Under the sun of February at Guanacaste province, we were not first-timers visiting Rincon de la Vieja National Park, but it was the first time doing Escondida waterfall trail for all of us.
It was also the first time my best friend from elementary school and I went hiking and got lost together.
“Catarata Escondida” is not the popular trail at Rincon de la Vieja National Park, and that day, we understood why.
This National Park is very interesting because you can find bubbling pools, mini mud volcanoes, and sulfurous rocks.
You will also find dusty paths in the dry season and the tropical vegetation that hosts wildlife, plus waterfalls that refresh your hikes.
How to get to Rincon de la Vieja
“Rincón de la Vieja” (Corner of the old)—well, that was a good attempt at translation. Rincón, as many call it, is the volcano closest to the Pacific beaches, and the most popular after Arenal.
You will see a lot of signs to get there, but here is the information to give you an idea where the park is located:
- The Sector Las Pailas located approximately 25 km from the city of Liberia.
- You must continue along the northern inter-American highway, from Liberia toward Nicaragua (5 km) to the community of Guadalupe.
- Then take a detour (towards the east) toward the community of Curubandé, to continue for 20km on a paved road almost in its entirety, until the entrance to the Sector.
Entrance, Schedule, Map, and Trails at Rincon de la Vieja National Park (Las Pailas Section)
The National Park has two sections to explore in its 14,127 ha:
- Santa Maria
- Pailas (The most visited part). This area was under construction a few years ago and now it has a new welcome center and one trail with universal accessibility.
Locals : 1000 ($2 US)
Foreigners: $15 US
Locals : 500 ($1 US)
Foreigners: $5 US
Note: You can pay in American dollars or credit cards are also accepted.
The park is open from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. The opening days are from Tuesday to Sunday.
We recommend noon as the latest time to get there so you will have time to explore at least a trail.
Important: The National Park is CLOSED ON MONDAYS
Map and Trails
What is the best way to explore Rincon de la Vieja National Park?
Everything depends on how you want to experience the park and the expectations that you have in mind.
I have visited this park around 3 times but never like I did in March 2019.
We did 2 trails to the waterfalls and we ended up hiking for about 8 hours total — 19 kilometers total including a small “getting lost experience.”
Our advice is to come with no big expectations but let nature surprise you in each trail.
If you want to know our opinion, we recommend to do the trails in this order:
- “Pailas Trail”
- La Cangreja Waterfall
- Escondida Waterfall
The mud pods trail – Universal trail
Distance: 3 Km
Approx time: 2 hours
Ok, let’s be clear: this is not like Yellowstone National Park, located in the U.S.A (like one Tripadvisor review compared it to), but if you’ve never been in contact with volcanic activity this is really cool to see.
Here is where you can feel the earth so alive!
The main attraction of the trail is the observation of volcanic manifestations (fumaroles, mud pots, water pans, fumarolic lagoon, small volcano) with temperatures between 78 ° C to 106°C (Don’t try to put yourself in risk like a vulcanologist).
This trail doesn’t require too much effort.
La Cangreja Waterfall
Distance: 10 Km
Approx time: 2 hours
It took us 2 hours to get to the waterfall since we stopped a lot to take pictures and videos.
The trail has a lot of changes in the type of forest. Some areas are close, others are open and the last part of the trail is a little steep but not terrible.
We have visited in the rainy season and in the dry season. It is two different experiences for sure.
If you are visiting in the rainy season, you will definitely have a lot of mud, and it is not recommended to swim in the waterfall because it can be dangerous.
During the dry season, there is a lot of sun, and swimming in the waterfall is very tempting.
However, there is a sign that says that swimming is not allowed (but tourist still do it).
To your left is a small creek with hot water. We wanted to sit there, but a crab didn’t let us do it.
La Cangreja means crab in English — so I was thinking that was one of the reasons that they called the waterfall that might be because the guardian of this place is a huge crab that almost pinched our butts. haha
Make sure that you bring snacks and enough water. They don’t have a bathroom or any facilities around the place.
