Costa Rica is one of the most popular vacation destinations in the world – and with good reason. Its lush green forests, incredible outdoor adventure opportunities, and pristine beaches can yield the perfect holiday for anyone.
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With tourism booming year round, it can feel like you’re constantly bumping elbows with other visitors, but luckily that’s not the case for every destination in the country!
Rincón de la Vieja National Park is one of the least visited national parks in Costa Rica, but it is also one of the most spectacular.
Every hiking trail within the park offers a unique, breathtaking trek through one of Costa Rica’s only dry tropical forest. And if you’re more interested in relaxing and (literally) soaking up all that nature has to offer, the park boasts incredible natural mud pools and hot springs!
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About Rincon de la Vieja National Park
Rincon de la Vieja is a volcano located about an hour away from Liberia in the northern portion of the Guanacaste province. Though the volcano is considered active, it is safe to visit. The national park encompasses the volcano and surrounding geothermal landscape. The entire area makes up part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the Guanacaste Conservation Area.
There are two sections of the park – the Las Pailas and the Santa María sections. If you’re driving in yourself, we recommend entering from the Las Pailas entrance, as the roads leading to the Santa Maria entrance are mostly unpaved and require an all-wheel-drive vehicle.
To access the Las Pailas Zone, you enter the park and follow the Interamericana highway north a few miles until Guadalupe. The road then becomes gravel for the rest of your trip.
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Book early as rental car availability all across Costa Rica is currently lower than demand!
Hiking Trails in Rincon de la Vieja Costa Rica
There are seven major trails within the park ranging in difficulty, length, and terrain. Which trails you end up exploring will depend on the section of the park and ranger station that you start at!
Las Pailas Trails
Las Pailas Circular Sector Trail
Length: 3km (2 miles)
This Las Pailas loop trail starts at the Las Pailas ranger station and winds through the extensive geothermal landscape. You’ll see bubbling volcanic mud pits, and fumaroles, and if you visit during the rainy season, you can see the seasonal waterfall.
Rio Blanco Spring Trail
Length: 800 m (0.5 miles)
This is a quick hike to the Poza del Rio Blanco – the river spring! You can swim here, so make sure to pack your bathing suit.
Escondidas Waterfall Trail
Length: 4.3km (3 miles)
This is another hike that leads to a swimming hole! This trail leads to 3 beautiful waterfalls, but the hike there will have some steep inclines in both directions.
Rincon de la Vieja Crater Trail (CURRENTLY CLOSED)
Length: 8km (5 miles)
If you’re a sucker for a good vista point, the hike to the summit of the Volcan Rincon de la Vieja is a must-do. This is the highest point in the park, and the trail can be extremely challenging at times – especially during the rainy season! Due to the potential dangers hike, this trail has been closed since 2020.
Von Seebach Trail (CURRENTLY CLOSED)
Length: 8km (5 miles)
Partway through the hike to the Volcan Rincon de la Vieja crater, there is a fork in the trail at the timberline. Left takes you to that volcano’s summit, right takes you to the Von Seebach summit. This trail is subject to closing, seeing as this volcano is considered active! It emits steam regularly and sometimes bubbles up.
Length: 500 meters (0.3 miles)
This is a short trail, but it’s packed with wildlife! It’s perfect for people interested in seeing agouti, peacocks and pizotes indigenous to the area. There is also the remnants of a sugarcane mill.
BONUS: Pailas – Santa Maria Trail
Length: 8km (5 miles)
If you want to pick just one trail to hike in Rincon de la Vieja, it should be this one! The Pailas – Santa Maria trail connects the two ranger stations within the park and traverses the mountains in between. Along the trail, there will be several opportunities to veer off and experience the untamed beauty of the park – from pristine waterfalls to natural hot springs you can take a dip in.
La Congreja Waterfall Trail
Length: 5km (3 miles)
The Escondidas Waterfall Trail and this trail start in the same place for fork a couple kilometres in from the ranger station. While historically this trail has been the more popular of the two because of its’ sparkly blue waters (it’s been dubbed the “blue lagoon” of Rincon de la Vieja), unfortunately, you can no longer swim here! It’s still a beautiful hike and an incredible waterfall, and still very worth the trek in our opinion!
Length: 2km (1.25miles)
This is the closest waterfall to Hacienda Guachipelín that’s easily reached on foot or horseback over roughly 25 minutes each way. The canyon is a lovely place to take a dip or just admire the incredible nature. This cascading waterfall is perfect for those wanting a short walk with impressive views.
