My home for three nights is a hacienda called Guachipelin, which was established in 1880. The ranch has a hotel that is surrounded by 3,400 acres of land with pastures for cattle, pigs and horses; these are the “sabanas” or savannahs that make the region look and feel distinct from the rest of Costa Rica. Patches of dry tropical forest provide areas of shade and the agri-tourism project is run on strict sustainable terms. I start my mornings helping out with the milking – the hacienda makes its own cheeses – and visiting the honey hives.
Like any ranch worth the name, the family-run Guachipelin does a mean barbecue. There’s nothing like a meat and seafood feast after a long day. On the menu is chicken, tilapia and shrimp, as well as vegan delicacies.
Rincón de la Vieja is a perfect spot for walking. Armed with binoculars, I head off for some early-morning birdwatching. There are around 300 species in the park, including big, bold characters such as curassows, toucanets and the gloriously monikered montezuma oropendola, a bird that rocks back and forth as it bawls out a bizarre musical trill – probably my favourite birdcall on earth.
But every cowboy must eventually ride into the sunset, and Rincón de la Vieja is close to other inviting regions. West is the Nicoya Peninsula, a legendary surf and beach strip. East is the imposing Arenal volcano. Just 20km away is Liberia, Costa Rica’s sabanero capital and a transport hub (TUI offers direct flights from the UK).