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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.