Rincón de la Vieja Volcano

Rincón de la Vieja Volcano Facts

Country:Costa Rica
Province: Guanacaste
Coordinates: 10°49'48"N 85°19'26"W
Elevation: 1916 m / 6,286 ft
Volcano type: complex stratovolcano
Typical eruption type: strombolian / vulcanian
Recent eruptions: 1991-1992, 1995, 1998
Activity status: active

The Rincón de la Vieja Volcano is located in in north-western Costa Rica, about 25 km / 15.5 mi from Liberia and it's the main attraction of the Rincón de la Vieja National Park. It is a ridge-shaped complex stratovolcano with at least nine vents lying along the ridge in northwest - southeast direction. The highest of the overlapping cones of the volcano is Santa María peak (1,916 m / 6,286 ft above see level), the currently active cone is Von Seebach peak which contains a crater with an acidic lake and is located in the western side of the mountain.

Scientists believe that the volcano doesn't pose a great danger of a large eruption in the near future. After a period of activity from 1991 to 1998 characterized by periodic phreatic eruptions of mostly wet ash and hot water, the volcano seems to be resting now and only emitting gases from its fumaroles. Besides that, there are many hot bubbling sulphurous mud pits and hot springs on the flanks of Rincón de la Vieja. This large geothermal activity is also a big attraction for the volcano tours.

Rincón de la Vieja National Park

Rincón de la Vieja Volcano, Rincón de la Vieja Volcano  National Park, Costa Rica
Rincón de la Vieja Volcano. Photograph by cyph3r

The park and its volcano are relatively undiscovered by tourists (compared to for example Arenal, Irazú or Poás), mostly due to the remoteness and lack of good roads, but it's definitely worth visiting, at least for a one day tour.

The Rincón de la Vieja National Park, created in 1973, covers an area of 14,083 hectares (34,800 acres) and, beside the volcano, it's known for its abundant flora and fauna. The southwest slopes of the volcano, on the Pacific side, are mostly covered by dry tropical forest, while the northeast (Caribbean) slopes are wetter and lush green. The Rincón de la Vieja National Park is part of the Guanacaste Conservation Area (Area de Conservación Guanacaste) which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Some of the about 300 bird species found here include: blue-throated goldentail, laughing falcon, whitefronted parrot, red trogon, spectacled owl, black-faced solitaire, curassow, quetzal or the emerald toucanet. Mammal species include: coatis, deer, peccaries, skunks, two-toed sloth, squirrels, howler monkeys, white-faced monkeys, armadillos and anteaters.

The park has several interesting trails that start from the Santa Maria ranger station. Visitors can reach sulfurous hot springs, Los Azufrales, that are located 3 km (2 mi) up the trail from the ranger station. You can even taka a bath in these heated pools and cool off in the waters of the nearby stream. A short side trail from there leads to a series of four waterfalls (Hidden Waterfalls) with a nice swimming hole.

Farther along the trail, about 3 km (2 mi) from the hot springs, is another attraction, Las Pailas boiling mudpots. From the mudpots another trail, about 2 km (1.25 mi) long, leads to Las Pailas ranger station and a campground. Another trail from the mudpots (4 km / 2.5 mi) leads to the small fumaroles of Las Hornillas.

For those who want to climb the active crater of Rincón de la Vieja Volcano, the trail starts at Las Pailas mudpots, is about 8 km (5 mi) long and it's best to plan it for a full day adventure. The first 6 km (3.7 mi) of the trail is a gentle ascent through a montane tropical forest, with the final 2 km (1.25 mi) being a rather steep climb over exposed lava rock to the rim of the crater. On a clear weather the views from the top of the volcano can be spectacular, including the Nicoya peninsula and even the Lake Nicaragua.

Rincón de la Vieja Volcano Tours

There are two entrances to the park: Las Pailas ranger station and Santa Maria ranger station. To get there you'll need to drive the last part on gravel roads which requires a 4WD during the rainy season. The closest international airport is  Daniel Oduber International Airport in Liberia, very popular with tourist and tour companies, due to the proximity of Costa Rica's beach resorts at the Pacific side. If you'd like to stay overnight in the park, camping is allowed, but there is no food available. Lodging can be also arranged in the nearby lodges, like Hacienda Lodge Guachipelin, the Rincón de la Vieja Mountain Lodge or Hotel Borinquen Mountain Resort. The lodges also offer their guests transportation to the park.

The nearby lodges also organize a wide variety of tours in the park. The tours include hiking to the crater, wildlife watching and birding tours, canopy tours, horseback riding, ATVs, river tubing or waterfalls and hot springs tours. If you are on vacation at the Pacific coast, many of such tours can be booked by hotels and resorts there, that will organize transportation to the park or to the lodges.

When to go and weather

For the best views from the summit you should opt for visiting Rincón de la Vieja during the dry season, between January/February and April, but the higher the elevation is the more chances to experience some rain. Also remember that during the wet (green) season the dirt road to the park can only be driven in a 4WD vehicle. Typically the weather is best in the morning. The temperatures on the top of the volcano are, of course, much cooler than at its base, so take a jacket and preferably wear long pants.

Other Costa Rican Volcanoes: Arenal  •  Irazú  •  Poás  •  Turrialba