USA Travel Diary Day 11 – Yosemite to Palo Alto

Today is a heady mix of driving and laundry. Check out is at 10am, then we have a 220 mile drive back to Palo Alto to drop off daughter No 2. Checking out is a complicated affair – we’re staying in one of those places where the owners feel the need to pepper the place with multiple lists of instructions. We must take our trash out, run the dishwasher (despite not having any dishwasher tablets), reset the heating etc.

Cosy Bear Cottages
Cosy Bear Cottages

Just when I thought my poor tired legs would get a break as they sat in the car for 5 hours, the kids have managed to squeeze in a 5 mile hike en route! We plan to stop at Mariposa Grove to see the giant sequoias. The road is closed to private vehicles, but the shuttle bus has been cancelled. Hence we must walk to and from the car park 2 miles away. The wonders of off season US tourism; tourist attractions are all open and heaving with people, but facilities are all closed.

Mariposa Grove
Mariposa Grove

So, an hour into our drive home, we park up and walk 2 miles (uphill) to the Welcome Plaza (which is closed – so more of an Unwelcome Plaza) to the grove containing the giant trees. There is a trail which runs around the grove (also closed). So we admire the trees from afar, then wall back to the car and continue our drive to the Bay Area.

Sequoia Tree
Sequoia Tree

Two hours later, we stop in Los Baños for lunch at The Black Bear Diner. We thought the owners of the Cozy Bear Cottage had gone overboard on the bear theme before we set foot inside the Black Bear Diner, but this is a whole new level! However, the main thing is – the food is really good, which is a relief after 3 hours of driving and 2 hours of hiking. The kids round the meal off with a chocolate cream pie and we set off for the final 2 hour drive to Palo Alto.

Black Bear Diner
Black Bear Diner

We finally get back around 5 pm. We have been travelling for 11 days now, so a laundry session is long overdue.

Chocolate Cream Pie
Chocolate Cream Pie

Daughter No 1 and son-in-law decide that after a long and tiring day, the perfect way to unwind is a trip to the pool/hot tub. I do not get off so easily; having moaned about losing my running mojo recently, daughter No 2 drags me to the track for a training session. I must cycle to to track, run the session, cycle to Gotts to collect dinner and cycle back again.

Stanford track
Stanford track

Much as I moan about being dragged off, it is my first track session of the year following an injury and it’s good to finally manage to run again (albeit slowly) after months sidelined with injury. And of course, being Stanford, it’s a very nice track – certainly a step up (or a hundred steps up) from the dismal facilities at Bournemouth.

Stanford track
Stanford track session

After track, we purchase dinner (the kids buy burgers and I opt for a salad, as I had a burger for lunch) and return to meet the others at the pool, where they eat their burgers. I don’t have any cutlery, so just pick the felafal out of my salad, then stare at it for a while.

Oak Creek club
Oak Creek club

Back at the flat, we sort through the mountain of laundry (4 x 11 lots of clothes – plus the contents of daughter No 2’s laundry basket, which looks like it’s been untouched for a while!) and I finally get to eat my salad, before finally climbing into bed exhausted. Phase 1 our our trip is complete. Tomorrow (sans daughter No 2) we set off (with clean underwear), driving south along Route 1.

USA Travel Diary Day 10 – Yosemite National Park

It’s our final day in Yosemite and there’s been a difference of opinion about the severity of today’s trail: daughter No 2 wants to go hard core with a scaling of El Capitan, while daughter No 1 prefers the gentler Valley Floor Loop. Son-in-law is somewhere in between and I just want to relax in the cabin with a good book! A compromise is reached and we head into the valley to hike the 7 mile Mist Trail. Facts they have omitted; (1) it’s a mile from the car park to the trail head, so the 7 mile walk is in fact 9 miles (2) this includes 880 metres of elevation (3) including 600 stone steps (4) which are wet with spray from the waterfall.

Cosy Bear Cottages
Cosy Bear Cottages

After a breakfast of bacon sandwiches, during which we manage to set the fire alarm off (twice), we drive once more from our cabin down into Yosemite Valley, park up and set off for the trail, which threads up and up alongside the Merced River. The first 2 miles are hard work but manageable.

