Today, we are going to Rincon de La Vieja volcano National Park. It’s a 17 mile drive from our hotel, starting on Route 1 before we have to turn off onto a smaller road. With 6 miles to go, we run out of paved road and the bouncing around in the gravel begins. A few miles later, there is a sign saying we are entering private land and must pay 700 colones each (about £1) to continue. Unexpected as we’re heading for a National Park, but the man has a gun, so we don’t argue.
Our first destination is Rio Negro Hot Springs; a series of pools, situated along the river, heated by thermal springs from the volcano. The obvious thing to do would be go to the National Park, hike the trail, then return via the springs to relax afterwards. We opt to head to the springs first in the hope that this will avoid peak visiting time. We are in luck; we arrive at 9 am, just as the springs open and there is no-one else around. We pay the $25 each in entrance fees which gets us entry to the thermal springs, plus a mud treatment and access to a short trail leading to a series of 4 small waterfalls. Towels are also provided.
A 400m walk along a trail brings you, via changing rooms, to the pools. There are ten pools which range in temperature from pleasantly warm to f*** me that’s hot.
There’s also an opportunity to cover yourself in volcanic mud, which is alleged to have therapeutic properties. It’s not as exotic as it sounds – an attendant in wellies hands over half a coconut shell full of mud for us to smother on ourselves, then it’s time to sit on a rock and wait for it to dry…
After relaxing in the pools, covering ourselves in mud and a further pool dip to ensure most of the mud is out of our orifices, we take a walk along the waterfall trail included in the ticket.
Next, we continue to the National Park and, after we’ve forked out another $17 each in entry fees and taken a photo of the trail map, we follow the 3 km trail Sendero las Pailas. This takes you past a number of volcanic features with viewpoints where you can observe fumaroles and bubbling mud whilst inhaling vast amounts of sulphurous gas.
I’m fast coming to the conclusion that ‘kilometro’ in Costa Rica translates into English as ‘miles’. Having avoided the obvious order of attractions (hike first, followed by relaxing in thermal springs) to avoid crowds, the good news is – we achieve this objective. The bad news is – we reach the trail at midday ‘mad dogs and Englishmen’ style.
It’s 32 degrees, the trail is longer than anticipated and we run out of water long before we reach the end. Just as I think things can’t get any worse, a snake slithers across our path! When we do finally do reach the end, we’re hot and dehydrated and the café is shut.
We return to town and stop at Walmart for supplies. I’m so hot and sweaty I worry I’m not going to make it past the man with the thermometer at the entrance. Luckily, I’m not hot enough to be deemed a covid risk and can buy water and empanadas to refuel after our hike.
Once I’ve digested my food, I have a lovely long, cool swim in the pool and a beer, before retiring for our final night in Liberia. Tomorrow it’s time to hit the Pacific coast.