Rincon de La Vieja National Park was created in 1973 to protect the flora, fauna and watersheds around Rincon de La Vieja Volcano. The Park extends over 14,083 hectares of semi-deciduous forest and very moist forest and includes a barren, rocky terrain at altitudes that range from 650 meters to 1,916 meters above sea level on the Caribbean and Pacific sides of the Guanacaste Volcanic Mountain Range.The climate in this national park is so diverse that areas with a severe dry season lasting 4 or 5 months are immediately followed by others, near the summit or on the Caribbean side, where there is constant rainfall, which gives rise to a forest mass rich in epiphytes.
The differences in altitude and climate play a major role in the distribution of the flora and fauna. There are three storeys of vegetation: that of the lowlands found between 650-1,200 meters above sea level where typical growth includes masicaran, bitterwood, ear tree, gumbo-limbo and Spanish cedar; that of the intermediate zone at 1,200-1,400 meters above sea level with didymo Panax, yellow manhood, you and especially, cupey, which sometimes forms almost pure groves that are completely twisted out of shape by the raging winds; and that of the heights at 1,400 meters above sea level as far as the summit with low-growing forest and highly branched trees laden with moss and other vines and creepers.
Identification has been made in the park of 257 species of birds, including the resplendent Quetzal, the black-faced solitaire, the great curassow, the Montezuma oropendula, the emerald toucanet, the elegant trogon, the blue-throated goldentail, the spectacled owl, the White-fronted Amazon, the three-wattled bellbird, the green Amazon and the laughing falcon. Other mammals that find refuge in this remote mountainous region are cougars, jaguars, tiger cats, howler, spider and white-faced capuchin monkeys, ocelots, tayras, kinkajous, two-toed sloths, white-nosed coaties, and Northern tamanduas. Felines, tapirs, Bonaparte tinamous and black guans abound in the cupey groves.Rincon de La Vieja National Park also protects a vast network of rivers and streams that feed the basin of Nicoya Gulf and the floodplains south of Lake Nicaragua.
Rincon de La Vieja Volcano stands at 1,895 meters above sea level. It has an active crater which emits steam and gasses of magmatic origin. During its last eruption in 1966-1967 and 1991, it spewed out mainly ash. Like Orosi, Cacao, Miravalles, and Tenorio, this towering volcano originated at the end of the period known as the Pliocene, approximately a million years ago. The larger volcanic structure to which it belongs is composed of a row of nine volcanoes, the most spectacular being Santa Maria (1,916 meters above sea level) and Von Seebach (1,985 meters above sea level). The Santa Maria crater is filled with a lake of 2.5 hectares surrounded by lush vegetation. On a clear day, it is possible to see Lake Nicaragua, Santa Elena Gulf, and Culebra Bay. Due to its proximity to Rincon de La Vieja, the only currently active volcano, it is believed that Santa Maria could begin to erupt at any moment. Von Seebach is an eroded crater covered with pumice stone and moss. Between it and Rincon de La Vieja and Santa Maria lies a depression, presumably from another very eroded crater, with a lake of cold water. It is known as Lake Los Jilgueros and measures 6.5 hectares, and is also surrounded by lush evergreen vegetation. The site frequented by black-faced solitaires, resplendent quetzals, and tapirs. In the western sector, a colonizing process has begun on the rocky terrain where the plant life was burned away by the acid clouds emitted by the volcano. On the southern slope, between 700 and 900 meters above sea level, there is a faultline with some fumaroles at the sites known as Las Hornillas and Las Pailas.
Mention must also be made of the hot springs near the Park Headquarters. San Roque and Cañas Dulces, neighbors of the volcano, are dacitic domes in which the magma was unable to reach the surface as it solidified too soon. Las Hornillas are kitchen stoves where columns of steam, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, and other gasses shoot out of cracks and fissures in the earth’s crust.
Las Pailas are sites with geysers and bubbling mud pots that associated with hot-water underground reservoirs buried beneath layers of dirt. They extend over approximately 50 hectares. Another attraction of this mountain is the group of four waterfalls 60-70 meters high located at Agria ravine, a rocky terrain devastated by the volcanic eruptions. There are also paths that lead from the Park Headquarters to the various points of interest in the park: the hot springs-3kms.; Las Pailas-6kms.; Las Hornillas-9kms.; Santa Maria Volcano-12 km.; and the look-out at Mirador-1 km. The Park Headquarters are located 25 km northwest of Liberia, along the picturesque road to Colonia Blanca.