Liberia is your gateway to northern Costa Rica. From here, we chose to rent a car to maintain maximum freedom rather than rely on buses for a handful of reasons: buses do not necessarily access all locations of interest, taxis may not be equipped to access locations with poor roads, and neither is guranateed to be air conditioned. The car rental fee is fairly cheap - we paid about $50/day all in for a decent SUV for the four of us, and most rental agencies have shuttles from the airport. Most towns will have a gas stations, which you may or may not need depending on how efficient your rented vehicle is (the full itinerary is around 470 km).
Day 1 & 2: Rincon de La Vieja and Beach
Ricon de La Vieja, literally "Old Lady's Corner", is a volcanic national park just outside of Liberia. The park has several neat volcanic features to explore, but the hike to the peak of the volcano has been closed indefinitely due to volcanix activity. While not necessarily common, monkeys can be seen wandering the treetops over the many hikes in the park. The two distinct entrances of the park each lead to a different point of interest:
- Las Pailas is the "main" entrance and has visitor's center. From here, you can go around the 3.2 km Las Pailas loop, which will take you through open fields and lush rainforest to a variety of volcanic sites like magma fields, boiling mud pits, fumaroles, and even a seasonal waterfall. Anyone looking for more adventure can also try each of the 5km waterfall trails to Catarata Escondida or Catarata Cangreja, the latter of which you can swim in. Sections of the trails are uncovered, so be sure to bring water and sunscreen, and note there is an entrance fee of $10 paid at the visitor center.
- Santa Maria is the "alternative" entrance to the park, and occupies an old ranch. This entrance features the park campground (camping not always available), the ranch itself, and has a 8km trail to the Rio Negro hot springs, which are pools on the side of the river. Note that there is a $15 charge for access to the hot springs (paid at the station).
- There is a trail that links Las Pailas and Santa Maria stations and crawls alongside the Santa Maria volcano, but we did not attempt this, and I'm not sure what the distance is.
Once you are all done with your daily forest exploration, or if you want to skip it altogether, Playa Hermosa is approximately 40 min from Liberia and presents you with pristine beaches on the shores of the Gulf of Papagayo, literally "Gulf of Parrots".