Length: 4km (2.5 miles)
The sister waterfall to Chorreras. Upon entering the Rincon de la Vieja national park via the Las Pailas section, you will find the trailhead to this impressively high waterfall plunging into the pool below. The trail winds along the River Blanco making for a peaceful walk.
Length: 4km (2.5 miles)
You can reach the crystal blue water of Victoria falls by starting at Hacienda Guachipelín. Be aware there is a steep descent to get down to the falls. It is well worth it but make sure you bring plenty of food and water if you plan on spending some time here. If you hike down, you have to hike back up!
Rio Negro Waterfalls
Length: 1.3 km (0.8 miles)
If you’re planning to enjoy the healing powers of the Rio Negro hot springs, be sure to check out the waterfalls as well. The waterfall trail follows the Rio Negro river to four different waterfalls, each with a small pool for swimming. It’s a nice way to explore the trails before enjoying a soak in the sulfur springs.
Wildlife and Vegetation in Rincon de la Vieja
Because this national park is located within a dry tropical rainforest, you’ll encounter more unique wildlife and the vegetation here than you would anywhere else in the country. Instead of your typical Costa Rican rainforest – full of lush green trees and unfathomable biodiversity – this part of the country is characterized by rolling hills and trees sprouting yellow, red, and orange flowers.
This area is also home to unique creatures like the agouti, nine-banded armadillo, white-nosed coatis, spider monkeys, and 300 different bird species.
Activities and Adventure Centres in Rincon de la Vieja
There are loads of outdoor activities to explore in Rincón de la Vieja with adventure centres scattered around the park. They offer tours and a range of short or full-day adventures to get your share of fun. Some of the best adventure centres in Rincón de la Vieja include:
Vandará Hot Springs & Adventures: Vandará blends adventure and relaxation with ziplining, horseback riding, and a relaxing spa. Vandará offers 7 different packages that showcase the unique nature and culture of the Rincón de la Vieja area. Enjoy the park’s lush grounds while swinging through the trees or splashing down the 400m (1313 ft) waterslide before relaxing with a mud mask.
Vida Aventura Nature Park: The 400 acres at Vida Aventura are all about nature, adventure, and relaxation. They offer outdoor activities like horseback riding and ziplining, along with relaxation massages and an invigorating thermal pool. Plus, if you stay in one of their apartments, you’ll get to enjoy each activity for only $25 per person.
Blue River Resort: Stop by for a 1-day eco-adventure tour or spend the week in a tropical cabana. Blue River Resort has great packages for tubing, hiking, horseback riding, and even a dinosaur park. The on-site thermal springs are perfect for a relaxing soak or plunge into the swimming pool on the exhilarating bullet water slide.
Buena Vista Del Rincon Eco Adventure Park, Hotel & Spa: Another great adventure centre celebrating nature, culture, adventure, wellness, and sustainability. Experience hanging bridges, bird watching, waterfall hiking trails, and more at Buena Vista Del Rincon. The tours are complemented by rustic wooden cabins set in a picturesque garden with a sun-soaked swimming pool.
Hacienda Guachipelin: Offering the widest range of activities in Rincón de la Vieja, Guachipelin has a tour or activity for everyone. See our detailed description of the adventure centre and its offerings below.
Activities at Hacienda Guachipelin
Without a doubt, Hacienda Guachipelin is our favourite adventure centre and has been a staple on all of our visits. Guachipelin has over 20 different tours to choose from with a range of thrills from canyoning to river rafting. The resort is a one-stop shop for accommodation, dining, adventure, and relaxation at their on-site spa.
In addition to tours, Guachipelin has a butterfly garden, frog habitat, and serpentarium. There’s so much to explore and the staff at the adventure centre can help you arrange a fun-filled trip. Below are some of our top recommended activities at Guachipelin.
It wouldn’t be a Costa Rican holiday without a quick zip through the rainforest! The best way to incorporate this adventure into your vacation is with Guachipelin’s Canyon Canopy Tour. The tour is very unique and is guaranteed to get your heart pumping!
After zooming along 7 different ziplines, you’ll get a chance to cross hanging bridges, swing on a Tarzan swing, and rappel down a canyon. Plus, you can test your climbing skills on a natural rock climbing wall over the spectacular White River Canyon. The tour lasts 2 hours and costs $60 per adult.
It’s our favourite tour in Rincón de la Vieja, not to mention one of the best zip lines in Costa Rica!
The Rio Negro Tubing Adventure allows you to experience the class 2 & 3 rapids of the Rio Negro safely, so anyone can do it! You float down the river with an experienced guide, stopping in calm pools periodically to take in your beautiful surroundings.
