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Rincón de la Vieja National Park is like a platter of mixed hors d’oeuvres: a little bit of everything, all served in convenient, bite-sized portions, perfect for picking and choosing according to personal taste.

Trails range from easy to strenuous, and they pass through varied landscapes. Some go uphill, others go down. A few lead to picture-perfect waterfalls, one loops around several steamy hot springs, and the showcase hike heads straight up to the volcano’s summit.

And because the park is a bit difficult to access—there are no public buses from nearby Liberia—it is less touristy than many of Costa Rica’s better known destinations.

Rincón de la Vieja is actually one of two volcanoes in the park. It is classified as active but hasn’t erupted since 1998. Santa María, the other, smaller cone, is dormant. Climbing Rincón de la Vieja is a rigorous, daylong undertaking. The trail emerges from layers of forest onto a dramatically bleak volcanic moonscape. Vapor rises from the turquoise crater-lake and floats up into the clouds.

Other hikes are less strenuous, but just as climactic. The path to the park’s largest waterfall, La Cangreja, passes alternately through cool, wooded areas and open, sun-dried plains. Copper-infused water tumbles some 200 feet into a blue-green pool surrounded by eminently lounge-able rocks. Many visitors eat their lunches, swim, or soak their feet before hiking back out.

Near the ranger station, a short, kid-friendly trail leads past scalding ash pits and belching volcanic vents. The air is heavy and sulfuric and iguanas sometimes lounge on the hot stones.

The park is popular with birders, and observant hikers can spot a huge variety of wildlife. White-throated magpie jays, with their jaunty black feathered headdresses, alight on low branches, and lucky hikers might see playful monkeys swinging happily above them. An even luckier hiker might sight toucans, armadillos, hummingbirds and tapirs as well. Even in the park’s picnic area, curious coatis snuffle along the ground, their long ringed tails comically upright behind them. Don’t feed them, of course, but keep en eye on your peanut butter and jelly!



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