Monday, January 9, 2023: It was only about a half-hour drive from Liberia to get to Hotel Hacienda Guachipelin near the entrance to Parque Nactional Volcán Rincón de la Vieja. This park of 14,090 hectares has been divided into two sections: Las Pailas and Santa María. Las Pailas includes the active volcano Rincón de la Vieja, along with fumaroles, bubbling volcanic mud pots, and steam geysers as well as oft-used hiking trails and a large number of refreshing waterfalls.
Volcán Rincón de la Vieja, the huge 15km-wide volcano, dominates the park. Just shy of 2,000 meters tall, the dormant Santa María crater is the park’s largest peak. At least eight other craters hide in the volcano’s girth. Over 30 rivers flow on its slopes, which consist of premontane wet forest, dry forest and cloud forest.
Hotel Hacienda Guachipelin, a top Costa Rican ecotourism hotel, sprawls over 3,400 acres of farmland and is surrounded by exuberant gardens with native trees, exotic flowers, over 300 species of birds and wildlife, as well as views of the volcano and the Pacific Ocean. The sustainable ranch also offers 64 rooms for overnight guests, a spa, a vegetable garden, a greenhouse and a restaurant that serves food grown or raised on-site. The Hacienda staff also oversees the off-site Río Negro Hot Springs, ten small thermal water pools hidden in remote forest at the edge of the Río Negro. There’s also a mud bath where you can paint yourself with volcanic clay.
We stayed at the Hacienda for two nights. After settling into our room, we walked around the grounds, admiring the colorful papier mâché characters and oxcarts used as decor. Tropical exuberance was in full display.
We hiked to the turquoise pool, Poza Turqesa, and the red pool, Poza Roja, where Mike did a little skinny-dipping. 🙂
We passed burial and domestic sites and petroglyphs. Mounds of rocks are burial places from the de Bagaces Period (300-800 AD), cemeteries located in small valleys close to the water. The people in these lands had a monotonous life. They hunted species such as wild boar, deer, and birds; they also fished. If a man had a pregnant woman it was better for him to stay with her; his hunting mates would share a portion of food with the couple.
They farmed their land in plots, letting some plots “rest” while they planted others. This was so the soil could recover its nutrients and future harvests would improve.
Later in the afternoon, we enjoyed a 45-minute “magneisum deep tissue massage” at Simbiosis Spa. After our massage we were led to a sauna where we baked for 5 minutes. Then we dipped into an icy cold pool for a few seconds. Next, we slathered ourselves with warm volcanic mud, full of “healthy” minerals.
Finally, we sat in a warm pool for 10 minutes. When all was said and done, we were told not to shower for two hours to let the minerals be absorbed through our skin and into our bodies. It was a lovely and relaxing experience. And the masseuses and staff were very patient with our plodding Spanish!
We returned to Hotel Hacienda Guachipelin after our spa treatment to find a cacophony of squawking parrots in a tree right outside Recepción. They were having quite a fiesta up there in the hinterlands.
We sat around by the pool and enjoyed our complimentary welcome drink while we waited for the minerals to permeate our bodies for the requisite two hours.
We enjoyed a late dinner of grilled fish and a humongous hamburger in the Hacienda Guachipelin Restaurant, accompanied by a mojito (me) and a tequila shot (Mike).
The following day, Tuesday, we had booked a 1-day Adventure Pass.
Tuesday, January 10: Today we had the 1-Day Adventure Pass to the Rincon de la Vieja National Park. Four main activities were included:
- A horseback riding Costa Rica Adventure;
- A tubing adventure on the Río Negr0 (Black River) with Class III rapids;
- Canopy (zip line) tour and rapelling through the Río Blanco Canyon
- Relaxing with volcano-heated thermal waters, steam, and mud bath (we didn’t ever do this).
The package also included a buffet lunch at Hacienda Guachipelin Restaurant.
Before starting our day, we enjoyed a nice breakfast at the Hacienda restaurant.
We started our day at 8:30 a.m. by horseback riding through the dry tropical forest of the Hacienda property for about an hour. We had to wear our bathing suits and watershoes since we’d be going directly to the Río Negro for the tubing adventure.
The horses walked slowly and were kept in line by the sabaneros (cowboys). One little boy’s horse kept going off the track and had to be pushed back in line. My saddle wasn’t cinched tightly enough and kept rocking back and forth. When we got to the high point of the ride, one of the cowboys had me dismount and he tightened the saddle.
