The Colossus of Guanacaste
Rincon de la Vieja National Park is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Guanacaste Conservation Area. The center of this park is formed by Santa Maria Volcano and Rincon de la Vieja Volcano, the largest and most active volcano in Guanacaste, Costa Rica at 6,286 feet. The park is about 5 hours drive from Juan Santamaría International Airport in San Jose.
A Folk Tale
Legends has it that once upon a time, a princess fell in love with the prince of an enemy tribe chief. To end this forbidden love, the princess’s father threw the prince into the live volcano crater.
Troubled by her loss, the princess ran away to live the rest of her life on the volcano’s slopes where she made herbal medicine that has healing powers. Those who need cures from ailments and curses were asked to go to “the corner of the old woman.” Thus called Rincon de la Vieja.
The best way to visit this area is to book a stay in Hotel Hacienda Guachipelin. This eco-hotel offers the closest and best lodging that is inspired by ranching life in the province with lovely views of the dry tropical forest and the Rincon de la Vieja Volcano.
Rooms costs about $100 each night depending on the type that includes;
- Welcome cocktail drink
- Huge Costa Rican breakfast.
- Free access to pool, gardens, hiking trails and waterfalls.
- Entrance to the hotel’s natural volcanic hot springs with volcanic mud bath.
Hacienda Guachipelin can organize other outdoor activities such as, hiking, horse riding, canoeing, and tubing. Adventure packages could run up to $450 based on your customized activities. Visit the hotel website for a list of packages.
Sights and Activities
Las Chorreras Waterfall – 1 km trail
You can walk from the hotel reception down on the main road or park across the trail entrance.
Swimming is allowed in all parts of the river and the waterfall. Be mindful of your clothes and other personal belongings while taking a dip. Currents are stronger and deeper close to the waterfall. There is a park employee at the entrance but there is no lifeguard and you don’t have to change clothes in the bushes, restrooms are available close by.
Rio Negro Hot Springs and Mud Baths – 300 m trail
This is what really drew us to visit the area in the first place. Reservations are needed to enter the Rio Negro Mud Bath and Hot Springs, which is done at the hotel reception. This is part of the hotel’s effort to minimize the transmission of Covid 19. Times are usually at 30-minute intervals, but there is no time limit. Stay and enjoy as you want.
You will need transportation to access Rio Negro Hot Springs from the hotel. It would be a 6-km walk if you hike, and there is nothing to see as you would only be walking on the side of the road.
It is prohibited to use your room towels in the Mud Bath and Hot Springs. Upon arrival the attendant will ask you for your room number, hand you a towel and keys to lockers (you need to ask).
The trails are very easy, and it consists of illuminated paths, steps, inclines, and a couple of hanging bridges. There are restrooms and changing facilities at the entrance and halfway to the hot springs. There is another attendant at the hot springs guiding visitors how to use the facilities, and scooping up volcanic mud so you can slather it on your body.
How to do a Mud Bath
- Take a cold shower next to the river
- Dip in the hot springs for a few minutes
- Slather the volcanic mud all over your face and body and let it dry completely.
- Wash them off either by soaking in the cold river or showering.
- You can then go back to the hot springs and relax.
There are no locker rooms right at the hot springs, leave your clothes somewhere you can keep an eye on it. The hot springs have varying degrees of warmth, and all these temperatures are posted on the pools.
1 to 3 hours is adequate to enjoy the facilities. During our stay we went 2 days in a row for 4 hours each. Yes, we needed that much relaxation badly! At night the place is lit up by warm light bulbs that will guide you to the reception and parking. Return the keys and towels before leaving.
Rio Negro Waterfalls – 600 m trail
Rio Negro runs down the side of a hill creating 4 small waterfalls and swimming holes. It is an easy hike with clear paths that will lead you to all the falls. Side street parking and entrance are right across the reception of the Hot Springs.
Swimming is allowed on all falls. There are no lifeguards and lockers, so be mindful of your safety and belongings.
Oropendola Waterfall – 1 km trail
Oropendola Waterfall is located 5 km from the hotel. You need to drive to get there. There is a park attendant that needs your room number or day passes for you to access the trail.
