Rincón de la Vieja National Park

A backpacker I met a week ago confirmed that Rincón de la Vieja National Park in the North of Costa Rica is most definitely worth a visit, and the mention of a natural hot spring is all the encouragement I need. We first make our way to the Las Pailas Sector (entrance), pay the $10 USD entrance fee and set out on an 8km hike to the summit of Rincón de la Vieja, the active volcano. We hike through extremely lush, dense forest for a couple of hours before finally breaking tree-line and starting a steep muddy scramble through small shrubbery. This vegetation also gives way and we find ourselves on a rocky, barren trail with the summit standing tall in front of us.

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Hiking up to the peak

A couple of hundred meters further on we find ourselves quite literally on top of the world at 1,916 meters (6,286 ft) and are completely awe-struck by the view. When the clouds part we can see Lake Nicaragua to the North and the Pacific to the West. Close by is the crater of the volcano, which is immense and doesn’t look at all real.

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On top of the world at Rincón de la Vieja

We walk a knife-edge trail to the crater rim, and stare in utter disbelief. The first thing to strike us is the color of the water in the crater lake – the strangest milky-white I have ever seen. The next is the far side of the crater wall that has gas loudly hissing out under high pressure from a couple of different places.
It’s hard not to think the earth is alive when confronted with this spectacle on such a grand scale.

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From this angle the rock looked like it was floating

There are of course no fences of any kind and while sitting on the rim eating lunch we discuss our chances in the event of even a minor eruption.
Not good, we decide.

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The milky-white lake in the crater

A couple of different places list this as one of, if not the, best hikes in Costa Rica and Mike and I throughly agree – the amazing views and alien-like features of the active volcano make this a fantastic hike.

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Standing on the edge of the crater

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Steam hissing out of the crater on Rincón de la Vieja

Back at the ranger station we take a quick dip in an extremely refreshing swimming hole before setting out on the loop trail, which is full of geothermal activity. We wind our way past all manner of hot springs and steam vents that are bubbling and steaming away in a very aggressive manner. Warning signs say the temperature is between 75°C and 95°C and the couple of places I tentatively test confirm this pretty quickly. The highlight comes in the form of the mud fumaroles, which continuously bubble and gurgle in a very hypnotic manner.

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Mesmerising fumarole in the park

Not done for the day, we drive around to the Santa Maria Sector, setup camp for the night for $2 USD and after dinner make the 4km hike to the natural hot springs that are perfect for soaking. The two soaking pools are large, hot, smell very strongly of sulfur and sit beside a beautiful cold stream.

Soaking our weary legs after a huge day of hiking is amazing and we stumble home half asleep a few hours later.


5 Responses

  1. George says:

    That’s really awesome, on my trip to Yellowstone there was that same feeling that you are on a ticking time bomb and at any moment it could all be over in a blink! The smell of sulfer is one of the foulest smelling substances in those quantities… cool hike, good for you.


  2. Jey says:

    Hi Dan,

    Found your site today and was interested in the camping opertunites you come across in your trip down. Also on how rough the roadss are. For example, the road to rincon de le vieja, I know you have a 4wd, but what would it be like on a loaded cycletouring bike, or a car.

    Nice writing, thanks.


    • Dan says:

      Hey Jey,
      Just had a look around your blog – cool trip man.
      Camping in Central America has been difficult. I did it from time to time on beaches and remote dirt roads. Also in Costa Rica there are many campgrounds and lots of hostels allow camping (which is great, because then you can use their kitchen, fridge, etc.).
      Most gravel roads are pretty nasty. Nothing you couldn’t do on a bike, but I don’t think you’ll have a lot of fun. Also most are through the mountains, so you’d be doing some serious uphill stretches.
      Up to Rincon was not a problem for me, and I think a regular car would make it too.
      Good luck man, have fun.
      (Have you bumped into Seth & Parker who are riding down?)

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