Rincón de la Vieja National Park is Costa Rica's mini-Yellowstone, with steaming volcanic hot springs and boiling, bubbling mud ponds. The park protects more than 140 square km (54 square miles) of the volcano's upper slopes, which are covered with forest. Often enveloped in clouds, the volcano dominates the scenery to the east of the Pan-American Highway. The park has two peaks: Santa María (1,916 meters [6,323 feet]) and the barren Rincón de la Vieja (1,895 meters
[6,254 feet]). The latter has an active crater and fumaroles on its lower slope that constantly let off steam. Since 2011, the volcano has been very active, leading park authorities to close some trails and even the entire park on days when the activity is deemed too dangerous. Be sure to check with local lodges and tour operators before you visit.
The wildlife here is diverse: more than 250 species of birds, including long-tailed manakins and blue-crowned motmots; plus mammals such as white-tailed deer, coyotes, howler and capuchin monkeys, and armadillos. There are two main entrances: Santa María and Las Pailas; the latter is the most common place to enter the park because it has the most accessible trails and there are several hotels along the road leading up to it. The park does not have guides; we recommend the guides at Hacienda Guachipelín and Rincón de la Vieja Mountain Lodge. You must sign in and pay at the ranger station. Many of the attractions people visit in Rincón de la Vieja are accessible without actually entering the park, since the ranches that border it also hold significant forest and geothermal sites. Unfortunately that same geothermic energy has now been harnessed by a huge electricity-generating plant, evidence of which you will see on your way to Las Pailas entrance: a huge pipeline now snakes around the scrubby pastureland on the approach to the park. It's unsightly but one of the unavoidable costs of "clean" energy.
Rincón de la Vieja National Park, Costa Rica