Costa Rica is a true paradise for lovers of the great outdoors. The country boasts dozens of national parks and protected areas. And a visit to one or more of the country’s majestic volcanoes is a highlight of most Costa Rica vacations.
Volcan Irazú is one of the country’s largest and most impressive volcanoes. It is located a little over an hour’s drive from the capital of San Jose. Because of its proximity and grandeur, it is one of the most popular volcanoes to visit in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica’s Colossus
Its name, Irazu, derives from the indigenous words ara, peak, and tzu, thunder. The peak of thunder.
El Coloso is the mountain’s modern day nickname meaning the Colossus. Both names are more than fitting when it comes to the mighty Irazu Volcano.
Volcan Irazu is renowned for its explosive history and size. It is the tallest active volcano in Costa Rica. And its massive girth spans approximately 500 square meters.
The Irazu Volcano National Park protects over 2,300 hectares of tropical rain and cloud forest. They range in elevation from 2,800 and 3,432 meters above sea level (9,186 and 11,260 feet). At the summit visitors are treated to stunning crater views, otherworldly foliage, and dozens of overlooks.
The visitor parking lot sits adjacent to the volcano’s impressive main crater. Its dizzying depths are approximately 300 meters deep and 1,000 meters in diameter. At the bottom of the crater are two emerald green freshwater lagoons.
The park’s visitor area is comprised of a paved trail that runs the length of the main crater overlook. At its far end, visitors will see the distant Diego de la Haya and other craters at its far end.
Each is the testimony of the volcano’s past eruptions. The earliest ever documented was in 1723.
Tips for visiting Irazú Volcano
Irazu’s summit and visitor’s center are above the treeline and frost line. Its peak is usually blanketed in fog. The heavy mists are accompanied by an ever present wind.
In other words, it’s cold and wet at the top of Volcano Irazu. But it’s well worth the visit. We recommend planning your trip to the Irazú Volcano early in the morning. And make sure to wear warm clothing.
The best chance of experiencing Irazu on a clear day is to visit during the dry season between December and April.
Make sure to arrive in the early morning. You may be treated with views of the Central Valley and both the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts.
The park opens at 8:00 a.m. and closes at 3 p.m. every day of the year. Tickets to the national Park are $15 for non-residents visitors over 13 years old and $5 for children 12 and under. Costa Rica nationals and residents pay 1,000 or 500 Costa Rica colones, respectively.
Irazu’s volcanic activity
At present Irazu is dormant. Yet the estimated 854,000 year old volcano has had an active past. Its last big eruption occurred in 1963 and lasted for over two years.
The 1963 eruption coincided with the exact day that former U.S. President John F. Kennedy arrived in Costa Rica for a diplomatic visit. The massive explosion sent a heavy blanket of ash as far away as San Jose.
Lahar and mudflows destroyed several homes and businesses, effectively reaping havoc to the region. Fortunately, Irazú Volcano has been quiet since its last display of mild eruptive activity in the 1990s.
How to visit Irazu Volcano National Park
Most day tour providers in the Central Valley offer an Irazu Volcano day trip from San Jose. However, the best way to get the most out of your visit to Irazu Volcano is by car.
If you’re leaving from San Jose, the drive to the national park is approximately 54 km on well-maintained roads. The drive is extremely scenic and passes through the historical city of Cartago, Costa Rica’s colonial capital.
Recommendations for visiting Irazú Volcano National Park
Irazu is the second closest volcano from San Jose. It is also one of the most popular among national and international visitors.
The volcano forms part of the Cordillera Central mountain range. It is one of four major ranges running the length of Costa Rica. They harbor hundreds of ancient volcanoes both dormant and active.
At the summit visitors will find a small visitor center selling souvenirs and snacks. Several picnic areas are available along the approximately one kilometer trail leading to various overlooks.
Hikers looking to experience more of the mountain’s fascinating biodiversity should visit the Prussia sector of Irazu National Park. Visitors have the option of hiking several intermediate to difficult trails through a variety of montane habitats.
Picnic areas and beautiful scenery are plentiful. However, there are no restaurants. Make sure to pack in your food and water necessities.