This is a moderate hike that starts of on a flat trail that narrows as you come closer to the waterfall. At this point you will encounter a tight hanging bridge that slopes down making it sway vigorously when you climb down.
The viewpoint is at the end of the bridge. There is a park attendant right at the viewpoint. Swimming is allowed, but you would need to access a steep set of iron stairs to get to the river.
The water is deeper towards the waterfall, it is cold but refreshing. There are no lockers and restrooms so be mindful of your things.
Join us in our stay at Hotel Guachipelin in this video!
Manuel Antonio National Park
Manuel Antonio National Park is one of the most bio-diverse areas in the world. It is the habitat for sloths, iguanas, squirrel monkeys, white-faced monkeys, and colorful little crabs. The park is Costa Rica’s smallest national park, but it is unrivaled in beauty. Established in 1972, the park was preserved, for future generations, with its captivating rain forest, beaches, and coral reefs. The beaches are breathtaking, with a surrounding lush forest, that is excellent for snorkeling as well. The park is about 3 hours drive from Juan Santamaría International Airport in San Jose.
Manuel Antonio National Park is open every day, except Tuesdays, from 7:00 am to 4:00 pm. Bringing any kind of food, beverage and single use plastics are not allowed inside. There is a cafeteria in the park that offers snacks and beverage.
Being a famous park in Costa Rica, this province offers tons of options for hotel stays, tours, adventures, and dining. A cozy city close to the park is Quepos which is 20 minutes away. It is a touristy but laidback small town. In the afternoon the locals would gather on the boardwalk to wind down with their families as waiting for the sunset.
Admission tickets can only be purchased online for $18.08 for adults and $5.65 for children 2 -11 years old. If you prefer guided tours, admission is included in the price. Your passport number is required to register for entrance to the park. Parking costs 4,000 Costa Rican colones paid to the parking attendant.
On your way to the park, beware of locals posing as “official park guides” that will stop you on the road to sell you parking and entrance tickets. They will be dressed liked park guides with tags and all, but they are not from the park. Pay no attention and continue driving to the park (see photos and link for direction). They are likely to sell overpriced services and their parking is far from Manuel Antonio National Park.
After verifying your reservation at the reception and entering the park, take a photo of the map. Although it is unlikely for you to get lost in Manuel Antonio National Park, it would come handy to plan your hike. We chose to take the route in numerical order. The places we spent time on was Playa Espadilla Sur and Playa Manuel Antonio.
Side by side, these two beaches form a land bridge that connects Punta Catedral to the mainland. We took a very relaxing video of our visit to Playa Espadilla Sur. Join us on our sit in this video.
Punta Catedral is a luscious green forest, presenting gorgeous views of the Pacific Oceans in its viewpoints. Some of the viewpoints during our visit were closed due to repairs. It would take some climbing power to finish this trail. The loop ends on the other side of the land bridge, Playa Manuel Antonio.
We didn’t pass up the chance to take a dip in the famous Playa Manuel Antonio. The beach seems to stretch out endlessly from Punta Catedral as it curves on to the rest of the park. Its enticing blue waters just calls you as they crest on the immaculate white beaches.
The showers and restrooms are north of the beach. Apply a generous amount of sunscreen and secure your personal items before having fun on the beach. The south part of Playa Manuel Antonio is a rocky cove with crustaceans playing hide and seek.
We just left Tamarindo Beaches, but we can’t get enough of the Costa Rican sun and sand.
After getting our dose of sunshine and salty seas, we headed out for lunch in the Cafeteria. There everyone was startled by a white-faced monkey that seemed to know it’s time for lunch too! He is harmless (I think?), but he will steal your food from your table (or hands) if you’re not careful.
We took two trails after lunch. Playa Gemelas and Mirador Puerto Escondido. It was a nice walk, amidst the chorus of howler monkeys that felt like they are just above us.
Costa Rica never fails to amaze us at every turn. Two top of the line destinations that is worth the money and time to visit. Both places offering breathtaking sceneries and hiking trails that calms rather than wear you out. Each destination gives you energy and desire to want to explore even more.
For more out of this world budget friendly travel visit our Trial Retirement page. Let us know about your own budget friendly escapades in the comments, our YouTube channel & Facebook page. Pura Vida!