Rincon de la Vieja National Park
The Rincon de la Vieja National Park is in Liberia’s backyard. It begins just a few kilometers northeast of the city limits. The national park (its name means “corner of the old”) spreads out over 14,000 hectares, at altitudes ranging from 600 to just under 2,000 meters above sea level. The volcano of the same name (1,806 m) and the Volcan Santa Maria (1916 m) are visible from far and wide.
The Rincon National Park is famous in Costa Rica for the unusual cone of its volcano, its yawning crater, small lakes and volcanic steam vents. Smoke curls from crevices in the earth and bubbling mud springs emit sulfurous fumes.
The last eruption of the Volcan Rincon was in 1991. The corrosive gas accompanying the lava that streamed down the mountain significantly damaged the forest vegetation, especially on the southeastern slopes.
The national park is divided into various vegetation zones, determined by altitude and the average annual amount of rainfall they receive. The Caribbean side of the continental divide experiences significantly higher precipitation than the Pacific side (up to 5,000 mm annually). The more than 30 rivers and streams that flow through the park assure that it has ample water throughout the year.
The humid environment supports a large number of creatures. More than 300 tropical bird species live in the park. Quetzals, exquisite hummingbirds, trogons, parrots, toucans, bellbirds, woodpeckers and wild doves nest in the tropical rain forest. Peccaries, armadillos, sloths, coatis, monkeys, skunks, squirrels and tapirs inhabit the park.
Hikers have spotted pumas, jaguars, margays and ocelots, which stalk the jungle and quickly disappear on spotting human intruders. Insects can be dangerous, especially ticks, which are known to spread meningitis.
A short path leads around the forest station of Santa Maria. The path from Santa Maria extends three kilometers further to the sulfurous springs, and farther still to the boiling mud pond of Las Pailas near the forest station of Las Espuelas. Another hiking path winds to the summit of Mt. Rincon and to its vast crater. The trail begins at the Santa Maria ranger station, passes the Las Hornillas and Las Espuelas stations, snakes through the high grass-covered slopes, and steeply ascends through clouds and thick fog to the summit. A few signs mark the path, but it is easy to get disoriented, and it is advisable for anyone planning to climb to the summit to hire a local guide.