Rincon de la Vieja: Geysers, Mud Pits, and Horses

We had always wanted to visit here. The Rincon de la Vieja is a compound volcano, kind of a small version of Yellowstone. There are nine craters, with some oddly shaped peaks, geysers, mud pits, hot springs, and cold waterfalls. It sounded like nothing I had ever seen in Costa Rica, and we found that to be true. 

This is an area that is not promoted very much in the US. This seems to be because the couple of hotels that have been there for awhile are European owned, and they have been promoting to their home markets. Also, until recently the road has not been very good. My wife and I made an attempt a few years ago in a Toyota Corolla. We had to give up, the road was too bad. But now ICE (the national power company) is building a geothermal power plant in the area, and has improved the road. 

We had the opportunity to inspect three hotels, all completely different. 

First up was the hotel we stayed at, the Rincon de La Vieja Lodge. This is a diamond in the rough. It is very rustic, and not without a couple of problems. But the staff is very sweet and the new manager is trying to put it into shape. If you are a serious hiker on a budget, and want to stay close to the entrance to the National Park, then this would be a good choice. 

The standard rooms were small, but looked comfortable. The log cabin bungalows are a legitimate bargain at only $80.00 per night, including tax and breakfast. Ours had a view of one of four ponds on the property, and you could hear the small river rushing behind our unit. There were small porches front and back. They are better than most rustic accommodations, but it would be easy to make a few improvements. The shower was serviceable, but not attractive. The bathroom needed a countertop and better light. Small complaints, I know. But easy to fix and would have made the unit much nicer. They also turn the electricity off after 10:30 PM, but I was told that this was being remedied soon. 

The restaurant serves typical food at a reasonable price. I had a steak that was pretty good, and my wife had a chicken and mushroom dish that she enjoyed as well. There are no menus and the staff speaks very little English. We speak enough Spanish that we were fine. But we could hear confusion around us as those less fluent tried to muddle through. 

The new manager is still working on implementing some new tours. So there was not a lot to choose from. We took a very nice horseback ride to the hotel’s own natural hot springs, and to a beautiful mirador (scenic overlook). We did not have enough time to take a whole day ride back to a beautiful waterfall and cold swimming hole in the national park that looked very inviting. There is also a good network of hiking trails within the national park. The hotel has its own canopy (zip line) tour. 

One intriguing activity was an overnight canopy tour. About halfway through, there is a platform with a tent. The guides leave the guest with coffee and chocolate for the morning. You then finish the canopy tour in the morning, and go to breakfast at the lodge. 

I forgot to ask what they offer for overnight bathroom facilities! But it sounded like it could be fun and romantic. 

So the short review on this property is that it is good for someone on a budget, and may be the best choice for the serious hiker. It is lacking attention to details, but my hope is that the new management is able to whip it into shape. The reasons to stay here are the price, access to the park, and the fact that it is located in an absolutely beautiful setting. 

borinquen hotelThe other end of the scale was the Hotel Borinquen. For those in the $300 per night range, this place will knock you out. The rooms are beautiful and fully appointed. Great for a getaway or honeymoon. They have bubbling mud pits on site. Their sauna is actually built over one. There is a wooden slatted floor, and the steam comes up through the floor. Their spa appeared to be first rate with beautiful views into the forest. This is also built over a rushing river, that I am sure would be great background white noise to listen to during a massage. They offer different treatments with the volcanic mud. There is a very nice pool, too. The hotel offers a full compliment of hikes and horseback tours into the park. They also offered “ATV safaris” and have a pretty decent canopy tour onsite. I was only able to glance at a menu (there are two restaurants), but it looked like the chef is creative, and there were some interesting options. 

Strangely enough, their hot springs were not anything special. There were just a couple of circular pools maybe 12 feet in diameter. I was surprised that such an upscale place that had done everything so right did so little with such an attractive asset. 

The short review on this property is that those with the higher budget will like this place. Great for honeymooners. Anyone that wants to see the hot springs and mud pits, but does not want to rough it, will be very comfortable. You will also have the opportunity to be one of a few North Americans that have even heard of this place! 

In between, there is the Hacienda Guachipelin. This was a pleasant surprise. It has zero curb appeal, we drove past it on the way to the Rincon de la Vieja Lodge. We were not impressed, and kept going. On the way back from the Lodge, we drove past the back of the hotel and glanced into the area where the rooms were located and saw a beautiful lawn surrounded by attractive low buildings. So we thought we would check it out. 