Merced River
Merced River

Then, as we approach Vernal Falls, we must contend with the steps. And the spray. I take off my jumper to keep it dry and daughter No 2 puts it her rucksack, together with my water. She then saunters up the steps, never to be seen again.

Ground squirrel
Ground squirrel

Not only are the steps wet and slippery, but after the first 100 or so, the handrail stops. I manage maybe 400 steps before it dawns on me what a mission it’s going to be for an old lady with a bad knee to get back down again. The others are way ahead of me. I try to gesture that I’m going back down. Then begin the treacherous descent, which is thoroughly terrifying.

Steps to Vernal Falls
Steps to Vernal Falls

Once I reach the bottom, it occurs to me that I am wet and only wearing a t shirt and it could be some time before I’m reunited with my clothes. So, in order to keep warm, I continue walking until I am out of the forest (ie back at the car, which is in a clearing).

Vernal Falls
Vernal Falls

An hour later, the kids reappear and there is a difference of opinion about what proportion of the steps I actually managed. We drive on to El Capitan picnic area, where daughter No 1 and son-in-law can’t resist having a bash at climbing the huge monolith.

Climbing El Capitan
Climbing El Capitan

Then it’s back to the cabin for our final night in Yosemite. We have been here 3 days and walked a total of 24 miles and I am shattered.

El Capitan
El Capitan

One Day in Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio Beach

Orientation

We spent a month driving round Costa Rica and of all the places we visited, Manuel Antonio was my absolute Favourite. This little town, which lies around 100 km south of San Jose is reached by exiting the highway (Costanera Sud) near Quepos, then taking Route 618, which runs all the way to Manuel Antonio National Park.

Route 618 is lined with numerous hotels, bars and restaurant. At the end of the road, is the national park and the glorious 2 km jungle lined golden sand which is Espadilla beach. Go to Manuel Antonio for the national park, but make sure to stay for sunset and cocktails overlooking Playa Espadilla.

Manuel Antonio National Park

f If you’re planning to visit, buying tickets in advance online is highly recommended. We purchased entry tickets and explored the park on our own. If you prefer a guided tour, this can be booked online – alternatively, there are plenty of guides touting for business near the entrance.

PlaceManuel Antonio National Park
Opening Times7-4 (closed Tuesdays)
Price$18.08
Road to Manuel Antonio National Park
Road to Manuel Antonio National Park

An online ticket reservation gives you an entry time slot (ours was 9-9.40 am). No food is allowed in the park, although there is a small café where you can purchase drinks and snacks. No single use plastic is allowed inside the park, but if you bring your own water bottle, they will refill it at the kiosk with very welcome ice cold water for 500 colones. There are plenty of cafes and shops lining the road leading to the entrance. We had breakfast at one of the street side cafes on our way to the park.

Manuel Antonio National Park Map
Manuel Antonio National Park Map

Upon arrival, there is some admin to deal with (you need to bring your passport), bag checks to search for food contraband, temperature checks, compulsory hand washing. It took us a while to get through the formalities.

Sendero Perezoso

Manuel Antonio National Park Entrance
Manuel Antonio National Park Entrance

There are several trails and three beaches in the park. We opted to start with Sendero Perezoso (sloth trail) which takes you, either along a trail or a boardwalk, through the rainforest to a clearing which contains the cafe, toilets and access to some of the other trails.

Sendero Perezoso
Sendero Perezoso

We didn’t see any sloths on the ‘Sloth Trail’ but we did, however, spot monkeys. At first we were excited, peering up into the trees for a closer look. But as we approached the park kiosk, we realised there were hundreds of them, absolutely everywhere. The closer you get to the kiosk, the higher the concentration of monkeys!

Monkey

Sendero Playa Manuel Antonio

From the kiosk, take the Sendero Playa Manuel Antonio, which leads you, not surprisingly, to Manuel Antonio Beach. There are lovely beaches both inside and outside the park, so you are spoilt for choice. As we were staying close by, we opted to spend the morning walking the trails in the National Park, then collect our swimming gear and go to public beach in the afternoon, so we had less to carry. At the end of the trail, you can climb an Observation Tower which is more like a monkey living room! And they certainly were not shy of humans, coming over to check us out.

