Rincon de la Vieja National Park sits in the northwest corner of Costa Rica in the Guanacaste province with 7 different trails leading to beautiful viewpoints, breathtaking waterfalls and other natural attractions. There is no doubt that Rincon de la Vieja National Park offers some of the best hikes in Costa Rica.
If you’re planning on visiting, here are our tips. This post has been updated January 2020.
What would you like to read about first? Click the section to skip to it.
- About the park
- Hours and fee
- The hiking trails
- Where to sleep
- Combination tours
- Hot Springs
- Tips for visiting/what to bring
Rincon de la Vieja National Park Facts
Rincon de la Vieja, or Old Woman’s Nook is an active 1,895 meters (6217 feet) tall volcano. It is 1 of 5 volcanoes in the Cordillera de Guanacaste (Guanacaste mountain range). This large 14,127 square hectares (35,131 square acres) national park is great for day tours in Guanacaste for those who love hiking and adventure.
This national park is especially famous for its large geothermic activity and secondary volcanic activity. The ICE (Costa Rican government power company) even has plants in the park to study and harness the natural gas as energy.
Rincon de la Vieja National Park also protects one of the most important and endangered ecosystems in Costa Rica: the tropical dry forest. Even though it is dry for much of the year, there are dozens of beautiful rivers and a handful of stunning waterfalls, offering unique woodland scenery and landscapes.
Entrance Fee and Hours
The park is divided into 2 sectors: Santa Maria and Pailas. Las Pailas is the more popular sector.
Rincon de la Vieja National Park hours are Tuesday through Sunday 8 AM to 3 PM. Santa Maria sector is open every day.
The Rincon de la Vieja National Park entrance fee is $15 for adult foreigners and $5 for children ages 6-12. If you are going to the Las Pailas sector, you will have to pay an extra 700 colones per person fee to enter the Hacienda Guachipelin property.
Location and Directions
Rincon de la Vieja National Park map
Rincon de la Vieja National Park is 230 kilometers from San Jose (143 miles) and 24 kilometers (15 miles) from Liberia
How to get to Rincon de la Vieja National Park
To Las Pailas sector: Coming from Liberia International Airport, drive to Liberia city (turn left out onto the main road from the airport). At the main intersection into Liberia (Santa Rosa plaza on your right, Burger King on your left, McDonalds in front of you), turn left. Drive about 3.5 kilometers (2.2 miles) and you will see many signs for “Rincon de la Vieja National Park Las Pailas sector.” Turn right into the entrance after the Ebais clinic on your left and continue on this road for about 20 kilometers to the national park entrance and the trail heads.
You’ll pass through the Hacienda Guachipelin (and pay the toll) and continue on this road to the national park office. There is a parking lot where the administration office is.
To Santa Maria sector: Same way from Liberia except don’t turn into Las Pailas sector. You will see more signs for “Santa Maria” on the road, follow those (very good signage).
You don’t need a 4×4 to Rincon de la Vieja. The Santa Maria sector has more unpaved roads so we do recommend a high car to be more comfortable but it is not necessary.
Map and Hiking Trails
There are 7 hiking trails in the park. The Las Pailas sector is the most popular since it’s more accessible and closer to Liberia.
You can do an easy 3 kilometer (1.86 miles) loop around the boiling mud pots or walk 4.3 kilometers (2.67 miles) to Catarata Escondida/La Cangreja at 4.3 kilometers (2.67 miles).
*The trail to the crater summit is currently closed due to volcanic activity.*
Sendero Las Pailas (Boiling mud pots trail) – 3 kilometers loop
For our first trip, we did the easy 3 kilometers loop to the Rincon de la Vieja boiling mud pots.
This trail leads to several different interesting things to see: volcancito (little volcano), a seasonal waterfall and the mud pots.
This trail is very easy. There are no switchbacks or steep climbs so it’s an excellent option for an easy hike. It won’t take more than an hour to walk the whole loop, even with stopping here and there.
We did this hike on a hot February day and even though it’s only 3 kilometers, it felt like longer because of the heat. Luckily, we weren’t walking under the hot sun all day.
The first half of the trail was under the cool forest canopy with a nice breeze and fresh air. It’s normally very hot in Guanacaste but at the park, you’re a few hundred meters up, so it’s a bit cooler.
Once you walk out of the forest, you encounter this everlasting landscape. All you see is the the mountain range, forest and clear skies ahead of you. It’s amazing how polar opposite the landscape is like in dry season since most of it is so yellow!
About halfway through the loop is the seasonal waterfall. They aren’t joking when they named this waterfall, as you can see it’s barely a trickle! This was taken in February but during rainy season this waterfall is completely flowing.
There are two areas where you could observe the mud pots on the trail. One of them looked like a little lake (laguna fumarolica) that bubbled every few seconds or so.
Further down the trail, is Volcanito (little volcano). This part of the mud pots is really active and it’s constantly bubbling which is cool to see.
It’s boiling so much that they reach up to at least a foot and you can hear the splattering of mud meters away when the sulfuric smell slowly penetrates your senses. Watch the video to see the mud!
It was pretty neat to see the boiling mud pots, especially knowing that the country uses this geothermal energy as power. You’re very close to the end of the loop at this part of the hike.
Sendero Catarata La Cangreja (La Cangreja waterfall trails 5.1 kilometers)
If you’re in the mood for a longer hike and want to see a waterfall, head to Sendero Cataratas.
