Rincon de la Vieja
Semana Santa is one of the most popular holidays for Latin Americans. It is a full week of celebration, bringing many families to the beaches to camp. We were warned about this holiday. Everything from gas stations to grocery stores will close down. Keeping this in mind, we decided to cross the border before the big rush in hopes of making it to Junquillal Wildlife Refuge on the northern coast of Costa Rica. We thought that if we could claim a spot on the beach ahead of time, we would be in the clear. The Junquillal Bay was supposed to be absolutely breathtaking.
Right after crossing the Nicaragua-Costa Rica border, we wove the trucks in and out of small towns on our way to the coast. The road quickly turned from pavement to dirt. Skirting along, following the path of the car in front of us, the dust settled and we got our first view of the bay. It was beautiful! Crystal clear waters, perfect for swimming. We made our way to the campground only to get the head shake back and forth, with a big sign stating “no mascotas.” I suppose we should have thought this through- it being a ‘wildlife refuge’ and all, you would think we would have guessed that no pets would be allowed. Hoping that the boys could sweet talk the lady into letting us camp anyway, we sent them up to the booth. It was a no-go for two reasons: no pets allowed and they were completely full because of Semana Santa. How could you say no to these faces?!
Not willing to completely give up on the idea of camping on the beach, we drove around the whole bay, as well as the bay just north of it, looking for a place to camp. There were signs everywhere stating that beach camping was not permitted. We pulled over at the edge of the bay and made some lunch while we contemplated what to do next. We could keep driving around aimlessly looking for camping on the coast, ask a restaurant to camp or head inland where we were sure to beat the holiday crowds and have our dogs with us.
We decided to visit Rincon de la Vieja National Park. Our guidebook described it as being Costa Rica’s version of Yellowstone, with waterfall hikes and bubbling mud from the volcano. Driving into town, we spotted a sign for camping. We pulled in and were greeted by a tall man with a Dutch accent. He told us that he did have spaces available but he did not allow dogs. We chatted with him and he told us where we might be able to camp, all while his own dog ran around our truck barking at Brady.
We continued down the road about another mile or two until we spotted Aroma de Campo. We pulled in and introduced ourselves. Aroma de Campo is a bed and breakfast which allows camping as well. The owner told us we could park in the field and have free use of the bathroom, shower, pool and internet. And dogs were allowed! It was perfect and was only a few miles from the entrance to the national park. We set up camp and got settled into our new home for the next week while we waited out the holiday.
We decided to make a day trip and hike to the Catarata La Cangreja, a 130 foot waterfall with a swimming hole and natural agua caliente from the volcano. The hike is about six miles total, offering fantastic views of the jungle and ocean. Of course, dogs are not allowed in the national park, so we left both Brady and Reina tied to the Tranquilo’s rig in the shade for the day. We all four piled into Truck and set off on our adventure.
Feeling like professionals after our volcano hike on Isla de Ometepe, the hike to the waterfall felt pretty easy. We trekked up the side of the volcano in single file, passing several ceiba trees that had to have been hundreds of years old and listening to the calls of several different birds and monkeys. About 3/4 of the way up, the trees ended and we were on a ridge where you could see all the way to the ocean. Trudging along the ridge in the blistering sun, the trail then descended down a rocky path leading us back into the lush jungle.
That’s when we heard it. At first, we couldn’t tell if it was wind whistling through the trees or the sound of water making its way down from a riverbed to a pool of water. Excited, we all picked up the pace. Stumbling up and over large rocks, the noise seemed to get louder and louder. We spotted it down the trail and I squealed with glee.
The water gracefully fell the 150 meters and splashed down into the aqua marine pool. I have never seen anything like it. After a quick lunch on the surrounding rocks, we tore off our sweat soaked clothes and jumped into the water. It was the most perfect temperature. Nate was the first to swim over to the waterfall, standing just under it with his arms extended in both directions.
I swam around feeling the smooth water wrap itself around my fingers and toes with each movement. We were the only ones there besides a local couple and a young man. It was peacefully quiet, with the only sound being the water cascading down the cliff. I slowly made my way over to a spot where I clambered up the rocky edge to get closer to the ginormous catarata before me. Since this was the first waterfall I have ever swam around, I was nervous and excited all at the same time. Nate reached his hand out to me and hoisted me the rest of the way up. Above me, vines hung from the rocks and I held onto them for dear life as I carefully walked over to the waterfall. The water was unforgivingly beating down on the rocks before me. It was more powerful than I had ever imagined.
Standing under the water as it surged down above me was surreal. I stretched my arms out ahead of me and felt the pressure of the water slip between my fingertips. I gained the courage to slowly move my whole body under it while focusing on not falling. It was simply amazing. I have never in my life felt that invigorated.
We hiked the three miles back at a quick pace, worrying that both of our dogs had surely cooked in the immense heat. When we got back, there were two happy, tail wagging dogs waiting for us to let them loose. We spent the remainder of the week enjoying ourselves by the pool and going for daily runs at the base of the volcano. We had made it through Semana Santa and were ready for our adventure to continue.
**HUGE thanks to the Tranquilos for their photo donations. Without them, this post wouldn’t be as interesting seeing as how I dropped our camera (don’t worry, not our new one) on the trail a few too many times and lost all of our photos…**