Manuel Antonio National Park Observation Tower
Observation Tower

Playa Manuel Antonio

Walking the trails of Manuel Antonio is a hot, sweaty business. Take some time at the beach to cool down before tackling your next trail.

Playa Manuel Antonio

Sendero Punta Catedral

Once you’re suitable refreshed, continue on the steep, circular trail (approximately 1.4 km) round a rocky peninsula called Punta Catedral. It has a lot of steps and a lot of gaps where steps used to be. Climbing it was quite a mission in the heat and humidity.

Sendero Punta Catedral
Sendero Punta Catedral

We arrived at the top to find the viewpoint cordoned off (it had been destroyed by monkeys) and continued along the steps/ex steps back towards the beach.

Monkey viewpoint takeover

Punta Catedral

View from Punta Catedral
View from Punta Catedral

Finally, as you continue the circular trail onwards and upwards, you are rewarded with a view over the bay, before descending back towards the beach.

Playa Espadilla Sur

Once back at the beach, I went for a paddle to cool down but the water wasn’t like the bracing sea water of Bournemouth, it was more like stepping into a warm bath.

Playa Espadrilla Sur
Playa Espadrilla Sur

Sendero Playa Espadilla Sur

From here, you can either retrace your steps (if you want to visit the cafe) or take the Sendero Espadilla Sur which takes you towards the exit alongside the beach.

Playa Espadrilla Sur
Playa Espadrilla Sur

Bahia

As you near the exit, take the boardwalk through the mangroves to Bahia beach.

Mangrove boardwalk

At this beautiful beach, you can watch pelicans diving into the rock pools for their lunch.

Pelicans at Bahia Manuel Antonio
Pelicans at Bahia Manuel Antonio

There are other trails, in the park, but our route covered over 5 miles, which in 32 degree heat and 80% humidity, I found was sufficient and decided it was time to retire to the beach!

Manuel Antonio National Park Bahia Beach entrance
Bahia beach entrance

Playa Espadilla

Where to Stay?

We stayed at the Hotel Manuela Antonio. This motel style hotel has large, clean rooms with balconies overlooking beautifully landscaped gardens. It’s literally at the end of the road. Route 618, which brings you to Manuel Antonio, concludes in a turning circle near the park entrance. The hotel is on this circle and literally backs onto the National Park. (When we arrived, there were deer peering over the fence between the National Park and hotel car park). As it’s adjacent to the park and opposite the beach it’s really conveniently placed. In addition, it has ample, free guest parking.

Hotel Manuel Antonio
Hotel Manuel Antonio
Room at Hotel Manuel Antonio
Room at Hotel Manuel Antonio

Costa Rica Travel Diary Day 17 – Marino Ballena National Park

Last night was terrible. I coughed all night and my throat was so, so sore. I got up at 5 am, removed my bedding, built myself a little nest on the balcony and went back to sleep. This morning, it’s time to start the journey back to San José and civilisation. We’re doing it in two chunks; today we’re driving 92 miles north to Uvita, home of Marino Ballena National Park.

Marino Ballena National Park

We retrace our route around the Golfo Dulce and up the Pacific Highway. Another drive with no real need for navigation, so I just sit and watch the world go by for a couple of hours. At one point I open a pack of biscuits and realise I’m being watched by a gang of monkeys sitting on the crash barrier.

Warning sign – surfer

Today’s hotel is actually a hotel – not some grimy hippy shack in the outback. It’s such a relief to walk in a bright, airy room which smells of cleaning product. And the pool is big enough to actually swim in.

Hotel Nido del Halcon

After checking in, I want to go for lunch (it’s 2 pm and I had a bowl of fruit 7 hours ago). But the old man insists on going for a walk first. We head to the beach, but as this forms part of the National Park, we must pay $14 to enter. Now we have to do a long walk as the old man needs to get his money’s worth.

Marino Ballena National Park

I’m not feeling well and really could do without walking 5 miles in the tropical heat having skipped lunch. But he will not be deterred. The beach has a rocky outcrop resembling a whale’s tail, which looks spectacular in photos I’ve see. They were obviously taken by drones, as from the beach, it just looks like some rocks.

