Costa Rica has 5 active volcanos and over 60 inactive or extinct ones…all lined up almost in a perfect row where the Pacific and Caribbean tectonic plates meet. Arenal is probably by far the most well-known and picturesque volcano, but we decided to get off the beaten path while renewing our visas at the border with Nicaragua and check out Rincón de la Vieja (‘the old lady’s corner or nook’), an active volcano with 9 craters!
It’s easily accessed from Liberia and there are different sectors which you can visit. Las Pailas is the most popular and offers a couple of fantastic hikes from the visitor’s center. A friendly ranger helped us choose the shorter 3k Sendero Las Pailas which took a good 2 hours (with little ones) and it was perfect for us. It started off extremely hot and desertlike so it was good that we headed downhill stopping at well-marked spots to see the Laguna fumarolica (fumarolic lake), bubbling water pots, boiling mud pots, a ‘volcancito’ and other smoking fumaroles along the trail.
It was really cool and the kids loved it. At about the halfway mark, we crossed a small river and entered a completely different ecosystem that was much greener, lusher and offered shade with tall forest (complete with blue morpho butterflies!) for which we were grateful as it was mostly an uphill hike from that point. Thank goodness for our snack pack to keep everyone going!
We were hoping to relax and enjoy a well-deserved soak in the Rio Negro Hot Springs after the hike but as it was already past 1pm (and well past someone’s nap time), we instead opted for a quick bite to eat and back to our AirBnB oasis for the late afternoon. There are plenty of hot springs in the area and even an upscale spa (Simbiosis Spa), where you can relax with a mud bath and a massage. Both of these, the hot springs and the spa, are part of the lovely Hotel Hacienda Guachipelín. Duly noted for next visit also. 🙂
There is also a hike to a beautiful waterfall (Catarata La Cangreja) from Las Pailas Ranger Station where you can take a refreshing dip, but as it is about 5k each way and takes about 4 hours AND you have to start hiking before noon, we smartly decided we’d better save that for a day without the kids. The trail to the summit is currently closed due to the eruptions in 2012. The Santa Rosa sector also has a ranger station and over 12k of trails.
We only had a taste of this amazing volcano complex, but there is so much to do here. There are some great hotels in the area that offer hiking and horseback riding, not to mention the hot springs and spa possibilities. Hoping we can return soon!
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