Distance: 4.3 Km (8.6 km in total round trip)
Approx time: 4-5 hours
Escondida waterfall — what an experience! I was wondering why I haven’t read a lot of information online about it.
We started the trail around 1:00 pm and we thought it would take us around two hours because 4.3 km didn´t sound that bad.
Well, the latter half of the path is of high difficulty, due to the ascent that must be made.
So we started going up and up, looking back with beautiful views on our back.
The signs in the rocks tell us that we have to get to the top, and nobody was on the trail.
Curious about what was coming next, we kept hiking up and the sun was really strong. Fortunately it was also windy.
When we got to the top of the hill it looks like a type of canyon that we have to go down.
There was beautiful scenery, so we started to hear some people and thought: Ok we are not the only ones! But they were leaving so we got the place to ourselves.
There was just a small waterfall, which I assume wouldn’t seem that great to the majority of people after such a hard hike.
But oh well! We love hiking, so the challenged was worthy. I jumped in the cold water and I saw another orange arrow pointing in another direction, so we started following that, and guess what?
The real “Catarata Escondida” was right there! What a way to hide! JA!
We jumped into the waterfall again, and now our crazy hike was making more sense.
After enjoying the beautiful scenery and getting energized with that water (it was cold, by the way), we started hiking back. Going down sometimes is harder for me than going up.
Maria and I were so concentrated on the path that we lost sight of Rodrigo, and then we lost track of the trail.
Yep, the Sabana started to look all the same and no sign of the trail. We were trying to be calm and not tell each other that we were lost.
We started to strategize the best way to find the trail, but deeper in our brains we were panicking, thinking of the fact that was 4:30 pm already and the sun would be going down soon.
My brain started thinking the worst — for a second I pictured a helicopter, a puma.
But we kept calm and retraced our steps. Finally, we found the turn that we missed, and right was Rodrigo looking for us.
UFFF! We breathed again and with a nervous laugh confessed our worst fears if we would be lost.
The way back, the forest just was more than alive than earlier, but there was no time to stop to watch animals because we probably were the last people in the park since it was after 5:00 pm.
In fact, we got to the parking lot and our cars were the only cars there.
Can I hike to the crater trail at Rincon de la Vieja National Park?
Note: Since the crater has been active for quite a while. They keep the trail closed.
It is linear, extension of 8 km (16 km in total round trip).
It is the most difficult route in the sector, so if one day they open it again, we would love to hike this trail.
The ascent that must be made is around 1,000 meters of gain from the base of the path to the top.
The route has an average duration of between 6-8 hours one-way and return.
This “old lady” has been here for millions of years, and for the fortunate that have observed the crater they say that the landscape is pretty impressive, which gives the name to all this volcanic massif (I know the nerdy word to say a group of mountains compacted) composed of 9 craters.
For several years, the active crater has had a series of phreatic eruptions and gas emanation, with variable activity so that this path remains closed until the activity does not decrease and it is considered safe to access this area.
In other words, we don’t want to breath poison gases that can kill us. So we will wait until the experts say that is safe!
You can explore the other two trails and that is a lot of hiking for a full day inside the park.
Important things to have in consideration:
What to bring?
- Close-toed shoes, water (the water bottle can be insulated — mine got boiling hot), jacket, snacks (a lot of them!) or sandwich for lunch, coat (when it is the rainy season).
- A hat or cap and lots of sunscreens are absolute musts.
- The route to get to the National Park is pretty accessible for all type of cars. You can book your car with us.
- If you really like hiking, this National Park offers a lot of options, just plan ahead and be prepared because still, the trails are not well marked and you can get lost! Just kidding, but really though.
- We think this park is a good option for the people who don’t want to stay at the beach, but you can visit the beaches around it for a day.
That’s how our day as a keen hikers ends.
Though our first trail was easy … the second trail left us tired. It was my first experience getting lost, but it was an adventure that makes me want to go back one day to hike the trail to the crater!