Marino Ballena National Park

By the time we actually finish our epic beach trek and have found somewhere to eat, I’m so tired my eyes can’t even focus on the menu, so I just randomly point to something. I end up with rice and pork and spend ages picking all the pork out of the rice and feeding it to a stray cat.

Marino Ballena National Park

Once back at the hotel, with the oId man settled in for and evening crushing his imaginary sweets, I have a nice, cooling swim before bed time.

Hotel Nido del Halcon pool

A Visit to Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio Beach

We spent a month driving round Costa Rica and of all the places we visited, Manuel Antonio National Park was my absolute favourite. Manuel Antonio is Costa Rica’s smallest, but most popular National Park. If you’re planning to visit, buying tickets in advance online is highly recommended. We purchased entry tickets and explored the park on our own. If you prefer a guided tour, this can be booked online – alternatively, there are plenty of guides touting for business near the entrance.

PlaceManuel Antonio National Park
Opening Times7-4 (closed Tuesdays)
Price$18.08
Road to Manuel Antonio National Park
Road to Manuel Antonio National Park

An online ticket reservation gives you an entry time slot (ours was 9-9.40 am). No food is allowed in the park, although there is a small café where you can purchase drinks and snacks. No single use plastic is allowed inside the park, but if you bring your own water bottle, they will refill it at the kiosk with very welcome ice cold water for 500 colones. There are plenty of cafes and shops lining the road leading to the entrance. We had breakfast at one of the street side cafes on our way to the park.

Manuel Antonio National Park Map
Manuel Antonio National Park Map

Upon arrival, there is some admin to deal with (you need to bring your passport), bag checks to search for food contraband, temperature checks, compulsory hand washing. It took us a while to get through the formalities.

Sendero Perezoso

Manuel Antonio National Park Entrance
Manuel Antonio National Park Entrance

There are several trails and three beaches in the park. We opted to start with Sendero Perezoso (sloth trail) which takes you, either along a trail or a boardwalk, through the rainforest to a clearing which contains the cafe, toilets and access to some of the other trails.

Sendero Perezoso
Sendero Perezoso

We didn’t see any sloths on the ‘Sloth Trail’ but we did, however, spot monkeys. At first we were excited, peering up into the trees for a closer look. But as we approached the park kiosk, we realised there were hundreds of them, absolutely everywhere. The closer you get to the kiosk, the higher the concentration of monkeys!

Monkey

Sendero Playa Manuel Antonio

From the kiosk, take the Sendero Playa Manuel Antonio, which leads you, not surprisingly, to Manuel Antonio Beach. There are lovely beaches both inside and outside the park, so you are spoilt for choice. As we were staying close by, we opted to spend the morning walking the trails in the National Park, then collect our swimming gear and go to public beach in the afternoon, so we had less to carry. At the end of the trail, you can climb an Observation Tower which is more like a monkey living room! And they certainly were not shy of humans, coming over to check us out.

Manuel Antonio National Park Observation Tower
Observation Tower

Playa Manuel Antonio

Walking the trails of Manuel Antonio is a hot, sweaty business. Take some time at the beach to cool down before tackling your next trail.

Playa Manuel Antonio

Sendero Punta Catedral

Once you’re suitable refreshed, continue on the steep, circular trail (approximately 1.4 km) round a rocky peninsula called Punta Catedral. It has a lot of steps and a lot of gaps where steps used to be. Climbing it was quite a mission in the heat and humidity.

Sendero Punta Catedral
Sendero Punta Catedral

We arrived at the top to find the viewpoint cordoned off (it had been destroyed by monkeys) and continued along the steps/ex steps back towards the beach.

Monkey viewpoint takeover

Punta Catedral

View from Punta Catedral
View from Punta Catedral

Finally, as you continue the circular trail onwards and upwards, you are rewarded with a view over the bay, before descending back towards the beach.

Playa Espadilla Sur

Once back at the beach, I went for a paddle to cool down but the water wasn’t like the bracing sea water of Bournemouth, it was more like stepping into a warm bath.

Playa Espadilla Sur
Playa Espadilla Sur

Sendero Playa Espadilla Sur

From here, you can either retrace your steps (if you want to visit the cafe) or take the Sendero Espadilla Sur which takes you towards the exit alongside the beach.

