The Park extends over 14,083 hectares and protects flora, fauna and watersheds around the Rincón de la Vieja volcano. It includes semi-deciduous and very moist forests, and includes a barren rocky terrain at altitudes that range from 650 meters to 1,916 meters above sea level on the Caribbean and Pacific sides of the Guanacaste Volcanic Mountain Range. The climate of this National park is so diverse that areas with a very dry season lasting 4-5 month are immediatly followed by others, near the summit or on the Caribbean side, where there is constant rainfall, which gives rise to a forest mass rich of epiphytes.
Identifaction has been made in the park of about 257 species of birds, including the resplendent Quetzal, the Black Faced Solitaire, the Great Curassow, the Montezuma Oropendula, the Emerald Toucanet, the Elegant Trogon, the Blue-throated Goldentail, the Spectacled Owl, the White-fronted Amazon, the Three-wattled Bellbird, the Green Amazon and the Laughing Falcon. Mammals that find refuge in this remote mountainous region are Cougars, Jaguars, Tiger Cats, Howler, Spider and White Faced Capuchin Monkeys, Ocelots, Tayras, Kinkajous, Two Toed Sloths, White Nosed Coaties, and Northern Tamanduas. Felines, Tapirs, Bonaparte Tinamous and Black Guans abound in the cupey groves.
Rincón de la Vieja National Park also protects a vast network of rivers and streams that feed the basin of Nicoya Gulf and the floodplains south of Lake Nicaragua. On the southern slope, between 700 and 900 mts. above sea level, there is a faultline with a number of fumaroles at the sites known as Las Hornillas and Las Pailas. Also has to be mentioned the hot springs near the Park headquarters. San Roque and Cañas Dulces, neighbors of the volcano, are dactic domes in which the magma was unable to reach the surface as it solidified too soon.
Las Hornillas are kitchen stoves where colums of steam, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide and other gases shoot our of cracks and fissures in the earth's crust. Las Pailas are sites with geysers and bubbling mud pots that are associated with hot-water underground reservoirs buried beneath layers of mud. They extend over approximatley 50 hectares.
The volcano Rincón de la Vieja belongs to a larger volcano structure of nine volcanoes of about 1 Million years of age, the most spectacular being Santa María (1916 mts.) and Von Seebach (1985 mts).
Rincon de la Vieja has two sides from which the park can be entered, called the Pacific side and Caribbean side. Each is different and distinct. Near Liberia, along the Pan American Highway,(Costa Rica’s main north-south corridor) there are four exits that lead to the park. Three of the exits lead to different points along the Pacific side, at the western base of Rincon de la Vieja. 20 km north of Liberia, the furthest exit, leads to the Caribbean side, at the northern base of the park. Also, from city of Upala, the Caribbean side is about 1.5 hour drive away. From both sides hiking the volcano is possible. But from the Caribbean side you must be in better physical condition.
The Caribbean side is located in the rainforest. The environment is lush-green, averages about 5 degrees cooler than the Pacific side, is humid and features more animals and flowers. In an average year there is 200 inches of rain. So expect pleasurable rain showers year-round. Here you’ll find the source of the stunning blue volcanic rivers– Rio Celeste and Rio Penjamos – which flow down along the Caribbean side. And only here can you experience the natural mineral “green” hot springs. There are many options to swim in natural pools with gorgeous waterfalls. Horseback riding is available and many eco tours are being developed.
The Pacific side of Rincon de la Vieja is one of the hotter drier areas of Costa Rica, with more predictable seasons than the rest of Costa Rica. The land is dry tropical forest and open pastures for animals. There is less and more predictable rain. Many hotels, haciendas, and bed & breakfasts dot the roads leading up the entrances to Rincon de la Vieja’s Pacific side. Most offer guided tours to Rincon de la Vieja and larger operations also offer excursions such as zip line canopy tours and horseback riding.