The beautifully dry landscape of PARQUE NACIONAL RINCÓN DE LA VIEJA, about 30km northeast of Liberia, encompasses terrains varying from rock-strewn savannah to patches of tropical dry forest, culminating in the blasted-out vistas of the volcano crater itself. The land here is actually alive and breathing: Rincón de la Vieja’s last major eruptions took place in 1995 and 1998, and were serious enough to evacuate local residents. The danger has always been to the northern side of the volcano, facing Nicaragua (the opposite side from the two entrance points), and the most pressing safety issue for tourists is to be aware that rivers of lava and hot mud still boil beneath the thin epidermis of ground. While danger areas are clearly marked with signs and fences, you still have to watch your step: walkers have been seriously burned from crashing through this crust and stepping into mud and water at above-boiling temperatures.

With the right amount of caution, however, this is an enchanting place: brewing mud pots (pilas de barro) bubble, and puffs of steam rise out of lush foliage, signalling sulphurous subterranean springs. This is great terrain for camping, riding and hiking, with a comfortable, fairly dry heat, though it can get damp and cloudy at the higher elevations around the crater. Birders, too, enjoy Rincón de la Vieja, as there are more than two hundred species in residence.

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