Playa Espadilla Sur
Playa Espadilla Sur

Bahia

As you near the exit, take the boardwalk through the mangroves to Bahia beach.

Mangrove boardwalk

At this beautiful beach, you can watch pelicans diving into the rock pools for their lunch.

Pelicans at Bahia Manuel Antonio
Pelicans at Bahia Manuel Antonio

There are other trails, in the park, but our route covered over 5 miles, which in 32 degree heat and 80% humidity, I found was sufficient and decided it was time to retire to the beach!

Manuel Antonio National Park Bahia Beach entrance
Bahia beach entrance

Where to Stay?

We stayed at the Hotel Manuela Antonio. This motel style hotel has large, clean rooms with balconies overlooking beautifully landscaped gardens. It’s literally at the end of the road. Route 618, which brings you to Manuel Antonio, concludes in a turning circle near the park entrance. The hotel is on this circle and literally backs onto the National Park. (When we arrived, there were deer peering over the fence between the National Park and hotel car park). As it’s adjacent to the park and opposite the beach it’s really conveniently placed. In addition, it has ample, free guest parking.

Hotel Manuel Antonio
Hotel Manuel Antonio
Room at Hotel Manuel Antonio
Room at Hotel Manuel Antonio

Costa Rica Travel Diary Day 13 – Manuel Antonio National Park

Today, we are going to Manuel Antonio National Park; our entry time slot is 9-9.40 am. No food is allowed in the park, so we stop at a café en route for breakfast and arrive at the allocated time. Once the admin is complete; tickets and ID produced, temperature taken, hands sanitised and bags checked for contraband, we are allowed in.

Monkey

We follow two trails; first Sendero Perezoso (sloth trail). We don’t see any sloths – I’m beginning to think they’re mythical creatures! We do, however, spot monkeys. At first we’re excited, peering up into the trees for a closer look. but as we approach the park kiosk, we realise there are hundreds of them, absolutely everywhere. We climb an observation tower which is more like a monkey living room! And they’re certainly not shy of humans, coming over to check us out.

Monkey viewpoint takeover

We continue on a steep, circular trail round a rocky peninsula called Punta Catedral. It has a lot of steps and a lot of gaps where steps used to be. Climbing it is quite a mission in the heat and humidity. We arrive at the top to find the viewpoints all cordoned off (it has been destroyed by monkeys) and descend the steps/ex steps back to the beach. I go for a paddle to cool down but the water isn’t like the bracing sea water of Bournemouth, it’s more like stepping into a warm bath.

Manuel Antonio NP beach

The old man opts to take a third trail, while I have a leisurely stroll through the mangroves and along the beach, watching pelicans diving into the rock pools for their lunch.

Pelicans at Manuel Antonio NP beach

Then it’s back to the hotel for a much needed cool down – we have walked over 5 miles in 32 degree heat and 80% humidity.

Manuel Antonio sunset

We go for a dip in the ocean at 4 pm, that way we’re on the beach for another glorious sunset. Then we go in search of food around 7. The place is like a ghost town. The restaurants all have happy hour until 6.30 to entice day trippers to stay for dinner, but after this, everywhere is dead. We don’t fancy sitting in an empty restaurant alone, so get the car to drive into Manuel Antonio itself to the Felafel Bar. I order a felafel plate which come with hummus, pitta, salad (Costa Rican food is predominantly fried and I’ve really been craving salad) and chips (I still love fried food though).

Felafal Bar

Then it’s back to the hotel for our final night in Manuel Antonio. It’s been one of my favourite places, so I shall be sad to leave. But I’m looking forward to our next destination; Puerto Jiménez.

Manuel Antonio Beach

Costa Rica Diary Day 8 – Marino Las Baulas National Park

After waiting for an hour for a sandwich at the hotel restaurant yesterday, we opt to have breakfast elsewhere. The old man has chosen Coco Viquez which does a buffet style breakfast. He’s very disappointed when he discovers it’s not self service. And there’s no return visits. I’m happy with my plate of pancakes, pineapple and plantain.

