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Are you looking for one of the best national parks in Costa Rica that will allow you to immerse yourself in nature while enjoying the perfect blend of adventurous and relaxing activities? If so, look no further than Rincon de la Vieja National Park!
This national park, located in the Guanacaste Province, is home to an active volcano with nine volcanic craters — the Rincon de la Vieja Volcano — and offers a wide range of landscapes and terrains perfect for hiking, whitewater rafting, and lounging in thermal hot springs, all thanks to the park’s volcanic activity.
Want to visit Rincon de la Vieja National Park during your vacation to Costa Rica? Read everything you need to know about this popular national park below!
Overview of Rincon de la Vieja National Park in Costa Rica
Before visiting Rincon de la Vieja National Park, here is some general information about the location, hours, and cost you should know.
Rincon de la Vieja National Park is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Guanacaste Conservation Area. It spans 34,000 acres of the Guanacaste Province and is only 15 miles north of Liberia, where the Liberia International Airport is located. The park is home to two volcanoes (the active Rincon de la Vieja Volcano and dormant Santa Maria Volcano), five waterfalls, 30+ rivers and streams, and several hot springs and hiking trails.
Rincon de la Vieja National Park is divided into two sides — Las Pailas and Santa Maria — with two ranger stations and two entrances.
The Las Pailas sector is the most popular part of the park. Las Pailas Ranger Station is easier to reach, offers more facilities and tours, and is home to the park’s famous attractions, including the Las Pailas Trail (known as the Boiling Mud Pots Trail), La Cangreja Waterfall, and the Rincon de la Vieja Volcano. However, the Santa Maria sector has plenty to offer, too, including the Colibri Trail and Hummingbird Trail. If you have extra time, make your way to the Santa Maria Ranger Station.
The Las Pailas and Santa Maria sectors of Rincon de la Vieja National Park are open from 8 AM – 3 PM on Tuesday – Sunday, according to the Sistema Nacional de Areas de Conservacion (SINAC). The national park is closed on Mondays.
If you plan to hike the La Cangreja Waterfall Trail or Escondida Waterfall Trail, you must enter the park before 12 PM.
The entrance fee for Rincon de la Vieja National Park is $15 (USD) per adult and $5 (USD) for children ages 2–12.
As of August 1st, 2023, you can no longer purchase tickets at the entrance of the national park. You’ll need to buy them online through the Sistema Nacional de Areas de Conservacion (SINAC). You can visit their website to purchase tickets.
Popular Attractions in Rincon de la Vieja National Park in Costa Rica
Now that we have the logistics out of the way, let’s dive into the fun part — all the best things to do in Rincon de la Vieja National Park!
There are several hiking trails in Rincon de la Vieja National Park. However, the three most popular trails (listed below) are all located in Las Pailas.
Las Pailas Circular Trail (Boiling Mud Pots Trail)
Las Pailas Circular Trail, also known as the “Boiling Mud Pots Trail,” is one of the most popular trails in Rincon de la Vieja National Park — and it’s easy enough for the whole family to enjoy, too!
This two-mile loop will lead you past boiling mud pots, sulfur springs, steam vents, a small volcano, and even a small seasonal waterfall during the rainy season. You can usually complete this hike within an hour, making it an easy hike to pair with other activities on a day trip to Rincon de la Vieja National Park.
La Cangreja Waterfall Trail
La Cangreja Waterfall, also known as “Blue Lagoon,” is a longer hike leading you through the rainforest and dry forest in Rincon de la Vieja National Park to a stunning waterfall. This out-and-back trail is six miles in total and requires crossing some small creeks and rivers. It can get steep at some points, so it is considered a moderately challenging route.
The La Cangreja Waterfall Trail usually takes about three hours to complete, but you might spend longer here if you plan on stopping at the waterfall. Just be mindful that swimming at the waterfall’s base is not permitted.
Escondida Waterfall Trail
Escondida Waterfall Trail, nicknamed “Hidden Waterfall,” is slightly less popular and more challenging to reach than La Cangreja Waterfall. However, if you’re up for a challenge, this five-mile out-and-back trail will surely provide one for you — during the hike, you will gain more than 1,500 feet in elevation!
