Parque Nacional Rincón de la Vieja
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Quite simply one of the most beautiful parks in Costa Rica, Parque Nacional Rincón de la Vieja has everything a nature lover and hiking enthusiast could hope to find. Oddly enough, it is only the ninth most popular park in the country. The park boasts magnificent scenery, breathtaking views, a distinctive volcano, soothing rivers, spectacular waterfalls, relaxing hot springs, places to swim, picnic areas, campgrounds and well-marked trails, not to mention detailed documentation (brochures and maps).
Parque Nacional Rincón de la Vieja covers an area of 14,084 hectares, and lies about 25 kilometres northeast of Liberia, the capital of the province of Guanacaste. It is divided into two sectors, Las Pailas and Santa María, which are about eight kilometres The park was created on October 23, 1973 to protect the region's rich plant and animal life and the many water sources that supply some parts of the province.
Rincón de la Vieja Volcano, which has nine craters, has always attracted lots of attention. It is said that in the past, the volcano erupted so often that sailors making their way along the Pacific coast would use it as a sort of lighthouse. However, the first observation reports dating from 1851, describing eruptions, ash and smoke, are more plausible. Numerous minor eruptions were reported over the following years. Then, around 1967, when the volcano started spewing out large stones (up to 2 kg), and local residents began to fear the worst. Several forests and meadows were destroyed, and a number of rivers were polluted by toxic gases. Lilac-coloured cattleya orchids, which are the national flower of Costa Rica and known as the guaria morada, also abound in the park.
Further activity in 1983, 1984, 1991 and again in 1995 confirmed that the volcano was erupting regularly, as if to show that it could unleash its fury at any moment. The most recent eruption took place in the spring of 1998, mainly affecting the nearly uninhabited north side of the volcano, which faces Nicaragua.
The park's varied elevation, which ranges from 600 to nearly 2,000 metres, allows for a very wide range of vegetation to grow here, a phenomenon which is enhanced by the frequent rainfall and fertile volcanic ash to which the region is exposed. A dry forest made up of species like the guanacaste (Enterolobium cyclocarpum), the laurel (Cedrela odorata) and the cedro amargo (Cedrela odonta) flourishes between 600 and 1,200 metres above sea level. Between 1,200 and 1,400 metres, where the rainfall is heaviest, is a rainforest characterized by the presence of numerous copey (Clusia rosea) trees, which thrive in this environment. Above 1,400 metres, the trees become stunted before giving way to shrubs and moss.
The park's animal life is as fascinating as it is varied. With a little luck, and if you're very quiet, you'll see iguanas, agoutis, coatis, howlers, white-faced capuchins and spider monkeys. Less commonly seen creatures include armadillos, Baird's tapirs, peccaries, ocelots, pumas and jaguars. Some 300 avian species make their home here as well, most notably parrots, toucans, trogons (including the odd quetzal), hummingbirds, doves, woodpeckers, owls and eagles. You'll also come across some magnificent butterflies.
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