How to Avoid Disappointment Hiking at Rincon de la Vieja

Planning a day trip to Rincon de la Vieja from Tamarindo? Here’s what we wished we knew before we went!

After 2 months, I finally convinced Jake that we should rent a car and go on a hike. I really wanted a hike we could do without a guide, which unfortunately ruled out most national parks in the area. After some research, we settled on Rincon de la Vieja – Las Pailas. It was about 2 hours drive away, didn’t sound too touristy, and got good reviews from hikers on TripAdvisor!

Our Experience

We rented a car the afternoon before so we could leave as early as possible the next morning. That turned out to be later than we hoped. The drive took 2-2.5 hours for us, which means we got there around 9/9:30—well after the park opened at 7 a.m.

There are 4 trails in total from the Las Pailas entrance, including

  • One leading to La Cangreja Waterfall
  • One to the Escondidas Waterfall
  • One to the Rincon de la Vieja Crater (closed since 2011 because of volcanic activity)
  • Las Pailas Trail

A ranger we spoke to said the first two hikes would take about 4 hours roundtrip each, but one waterfall (Escondidas) was closed because of the wind The other (Cangreja) was nice to see, but we couldn’t swim in the water (which we felt defeated the purpose).

Rincon de la Vieja

The park doesn’t have paper maps because taking a picture creates less waste.

Since we didn’t get there until past 9 a.m. and the park closed at 4pm, we had exactly 6 hours to hike. The ranger suggested that if we only had time for one, we should take the Las Pailas Trail, a roughly 2 hour loop. It would have more to see, and was “better for pictures.”

Pre-hike picture at Rincon de la Vieja

The trail had some fun stops to see things like mud pots and fumaroles (small openings in the volcano). However, the trail was almost entirely paved with concrete, so it felt more like a botanical garden than a real hike. And although we did our best to walk quietly and stay away from crowds, we didn’t see many animals.

Tamarindo Day Trip to Rincon de la Vieja

I believe these were the fumaroles. Cool to look at but boy, did they reek!

Overall, I was a little disappointed that we drove almost 6 hours roundtrip for a <2 hour hike. If we could do it over, I’d probably have opted for the longer La Cangreja trail. It might have had fewer people on it. I’ve also read that the Caribbean side of the park gets more rain and has more biodiversity. If we went again, we’d probably try to enter by the Santa Maria entrance.

How Much Does It Cost?

Expenses:
Car Rental: $60/day for an SUV
Tolls: 700 CRC (~$1.28 in July 2016)
Park Entrance Fees: $15 x 2 people
Snacks: 14,000 CRC (~$25)

Total Cost*: $116+
*I excluded gas because the car didn’t have a full tank when we got it, so it’s hard to say. We refilled the tank to full on the way home for about $30.

vs.

Typical Tour Package: $120/person or $440 total

Hiking Trip to Rincon de la Vieja from Tamarindo

What to Bring

  • 700 colones for access to private road
  • $15 USD per person for park entry
  • Sneakers
  • Sunscreen
  • Snacks
  • Bug Spray
  • Swimsuits (optional)
  • Water/Gatorade
  • Plastic Bag for Garbage

Things We Brought, But Didn’t Need:

  • Rain Jacket/Windbreaker
  • Swimsuits
  • Extra clothes
  • Flip Flops
  • Plastic Bags for Wet Clothes

Rincon de la Vieja Fumaroles

FAQ

Do You Need a 4×4 to Drive There from Tamarindo?

It’s hard to make any broad statements about the roads Costa Rica. Most roads we’ve been on were fine, but some are so bad that an economy car probably wouldn’t cut it. Bottom line: we were glad we had one. Especially when we missed a turn and Google Maps rerouted us over a treacherously bumpy dirt road. (You may also want to read our guide to driving in Costa Rica.)

Should You Take A Tour?

I’ve seen many places around Tamarindo selling similar tour packages to Rincon de la Vieja. I would guess, but am not sure, that many of these packages are coming from the same tour companies. (So it may not matter where you buy from!) The prices usually hover around $110-120 a person. If you just want to hike and have more than one person, driving is hands-down the cheapest option. However, the tour packages also include a lot of non-hiking activities (horseback riding, zip-lining, etc.) which you can’t do going by yourself.

Did you have a different experience at the Rincon de la Vieja in Costa Rica? Tell us about it in the comment section!