Located 15 miles northeast of Liberia in northwestern Costa Rica, is the Rincón de la Vieja Volcano and National Park. This massive volcanic complex includes at least nine different craters with its two well-known cones: the quiet, 6,286-foot Santa María (the highest point in the park) and the steaming Von Seebach crater with its 1,640-foot-wide acid lake.
Exploring the Rincón de la Vieja Volcano
There are two main entrances to the national park: the Santa María and the more popular Las Pailas ranger stations. Since there is no public transportation to either entrance of the park, the best way to get there is by driving yourself, taking a taxi (approximately US$20 from Liberia) or booking a tour through a hotel. If you choose to drive yourself, remember that many roads toward the park can become very rough and a vehicle with good clearance and four-wheel-drive is highly recommended.
To reach the Santa María entrance, drive through the northeastern portion of Liberia and head toward the village of San Jorge. From there, it is a well-marked 16-mile journey to the park. Again, the roads can get pretty rough, so a high-clearance vehicle is the way to go.
|Photo by J. Perry|
There are two primary summit trails:
|Hot Springs (photo by Hans Hillewaert)|
|Photo by Tim Ross|
Exploring the Rincón de la Vieja National ParkThe 35,000-acre Rincón de la Vieja National Park was established on Nov.16, 1973 to protect the region's important watershed (with more than 32 rivers and streams), the country’s largest population of its national flower (the purple orchid), and more than 300 different species of birds. For those who choose to avoid hiking the volcano, there are several excellent trails that include a well-rounded tour of the park as well as the best bird watching in the area:
Las Pailas Loop – Beginning at the Las Pailas entrance, this 3.75-mile circular loop includes views of the steaming fumaroles and mud pots, a mini-volcano and boiling mud fields that have compared to Yellowstone National Park in the U.S. At a casual pace, it takes approximately two hours from start to finish.
Waterfalls – Catarata La Cangreja is located east of Las Pailas. This three-mile loop takes approximately two hours and travels through tropical forests with views of several hot springs, a crystal-blue lake. a beautiful 98-foot waterfall, a crystal-blue lake, and several hot springs. Cataratas Escondidas is a 2.5-mile loop with views of another beautiful (but slightly smaller) waterfall.
Sendero Encantado – This trail travels along the lower slopes and offers views of the park’s lowlands, a cloud forest, fields of purple orchids, and a variety of wildlife. It eventually links with the longer Las Pailas trail to the volcano's summit.