Costa Rica features ten amazing volcanoes:

  • Irazu (Irazu National Park)
  • Poas (Poas National Park)
  • Arenal (Arenal Volcano National Park)
  • Turrialbe (Turrialba National Park)
  • Barva (Braulio Carrillo National Park)
  • Orosi (Guanacaste National Park)
  • Miravalles (Rincon de la Vieja National Park)
  • Rincon de la Vieja (Rincon de la Vieja National Park)
  • Santa Maria (Rincon de la Vieja National Park)
  • Tenorio (Rincon de la Vieja National Park)

The entire Costa Rican territory is covered by more than 112 volcanic formations. Seven volcanoes are active, and ten are known travel destinations. The volcanic activity throughout the country has highly contributed to the rugged terrain and beautiful landscape that can easily be observed.

Irazu: mountain of thunder

The Irazu National Park is located along the Central Volcanic Range, 20 miles Northeast of Cartago. The volcano itself is located 15 miles inside the park. Rising 8,000 feet above the Central Valley and 11,260 feet above sea level, Irazu is the highest volcano in Costa Rica.

The curious name of Irazu comes from the indigenous community of Iztaru, which was located on the slope of the volcano. The word means ”Peak of Quakes and Thunder”, but it gradually changed through the years. At the top of Irazu, it can get cold enough to require a sweater or jacket. Especially during the night temperatures in the area can drop significantly.

One of the country’s most frequently visited national parks, Irazu is very popular among national and international tourists, perhaps because of its closeness to the capital. The volcano is characterized by violent eruptions and five separate, well-defined craters. The best time to visit in order to get a full view is during the early morning hours, since clouds tend to roll in as the day progresses.

Irazu is made up of five craters: the Main crater (320.04 feet in diameter and 91.44 feet deep), Diego de la haya (210.31 feet in diameter and 24.38 feet deep), Playa Hermosa (a large ashy beach that at one time was active), laguna, and the Pyroclastic crater. This is an active volcano with fumaroles that erupt with pyroclastic flows and ash, sometimes accompanied by relatively light tremors.

When the day is clear, it’s possible to observe three of the craters, including the Main one, and its sulfurous green lake at the bottom. Even if the clouds block your view, a strong sulfur smell fills the air. The other two craters are the Diego de la Haya crater; and the Playa Hermosa crater. Lucky visitors can appreciate a magnificent view of the Atlantic and Pacific coasts from the top of Alto Grande Peak.

A mighty one

The first documented eruption was recorder in 1723 by the governor of Cartago at the time, Diego de la Haya Fernandez. Since then, the volcano has had a long history of eruptions. Between 1963 and 1965, Irazu began a period of intense activity, which devastated the surrounding of the crater and seriously affected San Jose and Cartago with ash fall.

Due to the altitude, agriculture practices in the past, and volcanic activity, wildlife in the area isn’t very abundant. Larger animals are scarce, but there are coyotes; Brazilian rabbit; red-tailed squirrel; Mexican hairy porcupine; long-tailed weasel; and mooly possum. Birds, on the other hand, are more numerous.

Around the craters one can observe some lowrising vegetation, characterized by species like the sombrilla de pobre (poor man’s umbrella, because of its large-sized leaves) and papelillo, with colorful yellow flowers.

Poas: an imposing peak

Not any less impressive, the Poas volcano is only 25 miles from San Jose. Winding roads leading into the province of Alajuela take you through fertile land and plenty of coffee plants. Rising at 2,708 meters above sea level, the volcano is within the Poas National Park, with some of the best infrastructure.

As with the Irazu, it’s best to visit early in the morning, since it can get cloudy. It can also get crowded, since it receives the largest number of visitors of any park in Costa Rica. As you move up the mountain the air can get chilly, so take a jacket or sweater with you in case you get cold.

From a lookout point above the crater, you can get a great overview of the volcano. The main crater (1 mile wide and 984 feet deep) is one of the largest in the world. Unlike the Irazu or Arenal volcanoes, Poas doesn’t have strong eruptions and is one of the more accessible active volcanoes in the continent.

At the bottom of the main crater lies an acid lake rich in sulphur. Moving North you’ll find the Von Frantzius cone, the oldest eruptive center at the top of the volcano. To the Southeast, Botos Lake is formed by a rainwater-filled cone that collapsed.

More than 70 species of birds have been identified and can sometimes be observed along the park. Almost a half mile of trails take visitors through a vivid landscape, rich in wildflowers and a great variety of mosses, bromeliads and ferns.

Arenal: fire in the night sky

A picture perfect volcano and many people’s idea of what one should look like – this is Arenal. La Fortuna, a town in the province of Alajuela, located some four hours by car from San Jose, is the closet to the Arenal Volcano National Park, which protects a mysterious and unpredictable mountain. When the sky is clear it’s a perfectly shaped cone. Some other times, it becomes an invisible rumbling creature, hiding behind a pale mist.

Visitors to Arenal hope for clear dark nights, since the volcano often provides displays of natural fireworks. At an elevation of 503.83 feet, lava and smoke rise into the air, and bright red streaks make their way down from the cone in an awesome sight. Sit and relax as you enjoy this unique experience from any of the many hotels and resorts located close by.

During the day, if the clouds don’t rest on the mountain, the Arenal volcano casts an almost flawless silhouette on the land below it. For over 400 years a thick forest covered what is now Arenal’s cone. Except for a little fumarole activity in its single dormant crater, this volcano lay placid on the countryside, until 1968.

A volcano is born

In July of that year, the people of the area were surprised by a violent eruption that sent lava and ash flying high in the air and into the surroundings. The West flank was devastated and 78 people died.

Since then, the constant rumblings, and the spewing of ash and smoke, are Arenal’s most popular characteristics. Visitors are easily mesmerized by the intermittent rumbling, explosions, and fire-spitting in the night. Even through clouds often obscure the summit, those who get to see the cascades of lava and the incandescent rocks flying, never forget it.


Its flanks have been declared a national park, and truly are a living laboratory. Four life zones can be found inside: very humid tropical forest; mountain rainy forest; low mountain rainy forest; and premountain very humid forest. All of these hold an immense variety of flora and fauna.

Costa Rica Travel: Travel Information & Tips

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