Situated in the Northwest of Costa Rica is the province of Guanacaste. The Rincon de la Vieja National Park over here is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is known for its volcano, mud pools and rainforests. Read on to know how we went about exploring the Rincon de la Vieja National Park and its offerings.
It is 8:30 in the morning as our bus sets off the resort for a full-day excursion to the national park. Our guide, Carlos, speaks in Spanish, and we persuade him to talk in English. He keeps on babbling in Spanish as we are at a loss to understand what he is trying to convey. We almost give up, thinking we will have to turn a deaf ear to his Spanish rattling, when Carlos surprises us by speaking in English. This was his way of grabbing our attention and ice-breaking.
The Land of Volcanoes
Costa Rica is home to more than 200 volcanoes, with some 61 volcanoes that are extinct or dormant and six active ones. The Rincon de la Vieja volcano is an active volcano, standing at 1,895 meters (6217 feet) tall; it is located in the National Park that we are visiting. Carlos shows us a video of the volcano emitting steam just a day back on his cell phone. Will we see the volcano? He explains that the plan is to trek in the rainforests, observe the wildlife, and see some natural mud pools and hot springs. This would be followed by us taking a mud bath and then taking a dip in the natural hot water pools. We will not be trekking the mountain to see the volcano (as it is an active volcano) and will have to be content watching it from a distance.
Arriving at Rincon de la Vieja National Park
We reach the Rincon de la Vieja National Park’s reception office. The reception area also has washrooms and a souvenir shop. We are asked to dab on some screen lotion and insect repellent spray before our trek. A juvenile iguana sneaks around unafraid. We see a pair of Great Kiskadee building a nest above a door. Kiskadees are a large, boldly marked and boisterous flycatcher family of birds. They get their name from loud “kis-ka-dee” calls they make and are pretty widespread in Costa Rica.
We are split into two groups. Carlos leads one group, while Ronald leads our group. There are seven major trails in the national park, and we will be taking the 3 km trail, which is shorter but covers the important parts of the national park.
The National Park is home to over 300 species of birds and several animals. No sooner than we begin the trek, we are greeted by a noisy birdcall. We see a spectacular, large and conspicuous White-throated Magpie-Jay . It has a crest, white belly, blue back, and long tail.
A Rare Find
Suddenly Ronald runs towards the other group that is ahead of us. I guess it must be for a good reason. Putting his finger on the lips, he gestures to walk towards him quietly. He points to a Lesser Ground-Cuckoo sauntering on the ground. – (05, 06). It is a beautiful, furtive, and rarely seen bird with a loud referee-like song as if its whistle blows fast and slow. It is mostly camouflaged and inhabits brushy dry woodlands, and is hardly visible in the open. Ronald explains that expert birders pay top dollars to get their sighting with expert guides. We seem to have been lucky.
Adaptations of Fauna and Flora
We enter the rainforest, and Ronald explains the adaptations of the numerous flora and fauna in the rainforest that help them survive. He shares interesting facts and titbits one after another. A tree covered with lichens indicates that the air quality in the forest is pure and free of pollutants. A strangler fig which has grown on a host tree and will eventually smother the host tree rendering weak and may even cause it to die! Termites build nests on trees but live on the ground. There are connected pathways from the nest to the ground. Mushrooms in a series grow on a tree trunk.
A World in a Piece of Forest Floor
Ronald picks a piece of the forest floor and explains how a number of organisms are growing on this small piece. Nature provides for all and several organisms plants, animals and microorganisms mutually coexist. The ecosystem is complex yet thrives without human interference. It is we humans who disrupt the delicate balance by cutting trees, alighting forest fires and littering the jungles.
As we walk through the rainforest, we spot several birds, and Rafiq is happy capturing them through his lens. In a dense and dark part of the forest, we spot a beautiful Lesson’s Motmot with a blue crown perched on a tree branch. The name ‘motmot’ comes from its double-hooting call like an owl. A river meanders through the rainforest and a suspension bridge hangs over it.