Breakfast at Coco Viquez

When I planned our trip I had hoped to stay somewhat further south, close to Las Baulas National Park, where you can take a guided tour to watch leatherback turtles come ashore to lay their eggs. However, the park is 42 miles away from our hotel and the tours don’t start until after dark. We don’t fancy driving such a long distance back in the dark, late at night. We decide to visit the National Park anyway, as the guide book says you can take boat trips into the mangroves to see crocodiles and monkeys during the day.

Marino Las Baulas National Park

We get ready and walk to the car. The old man can’t find the car keys. We empty our bags (several times) and retrace our steps (several times). Eventually, a very stressful 50 minutes later, I find them on the bedroom floor, wrapped around the foot of the bed.

Warning sign – monkey

We set off for Las Baulas. There appears to be two possible routes; one is 30 miles long and the other is 42 miles. Both take around 70 minutes to drive. Google initially suggests the longer route, then at the last minute, changes its mind. Google also seems to think the park is closed on Sundays, despite the park’s own website claiming it is open daily. We opt for the shorter route. With 20 miles to go, we run out of tarmac, as we turn off a numbered road onto a road named ‘monkey trail’. It’s basically a series of potholes held together with dust. We can’t face the prospect of 20 miles of this, so turn round, drive half way back to Playa Hermosa and follow the longer, paved route instead.

Playa Grande

We finally reach the park after a 2 hour drive in 32 degree heat. It is, of course, closed. A man appears from nowhere and offers us a go in his canoe for $80. The old man is tempted, but I am over the heat and the stress of the day. In addition, there is no evidence that the man actually owns a canoe! So we take a walk along the beach, pay another man an inordinate amount of money for parking on a bit of scrub for 40 minutes and drive back to our hotel.

Playa Grande

We stop at a supermarket to buy some lunch. There is a selection of unlabelled baked goods. I choose a couple at random. We end up with chicken empanadas and something that looks like a sausage roll but is actually full of lemon curd.

Pelicans

After lunch, we decide to go for a swim in the ocean. The water is a sort of greenish-black colour and has a frothy layer of scum on it. It doesn’t smell like the sea water in Bournemouth; there’s a distinct whiff of sewage about it. I decide to brave it (with my mouth firmly shut). I determine to swim for 10 minutes. After 9.38 minutes, an enormous wave appears from nowhere and almost takes me out. For a moment, I am totally submerged and don’t know which way is up. I finally surface somewhat shaken and bedraggled. My mouth and swimwear are full of sand and my hair band has been ripped out of my hair. I stagger back to the beach and once I’ve had a beer to calm my nerves, take a shower to remove copious amounts of sand from my cleavage and various orifices.

Playa Hermosa sunset

Once I have regrouped, we take a wander back along the beach to watch the sunset, then have dinner at a beachside bar frequented primarily by very drunk Americans trying desperately to get laid. And thus ends our last day in Playa Hermosa. Tomorrow we travel inland to the cloud forest of Monteverde.

One Day in Rincon de la Vieja

One Day Thermal Spring and National Park Itinerary

  • Rio Negro Thermal Springs
  • Rincon de la Vieja National Park (Sector las Pailas)
  • Liberia
  • Dinner at Masala
Rincon de la Vieja National Park
Rincon de la Vieja National Park

The active volcano Rincon de la Vieja is 26 km from the city of Liberia. It provides visitors with the opportunity to hike trails past volcanic features and to bath in thermal springs heated by the volcanic activity beneath their feet.

Although there is some accommodation in the area, we found it rather pricey, so chose to stay in Liberia and visit Rincon de la Vieja as a day trip, returning to Liberia for dinner in one of my favourite restaurants (and I’ve tried a few).

Driving ScheduleLiberia to Rincon de la Vieja
Distance26 km
Driving Time40 minutes

The 40 minute drive from Liberia follows Route 1 for 5 km before you have to turn left onto a smaller road. With around 10 km to go, the paved road runs out and some driving on gravel is required. Shortly after, there is a sign saying you have entering private land and must pay 700 colones each (about $1) to continue.

