About 400m from the administration building is the formidable wooden and red-tiled homestead La Casona (Big House), one of Costa Rica’s most famous historical sites. For many years it was the centre of a working hacienda until the land was expropriated for the national park in 1972. In 2001, it was burned down by poachers who were retaliating against arrests by park rangers. However, phoenix-like, it stands again after being lovingly (and painstakingly) reconstructed in less than a year – this time, with the addition of smoke alarms.
Information panels recount the various instances of derring-do which have occurred at La Casona, with resumés of the battles of March 20, 1856 (the confrontation between William Walker’s filibusters and the Costa Rican forces), of 1919 (against the Nicaraguans), and of 1955, against another Nicaraguan, the dictator Anastasio Somoza García, who ruled the country from 1936 until his assassination in 1956. His hulk of a tank can still be seen, rusting and abandoned, along a signed road just beyond the entrance hut.
La Casona, set around a flowering courtyard, is full of rustic character. It’s now entirely given over to exhibitions, and you are free to clamber up and down the steps and wander around the dark rooms, which have a significant population of resident bats. Many of the exhibits were destroyed in the fire, but there’s some information on the life of the notorious William Walker and the great battle of 1856, remnants of dead animals and archeological remains. At one side of La Casona, a stair path leads up to a viewpoint with a magnificent perspective of the twin volcanoes of Rincón de la Vieja National Park.