Land of Volcanoes

First of all, we need to situate Costa Rica to understand the presence of all its volcanoes. Located on the Pacific Ring of Fire, Costa Rica is a land of volcanoes. There are 116 of them, of which 5 are active and 2 dormant. For the past fifty years, the Arenal volcano has been the focus of attention for its famous lava flows, but since October 2010, these have ceased, although the volcano still emits gas and occasional rock throws. In addition, after more than a century of relative calm, the Turrialba volcano awoke in 2007 and has since seen its activity increase. The volcano regularly emits gas and erupts, and in September 2016, its largest phreatic explosion was recorded, and magma flows were observed.

An agency dedicated to volcano and earthquake observation manages all the volcanoes.

Active volcanoes

Arenal Volcano

The Arenal Volcano is the country’s most emblematic volcano. This 1,643 m high stratovolcano first erupted on July 29, 1968, and is now considered one of the country’s most active volcanoes. For years, it has regularly spewed lava, making it one of the country’s main tourist attractions. However, since October 2010, the volcano has been in a period of rest, and its activity consists mainly of jets of rock and smoke.

Molten magma heats rivers and groundwater. This has led to the development of thermal baths on the Tabacon river and on the volcano’s flanks. The volcano’s slopes and ancient lava flows are home to a wealth of flora and fauna.

Open daily from 8:00 to 16:00

Irazú Volcano

With an altitude of 3,432 m, Irazu volcano is the highest active volcano in Costa Rica. Its name derives from “ara-tzu”, meaning “place of thunder”. Its first eruption was recorded in 1723, and the stratovolcano has been erupting ever since, regularly producing fumaroles. The most famous eruption began on March 19, 1963, the day US President John F. Kennedy visited Costa Rica. It covered the capital and most of the Central Valley in ash and continued until 1965.
The main crater is home to an acid lake, green in color due to sulfur and acid fumes, but which has been slowly evaporating since 2013.

Access is easy, with a parking lot very close to the main crater. To appreciate the panorama, it’s best to come early in the morning with a sweater and windbreaker, as temperatures at the summit can vary from 21 to 64 Fahrenheit…

Open daily from 8:00 to 16:00

Poás Volcano

The Poás volcano is a stratovolcano with an altitude of 2,704 m and constant activity in the form of fumaroles, gas emissions and micro-foams. The largest recent eruption took place on January 25, 1910, producing a column of smoke almost 8,000 m high!
Just 1 hour from San José, it’s easy to get to, and the road leads almost all the way to the summit. From the parking lot, it’s a short walk to the viewpoint of the main crater, which measures 1,300 m in diameter and shelters a lake with acid blue-green waters. A little further on, the second crater, Laguna Botos, with its deep-blue lake, is surrounded by exuberant vegetation.

Rincón de la Vieja Volcano

The Rincon de la Vieja volcano is a stratovolcano with an altitude of 1,895 m. It has 9 eruptive foci, including 2 volcanic cones each crowned by a crater.

Only one of these craters is active. Fumaroles and geysers are a constant feature, a sign of significant geothermal activity. In fact, the porous soil allows rainwater to infiltrate, and when it meets the magma chambers (5072 °F), geysers of water and mud shoot up from the volcano, feeding numerous hot springs.

Finally, two access routes are available: Las Pailas and La Casona Santa Maria. Access to the crater is closed.
Best visited in the morning with a good pair of walking shoes.

Open from 8:00 to 16:00 – Closed on Mondays.

The Irazu volcano, located on the same bedrock as its cousin Turrialba, is nevertheless interesting and easily accessible. On a clear day, its crater overlooks an acidic lake, and phreatic eruptions are a frequent occurrence, although their frequency has clearly diminished in recent years.

However, if you had to visit just one, it would undoubtedly be the Poás volcano. Close to the capital and particularly active, this volcano regularly produces acid geysers up to 300 metres high. Its green lagoon is filled with acid. Since its last eruption in 2017, the park is highly regulated, and access to the crater is limited to 20 minutes.

Finally, of all the volcanoes, it’s the Rincon de la Vieja volcano in the north of the country that’s known for its near-permanent activity. Its eruptions are still frequent, but access to the crater is forbidden. One of its main features is the presence of a large number of secondary activities, such as fumaroles, mud geysers, hot springs, etc., some of which are used to produce geothermal energy. A power station has been set up nearby, supplying electricity to a large part of Guanacaste.

Turrialba Volcano

Turrialba volcano is a stratovolcano with an altitude of 3,340 m. The September 2016 eruption threw up a cloud of gas, steam and ash that reached 4 km in height.

One of its 3 craters is particularly active. Between 2014 and 2016, several alerts were issued. Some eruptions emanated ash that was deposited as far away as San José and the suburbs of Heredia and Santa Ana. All entrances to the volcano are currently off-limits.

As expected, the volcano has remained closed due to intense activity. Since December 4, 2022, the national park has reopened. Good news for crater lovers.

Dormant volcanoes

Barva Volcano

This stratovolcano, at an altitude of 2,906 m, last erupted around 6050 BC. Climbing the volcano is not easy, and it’s best to choose the dry season to go there. It’s a 5-hour hike on a more or less muddy trail, and a 3-hour hike back.

You’ll discover 3 crater lakes: Barva, Copey and Danta. The main attraction is the exceptional flora and fauna, with over 500 species of birds and more than 600 species of plants and flowers. Walking shoes, windbreaker, hat, food and water are essential.

Open daily from 8:00 to 16:00.

Orosí Volcano

The Orosi volcano is a stratovolcano, 1,487 m high, northeast of Liberia. Yes, we’re talking about the Orosi volcano, not the Orosi Valley area, south-east of Cartago, Central Valley.

The volcano is part of the Guanacaste National Park, which is extraordinarily rich in mammals, with over a hundred species. At a moderate altitude, it’s easy to reach via the road after Liberia, where you’ll cross the dry tropical forests that are home to numerous birds.
Walking shoes, windbreaker, hat and water are essential.

Open daily from 8:00 to 16:00.

Miravalles Volcano

Finally, Miravalles volcano is a stratovolcano, 2,028 m high, northeast of Liberia and the highest in the Guanacaste Cordillera.

Although the main crater is dormant, geothermal activity underground has led to the development of the area for hot springs. Miravalles is not a national park or refuge, but the volcano is classified as part of the Miravalles Protection Zone.

Las Hornillas is one of the points where geothermal activity is most visible, where you can enjoy mud baths, thermal waters and horseback riding.