Road to Rincon de la Vieja
Road to Rincon de la Vieja

Rio Negro Thermal Springs

PlaceRio Negro Thermal Springs
Opening Times9-6
Price$25

We chose to start our trip with a visit to Rio Negro Hot Springs; a series of pools situated along the river, heated by volcanic activity beneath your feet. The springs are open from 9 am and you can book a 1.5 hour slot in advance on their website. We arrived at 9 am, just as the springs opened and as it was quiet, they weren’t bothered about sticking to the 1.5 hour time limit.

Entry to Rio Negro Thermal Pools
Entry to Rio Negro Thermal Pools

The $25 entrance fee gets you a wristband which entitles you to entry to the thermal springs, plus a mud treatment and access to a short trail leading to a series of four 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.

Rio Negro Thermal Pool
Rio Negro Thermal Pool

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…

Volcanic mud treatment
Volcanic mud treatment

Once you have had your fill of relaxing in the pools and covering yourself in mud and a further pool dip to ensure most of the mud is out of your orifices, take a walk along the waterfall trail included in the ticket.

Rio Negro waterfall

Rincon de la Vieja National Park

PlaceRincon de la Vieja National Park
Opening Times8-3 (Tue-Sun)
Price$16.95 (card only)

A 10 minute drive brings you from the thermal springs to the National Park car park. Rincon de la Vieja National Park is divided into two sectors; Sector La Pailas and Sector Santa Maria; due to volcanic activity, only Sector la Pailas is currently open.

Rincon de la Vieja National Park
Rincon de la Vieja National Park

Sector Las Pailas

Rincon de la Vieja National Park
Rincon de la Vieja National Park

The most popular trail within this sector of the park is the 3.5 km long Sendero las Pailas. This takes you over a hanging bridge onto a circuit with four viewpoints offering the chance to see various volcanic features. Towards the end, is an optional 5th viewpoint, accessed via a flight of steps, to a seasonal waterfall.

Sendero las Pailas

Note that much of the trail is exposed so it can get very hot (when we went it was 32 degrees and the cafe was closed) so ensure you bring sufficient water – we didn’t!

Hanging Bridge Rincon de la Vieja National Park
Hanging Bridge Rincon de la Vieja National Park

1) Fumarolic Lagoon

Rincon de la Vieja Fumarolic Lagoon

2) Mud Pots

3) Mini Volcano

4) Steam Vents

5) Seasonal Waterfall

We visited during dry season, so the waterfall was a bit underwhelming.

Liberia

Once you have completed the trail, drive back to Liberia for a wander round the town centre and to have dinner. The focal point of Liberia is the white Central Church of Liberia, which has a Liberia sign in front of it, for that obligatory photo op.

Liberia sign and church
Liberia sign and church

Dinner at Masala

After a long, hot day with plenty of walking, Liberia provides plenty of options to refuel. We decided beer and a curry were called for, so went to Masala for dinner. I chose the palak paneer, which was one of the best curries I’ve ever had – and I used to live in Pakistan, so have eaten a lot of curry!

Palak Paneer and Tamarind Rice from Masala
Palak Paneer and Cumin Rice from Masala

Where to Stay?

We stayed at Hotel Las Espuelas in Liberia. It’s just off the highway, so very convenient if you’re just passing through. The rooms are clean and spacious and the free breakfast was good.

Hotel Las Espuelas room
Hotel Las Espuelas room

The main draw, and a very welcome sight after a hot day or travelling or sightseeing was the large pool.

Hotel Las Espuelas pool
Hotel Las Espuelas pool

Costa Rica Diary Day 6 – Rincon de la Vieja

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.

Warning sign – tree in road

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.

Entry to Rio Negro Thermal Pools

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.

Rio Negro Thermal Pool

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…

Mud

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.

Rio Negro waterfall

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.

Rincon de la Vieja National Park

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.

Rincon de la Vieja National Park

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.

Rincon de la Vieja Fumarole

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.

Rincon de la Vieja mud pool

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.

