Rincón de la Vieja National Park has several excellent trails. The easiest hiking is the gentle Las Pailas loop ★. This 3km (1.75-mile) trail is just off the Las Espuelas park entrance and passes by several bubbling mud pots and steaming fumaroles. Don’t get too close, or you could get scalded. Happily, the strong sulfur smell given off by these formations works well as a natural deterrent. This gentle trail crosses a river, so you’ll have to either take off your shoes or get them wet. The whole loop is 3.2km (2 miles) and takes around 2 hours at a leisurely pace.
A more grueling hike here is to the Blue Lake and La Cangreja Waterfall ★★. Along this well-marked 9.6km (6-mile) round-trip trail, you’ll pass through several ecosystems, including tropical dry forest, transitional moist forest, and open savanna. You are likely to spot a variety of birds and mammals and have a good chance of coming across a group of the raccoon-like coati. Although it does not require any great climbs or descents, the hike is nonetheless long and arduous (some say too arduous for what you see). At the end of your 2-hour hike in, you’ll come to the aptly named Blue Lake, where a 30m (98-ft.) waterfall empties into a small, crystal-blue pond. This is a great spot for a swim. Pack a lunch and have a picnic before hiking back out.
Because of volcanic activity and the extreme nature of the hike, the summit trail has been closed to visitors since 2013 and will likely remain that way for the foreseeable future. If it reopens, energetic hikers can tackle the summit ★ and explore the craters and beautiful lakes up here. The trail is 16.6km (10.3 miles) round-trip and takes about 7 hours (the trail head is at the ranger station). It heads pretty much straight up the volcano and is steep in places. Along the way, you pass through different ecosystems, including sections of tropical moist and tropical cloud forests, while climbing some 1,000m (3,280 ft.) in altitude. After about 6km (3.7 miles), the trail splits. Take the right-hand fork to the Cráter Activo (“Active Crater”). Filled with rainwater, this crater is 700m (2,300 ft.) in diameter and still active. Off to the side is the massive Laguna Jigueros.
The park entrance fee is $17 per person per day, and the park is open Tuesday to Sunday from 8am to 3pm.
Camping will cost you an extra $2 per person per day. There are actually two entrances and camping areas here: Santa María and Las Pailas (also called Las Espuelas; tel. 2666-5051) ranger stations. Las Pailas is by far the more popular and accessible, and it’s closer to the action. These small camping areas are near each other. I recommend the one closer to the river, although the restroom and shower facilities are about 90m (295 ft.) away, at the other site. For those seeking a less rugged tour of the park, several lodges are around the park perimeter and offer guided hikes and horseback rides into the park.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.