The Escondida Waterfall Trail is generally less busy than the other hiking trails in Las Pailas, so this hiking trail is a great option if you’d like to get “off the beaten path.” However, when you reach the waterfall, please remember that swimming is prohibited.
Because of the volcanic activity in Rincon de la Vieja National Park, there are plenty of natural hot springs throughout the park where you can relax and rejuvenate.
The thermal baths at Rio Negro Hot Springs are the most popular in this national park. While you’re here, you can enjoy the healing powers of more than a dozen volcanic-heated hot springs that you can access via hanging bridges scattered around the private property. You can also cover your skin in volcanic mud from the mud pits before washing it off in the Rio Negro River.
Some upscale lodges in Rincón de la Vieja National Park, built around the hot springs, also offer on-site spas, complete with healing mud baths, steam rooms, saunas, massages, and spa treatments.
Rincón de la Vieja National Park is home to dozens of rivers and streams — including the mighty Rio Negro River. This river is known for its Class III rapids, so while it’s unsuitable for children or beginners, whitewater rafting on the Rio Negro River is a fun adventure for thrill seekers during a visit to Rincon de la Vieja National Park.
If this sounds like a fun time, find a tour company that can provide all the gear you’ll need — from a lifejacket to a helmet — for a safe whitewater rafting adventure. Many companies even include horseback riding through the rainforest as a bonus activity before hitting the rapids.
Wildlife watching is one of the best activities to enjoy in Rincon de la Vieja National Park — you’ll likely catch a glimpse of the flora and fauna in the park while enjoying other activities, like hiking and whitewater rafting!
Some of the most popular exotic animals in the park include howler, spider, and white-faced monkeys. You’ll also have the chance to see rare birds, like toucans, and other mammals, like two-toed sloths, deer, cougars, jaguars, and more.
Best Time to Visit Rincon de la Vieja National Park in Costa Rica
If you’d like to avoid getting “rained out” during your day at Rincón de la Vieja National Park, we recommend visiting during the dry season, from December – April. During these months, you can count on reliably warm, sunny weather and dry skies — perfect for hiking and water activities.
However, for the best chance of seeing the waterfalls running, you’ll want to visit during the green season, from May – November. Just remember to bring a rain jacket, and try to avoid the rainiest months (September and October) for the most favorable weather.
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What to Bring to Rincon de la Vieja National Park
Depending on what you’ll be doing during your day in Rincon de la Vieja National Park, we recommend bringing all (or most) of the following items:
- Mosquito repellent — The waterways in Rincon de la Vieja National Park attract bugs, so be sure to bring bug spray (and apply it liberally!) to keep mosquitos and other pests away.
- Sunscreen — Though much of this national park is shaded, you’ll likely encounter some direct sunlight during your adventurous day in Rincon de la Vieja National Park. Bring sunscreen (and a sun hat) to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays.
- Hiking gear — If you’re planning to hit the hiking trails, be sure to bring hiking gear, like hiking boots, trekking poles, and a backpack filled with snacks and drinking water.
- Bathing suit — Planning to visit the hot springs? Be sure to bring a bathing suit so you can take a dip in the refreshing thermal pools and mud pots. Oh, and don’t forget to bring a comfortable change of clothes, too!
- Waterproof gear — If you’re visiting Rincon de la Vieja National Park during the rainy season to see the waterfalls, be sure to pack a rain jacket and wear waterproof shoes. You should also bring a change of clothes in case you get soaked on a hike!
Stay with Special Places of Costa Rica and Enjoy the Best of Rincon de la Vieja National Park
From hot springs and waterfalls to horseback riding and whitewater rafting, there is no shortage of spectacular things to see and do in Rincon de la Vieja National Park. There is only one potential problem — after spending one day here, you’ll definitely want to come back the next day!
Well, that’s no problem we can’t solve! Special Places of Costa Rica offers several vacation rentals in the Guanacaste Province of Costa Rica, so you’ll be just a short drive away from all the fun attractions in Rincon de la Vieja National Park.
Additionally, we offer tours in Rincon de la Vieja National Park, like this Rincon Volcano Hike, that make it easy to explore the geothermal sites in this national park on a guided hike (even if you don’t have a car!).