Rincon de la Vieja

A Visit to Arenal Volcano National Park

A Visit to Arenal Volcano National Park

Arenal Volcano
First sight of Arenal Volcano
PlaceArenal Volcano National Park
Opening Times8-4
Price$16.95 (card only)
Driving ScheduleLa Fortuna to National Park Entrance
Distance16 km
Driving Time21 minutes

Arenal Volcano, measuring 1600m in height, with its peak standing proud above the rain forest (often topped by cloud), makes for spectacular views for miles around. As it is technically an active volcano, climbing Arenal is not permitted, however you can visit the National Park at its base. Here, several trails will furnish you with even more spectacular views of the volcano and of Lake Arenal.

Arenal Volcano National Park map
Map of Arenal Volcano National Park

Arenal Volcano National Park is a 16 km drive from La Fortuna. The first 14 km is along the main road (Route 142), then take a left turn onto the Calle Real el Castillo. After 2 km, you will reach the main park entrance (Sector Volcán). It is an easy drive along paved roads.

Arenal Volcano National Park
Arenal Volcano National Park

The park is divided into two sectors; Sector Volcán and Sector Peninsula. Opening hours are from 8 am to 4 pm. As we arrived at 8 am and there was a queue of vehicles waiting to enter Sector Volcán, we opted to visit Sector Peninsula first – this requires driving off road.

Road to Sector Peninsula
Road to Sector Peninsula

Sector Peninsula

To reach Sector Peninsula, turn right by the main park entrance to tackle the 2 km drive along a rather bumpy track. This brings you to the sector entrance with plenty of parking right outside.

Entrance to Sector Peninsula
Entrance to Sector Peninsula

The entrance fee for foreigners is $17 (payable by card only). The ticket is valid for both sectors, so keep it somewhere safe (mine went into my bumbag with other essential items; phone, face mask, emergency Oreos…)

Sector Peninsula Map
Sector Peninsula Map

Sendero los Miradores

The main trail is the Sendero los Miradores, which is surprisingly well paved, bearing in mind the road we had to drive down to reach it. The path is 1.2 km long and leads through the rainforest, past a couple of viewpoints to Lake Arenal.

Arenal volcano 
View From Observation Tower
View From Observation Tower

Two thirds of the way along the trail is an observation tower which you can climb for views of the lake and the volcano (in theory, although when we visited, it was shrouded by cloud).

Observation Tower
Observation Tower

Just past the crocodile warning sign, is the final viewpoint; a platform over the lake which provides a view across the lake to the volcano.

Lake Arenal
Lake Arenal from the final viewpoint

To return, you can either retrace your steps, or half way up the trail, take a right turn onto the Sendero El Tororoi.

Crocodile Warning Sign
Crocodile Warning Sign

Sendero El Tororoi

This trail is a short (600m), but steep loop off the main trail, through the rain forest, via a lot of steps and a bridge.

Sendero El Tororoi bridge
Sendero El Tororoi bridge

Sector Volcán

After visiting the Sector Peninsula, we drove back along the track to the Sector Volcán. Once you have shown your ticket at the gate (restrooms are also located here), you can drive a few hundred metres further to the car park at the trail head for the two main hiking trails.

Sector Volcan Trail Map
Sector Volcán Trail Map

Sendero las Coladas

First, Sendero las Coladas; a 2 km path which takes you to a bridge, from where you can climb onto a lava flow created when the volcano erupted in 1992.

Lava Flow
Lava Flow

To return, you can either retrace your steps take a left turn to follow the Sendero el Ceibo, a 3 km loop off the main trail.

Sendero Las Coladas bridge
Sendero Las Coladas bridge

Sendero el Ceibo

This path takes you past an enormous ceiba tree, which is 400 years old and 30 metres tall. It’s so big you can climb in between its massive roots for the obligatory photo op.

El Ceibo
El Ceibo

Once back at the trail head, it is a 1.3 km walk/drive (it was raining when we visited, so we opted to drive) along the Camino Vehicular to the final lookout, the Mirador Principal.

Sendero el Ceibo
Sendero el Ceibo

Mirador Principal

This viewpoint is supposed to provide the best views of the volcano. Unfortunately, when we visited, it was so cloudy we could barely even work out where the volcano was. I don’t usually use other people’s photos, but I have on this occasion – here is a picture of what we saw and what it looks like on a clear day…

View from Mirador Principal
Our view from Mirador Principal
View from Mirador Principal
Someone else’s view from Mirador Principal