Curubandé de Liberia, Costa Rica – Many travelers pass through but few stop in Curubandé de Liberia, a little village in northwestern Costa Rica. This is the gateway to Rincón de la Vieja national park. Most visitors barrel right through, on their way to volcanoes and hot springs.
In fact, that’s exactly what I did on previous trips. We visited the national park when we were staying at the beach on the Nicoya Peninsula, so we just came for the day.
But this time I decided to spend a few days in the village. I stayed at the delightful Aroma de Campo guesthouse – a wonderfully welcoming place with art-strewn walls, a hammock-strung terrace and a talkative parrot named Coco.
Rincón de la Vieja
I spent a morning at the national park, which is just as impressive as I remember. I didn’t actually see the volcano because it was shrouded in clouds, but Rincón de la Vieja is definitely active! (Last biggish eruption was January 2022.) Las Pailas trail is a short but fascinating hike past boiling mud pots, fumaroles and other volcanic activity. I never cease to be astounded by this strange and wonderful planet.
Río Negro Hot Springs
Of course, what’s the best part about hiking around an active volcano? The post-hike soak! I love the set-up at Río Negro Hot Springs, which has the thermal pools built right into the banks of the river. It’s a very different experience than the fancier (and more contrived) facilities around Arenal. So, yeah, there’s no bar service, but the natural setting is dreamy.
La Leona Waterfall
The main reason I wanted to spend some time in Curubandé de Liberia was to experience this newish attraction: La Leona Waterfall. This was less of a waterfall hike, and more of a canyoneering adventure, with river crossings, rock climbing, cliff jumping, fighting rapids, spelunking (sort of) and waterfall swimming. This is a guided hike. I did my tour with Un Tico y Una Gringa Tours. So much fun! My only regret is that the twins were not here for this one.
Poza Los Coyotes
And finally, I found my perfect swimming hole at Poza Los Coyotes. Too bad it’s 4000 miles away from where I live. Unfortunately, it started to pour shortly after my arrival, so I didn’t get to fully explore the various swimming holes, caves and secret spots. Put that on the agenda for next time.
Los Coyotes is so beguiling because of its stunning turquoise color. (And in fact, La Leona waterfall gives off the same heavenly hue.) The color is actually an optical illusion, caused by volcanic minerals in the river bed. The water acts as a prism and separates the color waves. Somehow the minerals absorb most of the color waves but reflect the blue waves, which gives the water its vibrant color. If you take the water out of the river, it is completely clear!
Spending time in Curubandé de Liberia has been one of the highlights of my trip so far (even though I was wet for almost the entire time I was here). It’s always a thrill to make a new discovery in a country where I have traveled so extensively. And in this case, it’s a destination that is so easy to access – especially for travelers who are headed to Rincón de la Vieja national park.
Public service announcement: small villages like Curubandé de Liberia depend heavily on tourism. Travelers can make a big difference in the local economy by spending locally. Stay locally, eat locally, hire local guides and spend your tourist dollars where they matter most.