The Genesis of the Name, “Rincón de la Vieja”
Rincon de la Vieja is one of Costa Rica’s most beautiful volcanoes and is located inside the national park bearing its name near Liberia, Guanacaste. In fact, visiting Rincon de la Vieja is at the top of the list for “Frommers Favorite Experiences in Costa Rica.” Rincon de la Vieja volcano has the famous Von Seebach crater, which, by the way, is still active. The highest crater within the park is on the Santa Maria volcano. It’s all part of the Cordilla de Guanacaste that runs through Costa Rica.
The Genesis of the Name “Rincón de la Vieja”
The Spanish translation of “Rincon de la Vieja” is “old woman’s corner”. We have found two legends that explain the name:
The first local legend retells two stories of the indigenous people of the Guatuso tribe who named the Rincon de la Vieja volcano after one or two people. One is about an old witch who lived in Rincon de la Vieja on top of the mountain from where smoke would be seen emanating from her “corner” of the volcano. She was thought to have either been sending columns of smoke into the air when she was angry or would have would have smoke emanated forth from her cooking fire as she would prepare meals for weary travelers. Perhaps both stories are applicable since the Rincon de la Vieja crater has experienced at least eight periods of intense volcanic activity and still bubbles and steams.
The second, more colorful legend tells of the indigenous Curubandá princess and daughter of the Curubandé chieftain. She is said to have fled from her father to Rincon de la Vieja because her lover was chief of an enemy tribe. The father threw her lover, Prince Mixcoac, into the crater of Rincon de la Vieja. A baby was born from this forbidden love but the indigenous princess threw her son into the volcano’s crater, in the hopes of reuniting him with his father. Mourning her loss, she became a recluse, living out the rest of her life on the Rincon de la Vieja, close to the volcano’s crater and became a famous “witch doctor”. She learned the healing secrets and developed medicines obtained from the volcano. The sick would seek her out and say “I’m going to look for the old woman in the corner” or “I’m going to the old woman’s corner” alluding to the remoteness of her dwelling. Today the natural mineral hot springs that come forth from Rincon de la Vieja are said to alleviate aches and pains that stump even the most modern medicinal cures.
Rincon de la Vieja is part of a larger mountain range, called Cordilla de Guanacaste, that runs through Costa Rica and lies within the Guanacaste Conservation Area (ACG). Rincon de la Vieja National Park covers 14,083 hectares (approximately 3,500 acres or 400 square kilometers). The park serves to protect flora, fauna and watersheds located around Rincon de la Vieja. There is a vast network of rivers that flow into the basin of Nicoya Gulf and the flood plains of Lake Nicaragua. Geothermal activity results in hot springs that bubble to the surface, forming small streams with very hot water. Rincon de la Vieja National Park is located in Costa Rica’s northwest, between Liberia, Guanacaste and the Nicaragua border.
There are two Costa Rica volcanoes within the park. Fortunately, the volcanoes are going through a period of relative calmness. The namesake volcano, Rincon de la Vieja, has nine eruptive vents located within a 15 km wide caldera. It is the third most active volcano in Costa Rica, but these vents serve to relieve pressure that builds up. The main crater, Von Seebach, at 1,806 meters is also still active. The crater is nearly vertical and denuded of vegetation. 300 meters inside the crater is a steaming acidic lake. Analysis of pyroclastic flow deposits shows that a large eruption occurred some 3,500 years ago. It was formed by many volcanoes simultaneously erupting and merging into a single mountain. The first recorded eruption occurred in 1765 and since then many minor eruptions have occurred – all coming from the Von Seebach crater. These minor eruptions are confined to the crater with ash erupting to moderate heights. The most recent minor eruption occurred in 1998. The dormant Santa Maria volcano with twin cones is the highest point in the park at 1,916 meters and features a crater 500 meters across. The dormant volcanoes are slowly eroding.