X the normal rates, so learn from our mistakes by buying tickets ahead of time!
Liberia is an old cowboy town that is a major population and tourist center for the area. While the famous Monte Verde park is about 2 hours southeast, Rincon de la Vieja is only a 40 minute drive away which cemented our decision to head there. We were on a time crunch due to having to get back to Nicaragua to teach, so long trips unfortunately weren’t an option.
We hired a taxi driver to take us there, and set a time with him to pick us back up again, which cost about $30 total for the day. Hiring a taxi or renting a car might be the easiest way to get there and back. Rental cars are inexpensive, but we weren’t able to rent one due to not qualifying for the insurance for some weird reason. Renting a car though is by far the most popular way to explore Costa Rica, so do your research beforehand and try to rent one while you’re there.
Rincon de la Vieja is open from 7am-3pm Tuesday-Sunday, so we asked our driver to pick us up at 3pm when the park closed. We left Liberia at around 8:30AM in order to have a full day of exploring and hiking. The entrance fee is $10 a person, which we initially thought was a little steep. I can guarantee you though, it is well worth the price for a full day of great activity.
There are numerous trails throughout the park, and each one seems to lead to something exciting and beautiful. The 8 hour trek up the volcano needs to be started as early as possible, and you must check in with the rangers before you attempt the climb. The views here are supposed to be amazing on a clear day, with vistas ranging as far as Lago de Nicaragua in the north. We didn’t arrive early enough to embark on that journey though, and instead chose a different trail.
We opted to start on the trail leading to Cangreja (Crab) Waterfall, a 3 mile hike in each direction. Don’t be deterred by the distance if you’re not a hiker! The path was insanely beautiful. It seemed like we walked through at least 3 different ecosystems, some with jungle tree cover, some grassy plains, and a stream area strewn with volcanic rocks from previous eruptions.
Part of the fun of hiking in Rincon de la Vieja was seeing all of the different vegetation. There were plants that were as big as my body, purple mushrooms, beautiful gigantic trees, and everything was so extremely green. It was a completely different world!
There was wildlife in the trees above us, and we saw monkeys, something resembling a beaver that climbed trees (turns out its a coatis), and so many birds and insects. There are over 300 species of birds alone that claim the park as home. Not only that but there are deer, squirrels, howler monkeys and much more lurking in the trees. Beware of the monkeys though, because some will fling their poop at you!
When we finally arrived to the waterfall, we knew we had stumbled upon a tropical oasis. The water cascaded 130 feet into a gorgeous turquoise blue, crystal clear splash pool. We even had the entire waterfall completely to ourselves for about an hour before anyone else showed up…skinny dipping anyone?! If you’re careful with your footing, it’s possible to get behind the waterfall cascade and explore the mossy rocks behind there. Swimming is possible as well and the water is a refreshing temperature after a long hot hike.
Never leave home without a snack is pretty much our motto, and we sat by the edge of the pool and ate ours that we had brought. With time nearing closer to 3, we headed back the way we came. We had time for one last trail before our driver was going to pick us up though!
The reason many people come to the park is to see the steaming fumaroles and the famous boiling mud pits. We hopped on a short trail that led us on suspension bridges to get us to the true volcanic aspect of the area.
We first came upon the steaming fumaroles, and it felt a little apocalyptic in nature. Steam bursting out of the ground with a wasteland that lay around was a tad freaky. A little further, we came upon the boiling mudpits…which were crazy cool. Sulfur is a key component of volcanic gas, and the mud pits were spewing out some seriously smelly gases. If you’ve never smelled sulfur before, it smells a lot of like rotten boiled eggs. You could feel the heat from the mud pits from the barriers preventing your from getting too close.
After marveling at the mud pits, sadly our time in this magnificent park was coming to a close. Our taxi driver picked us up from the park entrance and we headed back to Liberia. Throughout our day at the park we walked a whopping 8 miles, so we were ready for a nice rest. We asked our driver to take us to the best place to get the coldest beer, and he took us to a wonderful cowboy bar in the center of town that satisfied our thirst and hunger splendidly.
Until next time Rincon de la Vieja. I have a feeling we will return.