One of the best ways to explore Rincón de la Vieja is on horseback! Guachipelin offers different horseback riding tours based on what kind of adventure you’re after. Choose from riding to Las Chorreras Waterfall, touring the hot springs, or being a full-blown cowboy for a day, there’s a horseback adventure for everyone.
With so many scenic hiking trails to explore, you could spend a whole trip discovering them all. We love Guachipelin’s One-Day Nature Tour that highlights all the unique flora and fauna of the park. Spend an afternoon hiking to multiple waterfalls, exploring the red pond, or joining a Private Full-Day Bird Watching Tour.
Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned pro, Guachipelin offers trail tours and mountain bike rentals for self-guided adventures. There are 30 km of trails to explore passing by waterfalls and wildlife, all the while being the only trails in Costa Rica to circle an active volcano!
If you’ve ever tried rock climbing, you might just love waterfall canyoning. You’ll climb and rappel down rock walls before cooling off in the splash of the river. It’s certainly one of the most interesting ways to see the river and definitely not for the faint of heart!
After hours of thrilling adventure, relaxing at the spa is an ideal way to end the day. Many of Guachipelin’s tours end with a soothing soak in the Rio Negro hot springs and mud baths. They also have the peaceful Simbiosis Spa on-site, offering saunas, massages, and mud masks.
Due to the area’s high levels of geothermal activity, natural thermal springs can be found all around Rincon de la Vieja! Our top pick is the hot springs of Rio Negro, accessible from the Las Pailas section. The waters are rich in minerals and known to have rejuvenating and therapeutic properties. You can soak all day or lather up with a mud mask to treat your pores to a spa body masque. There are 10 different pools open from 9 AM – 5 PM daily. Entrance is $25 per person and can be booked through Guachipelin.
To get the most out of your visit, Guachepelin offers fantastic combo tours blending adventure and relaxation. We recommend the One Day Waterfalls Expedition to hit 3 different waterfalls with a buffet lunch and trip to the hot springs. Similarly, the Horseback Riding to the Rio Negro Hot Springs tour includes an hour-long horseback ride to both manmade and natural hot springs. All with a local guide explaining the wildlife and terrain along the way.
And if you’re not sure which one to pick, go for a One-Day Adventure Pass! You’ll get 4 tours in 1 with a day filled with canyoning, tubing, hot springs, and a horseback ride. This is by far our favourite combo package and one we recommend to those wanting to experience all this park has to offer.
Traveling to Rincon de La Vieja
How to Get There
Coming from Liberia Airport, drive into the town of Liberia. At the main intersection, turn left and you will start seeing signs for the Las Pailas sector of the national park. To visit the Las Pailas sector, turn right at the entrance and continue for 20 km (12 miles).
To visit the Santa Maria sector, don’t make the turn into the first park entrance – instead, continue along the main road and you will start seeing signs for Santa Maria Ranger Station. (Reminder: the roads to Santa Maria are accessible only with vehicles with 4-wheel drive, as they are mostly unpaved.)
The park is open every day of the week from 8 am – 4 pm; the Las Pailas section is closed on Mondays. Entry for adults is $15, children ages 6-12 is $5.
Other Tips and Essential Travel Details
- For each day that you’re spending in the park, make sure to bring a sizeable water bottle. There is a filling station at the admission office, but not within the park.
- Mosquitos aren’t a huge problem here – as it is a dry rain forest – so you can wear shorts while hiking.
- The best time to visit Rincón de la Vieja is during green season when volcanic activity is at its peak. You’ll see the most boiling mud pots, mini geysers, and powerful waterfalls in the forest.
- Make sure to use the toilet at the admission office – there are none inside the park!
Where to Stay While Exploring the Park
Hotel Hacienda Guachipelín
Hotel Hacienda Guachipelín is an eco-hotel/ranch is right outside of the park, offers beautiful rooms with complimentary breakfast, and can help you organize any kind of tour you’d like to do in the area.
Borinquen Mountain Resort and Spa
Also located just outside of the park, Borinquen Mountain Resort and Spa is an eco-resort is another great option for all kinds of travelers. Their rooms are beautiful, they offer epic tour packages, and their on-site spa will help you relax and unwind after a long day of adventure.
Just 15 minutes away from the Santa María ranger station, Rinconcito Lodge is the perfect launchpad to explore Rincón de la Vieja. They have lovely garden and mountain view rooms with an on-site restaurant, relaxing pool, and fantastic tours.