It starts off as one trail and branches off to two different waterfalls. If you want to visit both, make sure to get there early and you have plenty of food and water because the trails are 10.4 kilometers (6.5 miles) one way.
We chose to hike the La Cangreja waterfall since it has a nice pool to swim in. Catarata Escondida is smaller and isn’t quite as “sparkly” (the Cangreja waterfall is known as the blue lagoon).
We set off towards the east (walk up to the left from the entrance office, past a gate) and headed into the forest. For the first half of this trail, you’re under the forest canopy so it was nice and shady.
You have to cross a few small rivers and some parts of the trail under the forest is a bit hilly. Be prepared for when you go back, the last few hundred meters of this trail is very steep!
Change of Landscape
Soon you’ll notice less and less trees until you get to a clearing. This part, besides the waterfall is the most spectacular part of the hike. You’re surrounded by rolling hills and various layers of yellow grass and green forests around you. It took my breath away!
As you look around you, it’s hard to imagine that there is a waterfall in there somewhere!
The last part of the trail past the sign gets quite steep and I had to get down on my hands and knees to balance myself. As soon as that part is over, you reach your reward. A tall, sparkling waterfall crashing down into a bright blue pool. We wasted no time jumping into the water, It was a very hot and sweaty 2 hour hike!
This waterfall is one of our favorites in Costa Rica. You can see why in the photo!
***As of winter 2018, there is now a sign that says that swimming is not allowed. However, you will still see tourists swimming in the pool. You’re technically not allowed so keep that in mind.***
We spent an hour or so at the waterfall, cooling ourselves off and re-energizing for the walk back.
If you can only hike to one waterfall, I recommend the La Cangreja one over the Escondida. However, this trail is longer. It’s easy for most of it, but there is a section near the end that is a bit steep and has tall steps with lots of rocks. I would not recommend it for those who can’t walk for long periods of time or have serious knee or ankle problems.
It took us 2 hours to get to the waterfall since we stopped a lot to take pictures and videos. It took us 1 hour and 25 minutes to get back without stopping. The trail is a total of 10.2 kilometers, which is 6.33 miles. We didn’t see much wildlife during this hike but we saw spider monkeys on our way back!
You can watch a video of this waterfall hike below.
Rincon de la Vieja Hotels
There are several lodges and haciendas in the Rincon de la Vieja area for those who want to stay close to the national park.
The closest one is Hacienda Guachipelin and Canyon de la Vieja (Las Pailas sector). Buena Vista Lodge and Hotel Borinquen are further away by the Santa Maria sector. Hotel Borinquen is the nicest out of all of them, situated deep into the forest on a huge property with very elegant rustic cabinas. The other hotels, Guachipelin, Canyon de la Vieja and Buena Vista Lodge are smaller with more rustic and simpler rooms.
Rincon de la Vieja National Park Tours
Most of them include a canopy tour, horseback riding, hot springs and a mud bath. Guachipelin has a 5 km (2.2 mile) white water tubing and Buena Vista has a waterslide. All of them are super fun!.
There are also a couple other waterfalls worth a visit in/near the park such as Catarata Oropendola (at the parking lot right below the main parking lot of the admissions office). The Guachipelin tour takes you to another set of waterfalls that you can jump off of!
If you need recommendations for a tour to Rincon de la Vieja National Park or any of the adventure parks, please contact us.
Rincon de la Vieja Hot Springs
Due to the high volcanic activity and plethora of rivers in the park, hot springs are very popular. Each park (ones mentioned above) has their own hot springs and you can pay for a day pass to any of them.
Our favorite is Guachipelin because it is built with a more natural feel and is right next to a river. Another popular thing to do with hot springs is the mud baths. You smear volcanic mud all over your face and body and then wash it off in the river! It feels so good and is very relaxing.
Important Things to Know
- You don’t need a 4X4 for driving to the park.
- You can wear shorts and a tank top for the hike. We went in March, the hottest month and I regretted wearing long pants!
- Bring plenty of water and snacks. There is a hose with drinkable water at the admissions office but bring at least 1 liter (1 quart) for each person if you plan to hike the waterfalls trail.
- I highly suggest bringing an insulated water bottle to keep your water nice and cold. It gets very hot so water in a plastic bottle will get boiling hot!
- A hat, sunscreen and sunglasses are an absolute must.
- As for shoes, hiking sandals will be fine. I wore closed toed hiking shoes which I also regretted, it was so hot. But you do need a closed toed shoe or at least a bumper if you have hiking sandals.
- The only bathrooms are near the entrance office.
- They give you a map and there are usually volunteers who explain the park and trails.
- If you want the waterfall to yourself, go as soon as the park opens. It gets busy around noon.
- If you’re staying at one of the hotels near the park, I highly recommend renting a car in Costa Rica. You need to go to Liberia for supplies and a taxi will cost around $20 one way depending on the hotel. With a car, you can drive to various parts of the national park since it is huge.
Read about other national parks in Costa Rica!
Barra Honda National Park: National park in Nicoya with hiking trails, dry tropical forest and caves. Can go hiking or do a caving tour. Great national park from Tamarindo.
Palo Verde National Park: National park with the Tempisque River and Valley. Can take a guided boat tour down the river to see wildlife. Excellent place in Guanacaste to see wildlife.
Irazu Volcano National Park: Highest volcano in Costa Rica. Can walk to see the crater lake in the national park. About a 1.5-2 hour drive from San Jose.
Manuel Antonio National Park: National Park in the Central pacific with white sand beaches, hiking trails and lots of wildlife. About 3 hour drive from San Jose.
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