This was a genuine find. The rates are very reasonable with standards going for around $80.00 per night, plus tax. The superiors are larger and only about ten bucks more. No TV, no phones, no a/c, no problem! The rooms were very clean and nicely appointed. We happened to be here for lunch. We did not stick around to eat, but I did check out the buffet. It looked very good for the price ($12.00). Fresh salads and veggies, the usual choices of chicken, pork and “tipical” Costa Rica dishes. 

waterfall

The nature is the attraction here. They offer a full compliment of tours. One of the more interesting to me was the whitewater tubing. Helmet and life jacket while floating on a tube. It looked like big fun. Like the other properties in the area, they offer horseback rides (they have their own horses) and hiking into the park. They also have a canopy tour. Some of these can be combined, and they had a canopy / rappelling tour that looked pretty neat.  Funny thing was that after we returned home, we caught an episode of Samantha Brown’s show on the Travel Channel.  She was doing the white water tubing and rappelling tour.  She liked it! 

They do some things with horseback riding to the mud baths too. They have a spa, but it is located offsite. So we did not have a chance to inspect it, but the pictures looked good. 

We found that this hotel was a great mix of comfort and activities at a reasonable price. It will probably be the one I recommend the most to my clients. 

We only had time to fully inspect three hotels. I heard good things about the Buena Vista Lodge as well. I guess we just have to go back!

Finally finding my way to Santa Teresa

Although I have been to Montezuma several times, I had never made the short trip up the road to the Mal Pais / Santa Teresa area. Shame on me, because there has been a buzz going on about Mal Pais for a while. I was late getting here.

The beach was unbelievable. It just went on forever. We love to take long walks on the beach at sunset (sorry if this sounds like a personal ad!). This was perfect for that. The surfers love this beach, though you have to be aware where the big rocks are. Swimmers have to mind the current as well. But it is also a great place to just hang out with an adult beverage.

During my recent visit to the Mal Pais / Santa Teresa area I made several hotel inspections.  We stayed at Hotel Tropico Latino, and I profile this hotel in my post “Italian Sophistication on a Costa Rica Beach”.    The following is a quick review of some of the other hotels we toured.

The first place I wanted to see, was The Moana Lodge in Mal Pais.  It has always gotten pretty favorable reviews, and this was before they built the new Suites and Jr. Suites. I have a feeling that the reviews are going to get even better. 

These accommodations are the newest part of the hotel. They had only been open for a week when I did the inspection. The only negative I can give is that there are so many steps. I mean lots and lots of steps. But they do carry your luggage.  I promise that once you are up in the rooms, you forget about the climb. The views are magnificent, and the whole front of the Suites and Jr. Suites is plate glass. There is a balcony if you feel the need to sit outside, but you can see the ocean just fine from the living room or bedroom. There are teak floors throughout. The bathroom in the Suite features two sinks, bidet, and a two person jacuzzi tub. It’s perfect for honeymooners. 

moanalodgeThe almost 1000 square foot Suite goes for under $300 per night in high season, including tax. This is really a great value for a suite at this level. I know I am going to be sending some honeymooners, for sure. The new Jr. Suites are $225.00 per night at high season, also including tax. They are smaller than the big Suite, and the bathroom is not as over the top. But again, they are extremely well appointed and not a lot of money for an accommodation at this level. 

All of the rooms at the Moana Lodge are done in an African theme. The older existing rooms have also been redone to reflect the theme. While they are not as spectacular as the suites, they are attractive and a good value. The only other small negative to mention here is that the hotel is located across the street from the beach and up a bit of a hill. So you have to walk a little back and forth from the beach. Between the steps and this walk, I don’t think I am sending anyone elderly or with mobility problems. But for the young and fit looking for a romantic spot, this is a great choice. I can’t wait to return to Mal Pais, and actually stay here. 

Even more over the top was Flor Blanca. But with high season rates that start at $475 per night, and climb to over $850 I guess you expect to be amazed. I know I was. Each of the deluxe secluded individual villas feature tastefully decorated huge open air living rooms, complete with hammocks. The garden bath is also open air. But the bedrooms are air conditioned for comfort. Very private. If you have the budget, this is the perfect romantic spot. I glanced at the restaurant menu and the spa. Both appeared to be first rate. 

There are a couple places that I missed, and would have liked to inspect. Most notable was Hotel Casa Marbella. I have heard very good reviews about this hotel, but I just ran out of time. 

The former owner of the Flor Blanca is also constructing a new hotel up the road on the beach. I knew these folks before Flor Blanca, when they operated a hotel in the Tamarindo area. We sent them guests on a regular basis, and once used them for a lovely destination wedding. This new project will be their third hotel, and the last two were very interesting. So I am eager to see what they have come up with. There was no one at the construction site but some local workers. So I didn’t get the tour. It was hard to see what was going on, but I know there will be some open air showers. I guess I will have to go back!