A Mini travelogue of Costa Rica: Rincon de la Vieja
Today we continue our journey through Costa Rica with some highlights from my favorite part of our trip: the Rincón de la Vieja National Park, home to the volcano by the same name. We went on the recommendation of a hotel employee at the Hilton when I told him we were looking for something with an adventure rating in between “bus-full-of-gringos” and “foolhardy-or-dangerous.”
We drove to the ranger station at the Las Pailas Sector instead of the Santa Maria sector because we’d heard that two hikes we were epecially interested in began there. Thanks to Lonely Planet (by far our favorite travel-guide source), we were prepared for the $1.50 per-person (or 700 colones per person) “toll” to drive through the Hotel Hacienda Guachipelin property, as well as the $10 per person park entry fee. Our first day, we chose the Mud Pot trail as it was the shorter trail and we’d gotten a bit of a late start. But every step of the 3KM hike is packed with lots of bang-for-your-buck. From sulpherous volcanic vents to bubbling mud pots, there’s a natural sideshow around every turn. Not to mention that it was a great introduction to the gigantic Ceiba trees (we couldn’t stop taking photos of them! They were so amazing!), the blue morpho butterfly, and a few families of monkeys chattering far overhead as we walked.
Although nothing can really compare to seeing it in person, here are a few video clips of the Fumerolas (volcanic vents) and the bubbling mud pots that I took on my iPhone. Nothing compares to seeing it in person though!
Two days later we made the trek back up to the park for a second day of hiking…this time to the “Catarata La Cangre” waterfall. This hike is 5.1 KM each way (about 6 miles round-trip) and again we were a little short on time so we did a bit of speed-hiking. The scenery was just as stunning the second day as it had been the first….but totally different topography. I could barely believe we were on the same mountain. From jungle to tall grasses to a stand of giant plants that looked like it could have been the set of “Honey I Shrunk the Gringos” the topography seemed to change every quarter of a mile. It wasn’t a difficult hike, but we’d recommend taking all day to do it both so you can enjoy all the scenery and so you can take your time and not trip on any rocks or roots or other obstacles along the way. Plus, once you get to the waterfall, you’ll want a few hours there to enjoy the scenery. I’m thinking a picnic lunch would have been just the thing to have along.
Keith and I’d worn bathing suits under our hiking clothes and happily set our backpacks down and took a little dip (the rangers had told us that this particular waterfall was safe to swim in…but it’s always best to check with the park before taking a dip. and even with this particular pool, due to a few big rocks underwater, I’d be careful where you decide to jump in.). The water had a refreshing chill, but wasn’t cold once you were in. And the falls…well……they were just spectacular. For some reason it didn’t occur to me to take video there, but here are a few photos for your enjoyment.
Another side trip we made was to the Simbiosis Spa located on the road leading to the park. Although we didn’t get any massages or other spa treatments, we paid the $10 a person entrance fee for the use of their facilities….and it just might have been the best $20 we spent the whole trip. You start with 10 minutes in the dry sauna to open up your pores. Then it’s off to the mud “bath”…stone columns of warm, volcanic mud. Just a few feet away is a huge pit where the spa digs out the mud daily…you could see the bubbling liquid in the bottom of the pit. Keith and I lathered up and then sat in lounge chairs in the sun for about 25 minutes until the mud dried. Then it was off to the warm bath. Although it’s fed by volcanic springs, it’s more like a warm bath…not hot springs. Afterwards, our skin felt so smoother and clean. And the photos, well, they really are worth a thousand words.
(Side note: the “crater hike” up to the volcano crater (8km long) was closed both days due to volcanic activity. “It’s crazy up there” the park ranger said. “There’s gas and smoke, ashes, burning things and flying mud.” Guess we’ll have to go back to see that next time.)