A Change in Landscape
We walk further and find ourselves in the dry, arid plains, and most of the trees are bare, devoid of leaves and in stark contrast to the lush green rainforests. In minutes the landscape has changed from green to several shades of yellow and brown. It is hot, and the afternoon sun over our heads is far from kind. Around our tracks, we see some Iguana’s and a Central American Whiptail similar to Indian Forest Skink (or ‘Sapachi Maushi’ i.e. Snake’s Aunty) seen in Indian villages.
Rincon de la Vieja Volcano
Ronald points to Rincon de la Vieja volcano on the mountain. It is as if it is hidden among the clouds and touching the sky. It isn’t easy to differentiate between the clouds and the smoke it emits. Today it seems in a good mood, so we assume it won’t erupt and spew lava. We are safe to explore the national park. We see smoke coming out from among the trees that line the mountain slopes. Is it a forest fire or someone making a bonfire? It’s neither. They are fumaroles or vents on the earth’s surface that emit smoke without liquids or solids. As we walk further, we see Orange-fronted Parakeets at different spots eating some seeds/fruits from dried trees. These small parrots have a relatively long and pointed tail and have an orange forehead and yellowish eye-ring.
Hot Water Springs
Soon we can smell the sulphur in the air. We are now heading to the hot water springs, which are bubbling and emitting sulphurous odours- a stench that is often compared to rotten eggs. Sulphur has left yellow deposits on the rocks in the hot springs. A Great Kiskadee keeps an eye on what we are doing in a nearby bush.
We move further and soon find ourselves near the mud pools. A pool with creamy, grey mud is bubbling and spurting. We watch with rapt attention a geographical marvel we haven’t seen before. Hot springs we have seen in India, but mud pools we are visiting for the first time. This mud is known for its therapeutic benefits for people with skin ailments since it is rich in minerals. The same mud we will later use for the mud baths. Further ahead is a lake with rich mineral deposits.
It is time to head back to our bus. On the way back, we spot a black iguana on a tree trunk while another big striped iguana is basking in the sun. Just as we are about to exit the park, Rafiq sees something colourful and spectacular on the bottom branch of one large tree, and Ronal immediately confirms its Turquoise-browed Motmot (18, 19, 20). It’s a gorgeous bird with distinctive plumage, turquoise brow and turquoise-blue tail. Its tails rackets are more prolonged than the Lesser Motmot that we saw earlier at the park.
After exiting the national park, we head to the Hacienda Guachipelin- an estate which offers numerous adventure sports activities, tours, hot springs and mud baths. Everyone changes into their bathing suits. A suspension bridge takes us to the hot water pools with varying degrees of temperature from 37-39 degrees Celsius. Each individual is provided with a bowl of mud which they need to apply to their bare bodies. The mud is allowed to dry and soak in the skin to let the minerals in it do their work of skin rejuvenation and healing.
Relaxing Hot Water Pools
I watch as everyone is covered in grey mud and is enjoying their natural spa experience. After a shower, the group members head to the numerous hot water pools. The excitement and joy that everyone is experiencing are palpable. I notice a butterfly fluttering around, sitting briefly on the ground and trying to suck water.
Post the mud bath, our group heads to a restaurant for lunch. All that trekking and bathing in pools has made all of us hungry. At the restaurant entrance are some art installations that depict the village life and culture of the locals. The buffet comprising of assorted salads, fruits, pasta, tortillas and chicken is delicious and sumptuous.
The Rincon de la Vieja National Park and the mud bath and hot pools are worthwhile experiences that you may want to do on your trip to the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica. The natural volcanic features and rainforests ensure that you get the best of both.
Nearest Airport: Liberia Airport is located 69 kms away. It will take you 1 ½ hours to reach it from the airport. Where to Stay: You can check for hotels on the net depending on comfort and budget. We stayed at the El Mangroove Autograph Hotel. Travel Tips: Please wear your trekking shoes, hats and sunglasses. Apply insect repellent spray before heading to the rainforest. Carry enough water and some energy bars with you. Depending on your energy levels and interests you can choose the trek that you would like to take in the national park