Rincon de la vieja national park

Location: NE of Liberia; Santa Maria sector through Liberia, Las Pailas sector through Curubande, each about 16 miles (25 km) from Liberia.
Size: 34,801 acres (14,084 ha).
Hours: Enter anytime, but entrance stations attended 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.; hikes to crater must begin before noon.
Information: Telephone hotline 192 telephonelfax (506) 695-5577, (506) 695-5598; e-mail acginves@sol racsa co.cr

From the porch of the century-old ranch house in Rincon de la Vieja National Park, I watched a doe and fawn walking without fear at the edge of the clearing. On the way up the mountain, a morpho butterfly fluttered across the road; four species of this brilliant butterfly live in the park. Tapirs roam here, as do howler, capuchin, and spider monkeys. The armadillo is so abundant it could practically be the symbol of the park. Peccaries are common, and there's evidence that jaguar and puma stalk this preserve.

The white-fronted Amazon parrot and spectacled owl are among 257 species of birds. Doves are everywhere; at lower elevations is the curassow. There are kites, toucans and toucanets, redstarts, and mot mots. A small cicada with the voice of a frog lives underground.

The park, in the Guanacaste Mountain Range, is the source of 32 rivers. As much as 197 inches (5,000 mm) of rain falls at higher elevations. The park's forests are important not only in maintaining water in rivers in the lowlands in dry season but also in flood prevention in rainy months. ,

Two volcanoes crown this mountain mass: active Rincon de la Vieja, and dormant Santa Maria. In fact, Rincon de la Vieja has two craters; the dormant one has a crystal-clear cold-water lake, while the lake in the other crater steams. Rincon erupted again in 1995, spewing ash and sending hot mud into area rivers. The best time to climb to the craters is in the driest months, February through April-subject, of course, to volcanic activity.

Visitors have access to the park's scenic beauty and geologic attractions through two entrances, both on bad roads, especially in rainy season. The ranch house, or casona, is the administrative center for the Santa Maria sector. The Enchanted Forest Trail begins here. A walk through that fairyland of tall trees, ferns, mosses, and delicate orchids touches a primeval chord within. The national flower, the guaria morada orchid, thrives here. A small waterfall makes it picture-perfect.

A shorter Sendero Colibri (Hummingbird Trail) or a walk to a mirador with a view of Liberia and Miravalles Volcano are other possibilities. Less than 2 miles (3 km) away are sulfur waters that many say are medicinal. A 5.6-mile (8-km), three-hour trek takes you to the other park entrance, at I-as Pailas, a magic land of bubbling mud pots, hot-water pools, and steam and gas vents.

Travelers who enter the park via the Las Pailas sector should check in at the ranger station. Various trails exist, including the climb to the craters and to waterfalls. The principal loop trail here leads to fumaroles and mud pots bordered by verdant forest and a pretty waterfall. Hanging bridges now cross the river, so no more wading through knee- deep water. A pool in the Rio Blanco is only a short walk from the ranger station. Camping permitted in designated areas. Average temperature is 59'F to 79'F (15'C to 26'C), and yellow-naped, and white-fronted parrots; toucans; motmots; and the three wattle bellbird. Mammals include howler and white-faced monkeys, deer, coatis, peccaries, and pacas. Tapirs live here but are not often seen.

Guests may accompany ranch workers, helping with milking or herding cattle. The lodge rents horses; working cowboys give riding instruction. Hikes can be with people who have grown up here or with bilingual naturalist guides.

Getting There

By car: North of Liberia, turn east through Curubande and follow lodge signs; last 7 miles (11 km) unpaved. A small passage fee is levied by a ranch along the way. Other: Transfers available from Liberia, San Jose, Monteverde, and beaches. check our shuttle transportation page and private transportation page for more details on rates.

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