Rincon de la Vieja- Get Her While She’s Hot
One of the best things about Playa Grande is it’s close proximity to an endless array of activities and places to go. Travelers who have been coming to Playa Grande year after year can tell you about the trek from Liberia before the asphalt. Since the Great Paving of 2007, visitors can travel freely to dozens of other beaches, national parks, towns—even a few volcanoes.
If hiking is at the top of your to-do list, Rincon de la Vieja National Park is the closest to Playa Grande. It also happens to be one of the best in Costa Rica. Though the longest trail to the top of the crater has been closed since October 2010 due to an increase of toxic gases, the other hikes are well worth the trip.
In recent years, Rincon de la Vieja has been closely monitored by the Costa Rican government, and she’s in the process of slowly waking up from a dormant period. If you’re even considering bringing hiking shoes to Costa Rica, this is the place to go to. There’s no telling when she’ll erupt and for how long. In March of this year, a visiting friend reported the mud pits were putting on quite the show. So last week on the way back from Nicaragua, we decided to see for ourselves.
The mud pits, a sulfur lagoon, and volcanito are all along a 3km hike around the base. It’s takes about 2 hours to complete, and is not particularly strenuous. It’s been less than a year since we were last on this trail, and it has changed so much. In Costa Rica, you could hike the same trail several times over, and have a completely unique experience every day. This time, the volcanito was exponentially more active. During our first, we were impressed by puny sputterings and its mildly offensive smell—small potatoes compared to now.
It was like rewinding your clocks to the 1980s , and David Bowie had banished us to the Bog of Eternal Stench. Even 20 feet away from the micro-crater the ground below boiled with fury. To witness this occasion is a once in a lifetime experience, but don’t linger here too long. We tasted sulfur well into the evening every time we inhaled.
If you’re looking for an all day excursion, pack a lunch with plenty of water, and set off to the north to see the waterfall. Cataracta Cangreja is 5km from the check-in station; you return the same way you came, making it a 10km total trip. Wandering down the trail you’ll notice the landscape transitions from shaded forest to rugged plain, and then, back into sheltered woodlands. No matter what time of year you arrive at the waterfall, the crystal blue water and surrounding green oasis is well worth the trek.
Rincon de la Vieja is easy to find. Just follow the signs out of Playa Grande and head towards Liberia. Hang a left at the intersection with Burger King and McDonalds and keep following the signs. You’ll eventually make a right up a paved road. But the pavement ends two-thirds up the mountain. You’ll happen upon a man with his gate. The toll is 700 colones per person, pay it, and continue your drive up the mountain. Entrance to the park is $10 per person, and all Costa Rica national parks are closed on Mondays.