The ride was actually a bit boring.
Then we took a bus to the Río Negro where we got our life jackets and paddles and tubes and tubed down many Class III rapids, often being shot downriver at the whim of the water. Too many times to count, I somehow got stuck on rocks or eddies off to the side and was unable to make my way back into the current. Once I got stuck on a rock and the photographer was nearby. I asked him for help and he told me I needed to get out of the tube. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to get back in. Somehow I paddled my way back into the current on my own.
We were in the rapids or peacefully drifting downriver for 1 1/2 hours. It was rough! People were getting swamped and running into boulders and getting stuck and going down chutes like bumper cars, hitting each other and the boulders. Guys were positioned along the river to break up traffic jams. It was a wild and crazy time. Towards the end, many people were tossed into the river.
We returned to our rooms and changed out of our bathing suits and into dry clothes and tennis shoes. Then we enjoyed a buffet lunch.
Next we had our zip line adventure through the Río Blanco Canyon. We had nine zip lines in all, with some of the platforms about 60 feet high above the river in a narrow canyon. It was scary coming in for a landing. Immediately upon landing, we had to grab the tight wire zip line and pull it down or jump up so the guys could hook up our carabiners, pulleys, trolleys, and lanyards to the wire.
From one platform, we had to walk across a swinging bridge and climb up the canyon wall on metal rungs screwed into the wall onto what seemed the highest and smallest platform of all. There was no guy to meet us on that platform and at one point six of us were waiting on the tiny platform, perched 60 feet high above the river. Finally, the zip line guy rappelled down the canyon and crossed the canyon to hook us up for the 9th and final line. The whole time, I couldn’t bear to look down and I kept imagining that platform toppling to the river below, or me losing my balance and falling off (although I was tethered, I did NOT feel secure!). Because of the heights and the platforms and the jumping up, I was shaking the whole time. The only thing that didn’t scare me was the actual zipping! The photo of the group of people from Oklahoma standing on the last platform with me as we prepared to take off exemplifies my most terrifying moments. The height of terror!
When the zipline part of the adventure was over, we saw a man with two oxen hitched up to Costa Rica’s traditional oxcart. People were posing sitting on the ox but we passed up that opportunity.
With its brightly painted wooden wheels and matching ox yoke, “la Caretta” is the quintessential symbol of Costa Rica’s past. It played an important role in the country’s history since it made the export of coffee and other goods possible. The oxcart is considered one of Costa Rica’s national symbols.
We drove to Oropéndola Waterfall where we hiked down switchbacks and across a hanging stairway bridge to a swimming hole at the foot of the waterfall. Mike swam in the swimming hole with some other people who were already in the water when we arrived. It was a beautiful setting. I didn’t go in because we were planning to go to a stream and mud bath later.
We then walked to a series of four cataracts along the Río Negro, which downstream would lead to some thermal springs and mud baths. However, it was starting to get late and since we’d already done the spa treatment and mud rubdown, we skipped it and returned to the hotel to have a drink by the pool before dinner. (Actually I was quite annoyed with Mike as he was the one pushing to see all the waterfalls, which didn’t give us enough time to enjoy the thermal pools).
We ended our last night at Hotel Hacienda Guachipelin sitting with a drink by the fire pits and chatting with a couple, Mike and Linda, who lived winters in Arizona and summers in Oregon.
We enjoyed our last dinner in the Hacienda Guachipelin Restaurant. Under “sopas” on the menu was a dish called “Gallo de Chorizo.” Mike asked if it was indeed a soup and they said yes although the description didn’t sound like a soup: “a classic tico, served with pico de gallo sauce on soft corn tortillas.” When the waiter brought the dish, Mike had gone to the bathroom and I argued with the waiter that the dish was not in fact a soup, which Mike wanted. The manager came over. Finally they offered Mike another soup that wasn’t on the menu. He enjoyed that.
I don’t remember what I ordered but neither of us were very hungry so we didn’t want a lot of food.
We relaxed in our room after our big adventure day.
Here is a video of our time at Hotel Hacienda Guachipelin.
Wednesday, January 11: As we drove out of Hacienda Guachipelin on Wednesday morning, we had one last view of Rincón de la Vieja as we made our way to Parque Nacional Volcán Tenorio.
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