San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Rincón de La Vieja Park Closures Criticized

VISITORS hoping to catch a glimpseof the sulfurous fumaroles or bubblingmud pools at Rincón de la Vieja NationalPark at the start of the week, or camp nearbybefore hiking up to the park’s toweringactive volcano, are out of luck.The campground in the park’s LasPailas sector – one of two camping areas inthe park – was permanently closed thisweek, and the entire Las Pailas section willbe closed on Mondays from now on.Tourism groups said they are worriedthe changes will adversely affect tourismin the northwestern province ofGuanacaste, where the park is located.LAS Pailas is the most popular area ofRincón de la Vieja National Park, locatednortheast of Guanacaste’s capital, Liberia.The entrance offers access to areas of volcanicactivity, such as fumaroles, hotsprings and the Rincón de la Vieja volcanoitself.The park’s entrance at Santa María willremain open seven days a week, as will itscampground, said Fernando Gutiérrez,vice-director of the GuanacasteConservation Area, which oversees thenational park.“(Santa María) has beautiful vegetationand waterfalls, but it has nothing to do withvolcanic activity… so people do not visitit,” he said.“(Las Pailas) is a small area with a veryfragile resource, and it is not designed forthe quantity of visitors who now visit it,”he continued, and insisted the decision wasmade after extensive research.THE number of visitors to the park hasgrown from approximately 15,000 in 2001to more than 40,000 in 2004.Park officials will now use Mondaysfor park maintenance not possible duringthe rest of the week because the parkrangers are usually busy attending parkvisitors, Gutiérrez said.Despite the increase in visitors, and thesubsequent increase in funds the park generates,Rincón de la Vieja has not seen aproportional increase in government fundsfor maintenance and personnel, said theNational Tourism Chamber (CANATUR)and the Guanacaste Chamber of Tourism.The chambers are asking the governmentto allocate sufficient funds to allowfor the park’s staffing and maintenanceseven days a week, as well as reduce illegalhunting in the park.CANATUR president WilliamRodríguez said the closures, which startedMonday, come at the worst possible time.“Usually when they do these things, theysay, ‘in four months…’ but we just learnedabout this at the beginning of the month, andit is the middle of the high season.Companies already have contracts,” he said.THE park opened in 1973 with theentrance at Santa María. The Las Pailasentrance, at the opposite end of the park,was opened in 1990. A 7-km trail connectsthe two areas and before 1990 Santa Maríaoffered the only access to the volcano,Gutiérrez explained.A 6-km trial runs from the Las Pailassector to the top of the volcano. Park visitorsoften camped at the Las Pailas campgroundbefore making this hike.“So many people camped there theresources are starting to deteriorate.Erosion has caused roots to be exposed. Itis dangerous,” Gutiérrez said. “There isroom for 16 tents, but many more came.The bathrooms have deteriorated. We can’tjust chop down trees to make more room,like a soccer field.”VISITORS wishing to hike the volcanowill now have to arrive by car at LasPailas, Tuesday through Sunday, when thepark opens at 7 a.m., Guitiérrez explained.The park closes at 3 p.m. and costs $6 forforeigners and ¢700 for residents andnationals.

Comments are closed.