My wife and I just came back from CR - we were there in Jan 2013 - and we had a blast!
One of the highlights of our vacation was the day trip we made to the Rincon national park. we drove ourselves from the JW Marriott, which is a few miles south of Tamarindo, and it was pretty straight forward with the GPS except that the road was rough by the end - to be expected as this is a wild nature preserve. My only recommendation for the drive is to make it early in the morning before it gets too hot, plus you want to get there early to have time for all the activities.
Rather than reserve a package beforehand we just bought one at Hacienda Guachipelin, one of the outfits just outside the park, when we got there. We bought the mud springs and hike package, including buffet lunch, for $55 per person.
Because we got there a bit late - around 10am - there was no hike group for us to join. The staff there were very friendly and eager to please, not to mention spoke very good English, and found us a guide, Cesar Guell, to take my wife and me on a private hike. Although you can technically hike the park trails on your own I strongly recommend going with a guide, especially if this is your first time at the park.
Our itinerary was reversed in that we did the mud springs first and the hike in the afternoon with lunch in between. The mud springs were very enjoyable, though easily missed from the road.(I should mention that all the roads from base camp to the various attractions such as the mud springs, the park, etc. are dirt/gravel with potholes in places, so a 4x4 SUV comes in handy.)
The mud-springs station on the Rio Negro was spartan but had everything we needed: bathrooms, changing rooms and lockers to leave our stuff, they even give us a small key padlock. From the station there was a bit of a walk along a forest trail leading to a small hanging bridge (nothing to worry about - my wife, who has a fear of heights, handled it very well) across the Rio Negro to the hot pools. We were greeted by another staff member who explained the process to us (soak 10 mins in pool, apply mud and hold for 10 mins, rinse off and back in the pool, repeat) mixed the mud, and made us feel that we weren't the only people in the forest. We had the pools to ourselves and we enjoyed them very much - the water is hot and its all natural!
As our hike with Cesar was starting at 1pm, we had to hurry a bit to get back to camp and have lunch. Lunch was simple but good. There was a salad bar and hot stations with meat, spaghetti and steamed veggies. We did vegetarian so we had the salad, pasta, and veggies and it was all delicious! They had various juices and we particularly liked the Tamarindo juice - its greenish color isn't very appetizing but it tastes great!
At 1 we met up with Cesar and headed for the park to go on the hike. We had to pay $10 per person at the ranger station, not included in the $55 per person we had already paid.
We were told the trail we would do is one of the easier ones (I think it was 2.1 km) but we found it a good workout. Cesar was a great guide! First of all, he speaks English very well, and second, he is very knowledgeable about the flora and fauna of this rainforest. Cesar had all kind of interesting info about the trees, plants, geology (sulfuric mud pools, etc) and ecosystems we were seeing. Cesar made an effort to spot wildlife and we did see monkeys, an iguana and a small rodent-like mammal (forget what it's called); we also saw some birds but unfortunately could not locate a tucan that Cesar had spotted in the trees before it flew way. Of course, we saw a lot of interesting plants. Cesar kept a good pace but accommodated to us when we fell behind, both because we were taking pics and because of the difficulty of the terrain.
After about 3 hrs we were out of the park and headed for base camp. We were quite tired after the hike as the terrain is difficult especially in the cloud forest stretch, with already narrow paths clogged up with boulders, tree roots and interlaced with mini-streams, but that's what made it such an exciting adventure!
Thank you Cesar and Hacienda Guachipelin for an awesome day at Rincon!
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