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Walking on the Moon

Irazú Volcano crater.  Photo by Héctor Vides / Social Media Costa Rica

A VOLCANIC DAY TRIP FROM SAN JOSE

Located just east of San José, Volcán Irazú pokes its head through the clouds.

Irazú and Poás volcanoes are the two active massifs that are accessible by day trips from San José – although Poás has been a little too active recently and park officials have closed the gates to visitors from time to time. Visitors prefer one volcano or the other for different reasons, but there is no arguing that standing on the summit of either one is a truly awe-inspiring experience.

The nice thing about Irazú is that it’s accessible by a road leading straight to the summit, and the drive is spectacular. Past rolling hills, potato pastures, and high elevation dairy farms, the bumpy road winds up the southern slope of the volcano and straight to the park. It’s pure pastoral beauty.

HOW TO GET TO IRAZÚ VOLCANO NATIONAL PARK

There are several options for getting to Irazú. Most first-time visitors to Costa Rica opt for a guided tour, which will cost between $20 and $40 depending on the services included.

It’s also possible to visit Irazú independent of a tour. “Buses Metropoli” departs  from San José at 8 a.m. and leaves Irazú Volcano National Park at 1 p.m. every day, and costs $5 round trip.

Logo Buses Metropoli company

TRANSPORTATION COMPANY: BUSES METROPOLI
TELEPHONE: 2536-6052
LOCATION: In front of the Ministry of Finance, San José, C.R.
LOCATION AVAILABLE ON: Google Maps / Waze
ROUTE TO ADDRESS: San José, Irazú Volcano
ROUTE TIME: 08:00:00 a.m.
RATE: $ 5.00

Or, if you rent a car, you have the ability to stop at many scenic locations on the way up or down; for example the “Sanatorium“, an old hospital that was inaugurated 100 years ago (1918) as a center for patients with “tuberculosis”, and that closed operations in 1972.

Now it is visited for its architectural beauty and peace. That is why it is national heritage since November 2014.

REMEMBER: A taxi would cost too much.

ONCE YOU REACH THE PARK

Flower in Sanatorio building. near Irazú Volcano
In the spotlight: flower in May. In the background: Sanatorium buildings.

There is a large parking lot, along with a small picnic area, bathroom facilities, and a visitors’ center. A short loop takes visitors past the two main craters, and there is also a small trail which leads up to the very peak.

At 3,432 meters (11,260 ft) above sea level, Irazú is the highest active volcano in Costa Rica, and on a perfect dayit’s possible to see both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. According to local officials it only happens three or four days a year, but even the wispy, rolling clouds that block the view are a sight in themselves.

The summit of the volcano is near the tree line, and the wind and volcanic activity give the barren land an almost moonscape feel. The volcano is most famous for its two main craters: Diego de la Haya and Cráter Principal. Diego de la Haya dips 300 feet (91 meters) down while Cráter Principal reaches over 900 feet (275 meters) and was once famous for a glowing green lagoon, but the water has long since dried up.

Although the last time Irazú awoke was in the 1960s, showering the neighboring cities of San José and Cartago with ash and sending glowing boulders down its sides, it’s impossible to know when the next eruption will be. For now, the only activity rumbling in Irazú’s crater is from fumaroles releasing toxic steam.

TIPS FOR VISITING IRAZÚ VOLCANO NATIONAL PARK

  • ·Bring a jacket. Due to its elevation and location in the cloud forest it can get pretty chilly, especially during the rainy season.
  • ·Try to go early in the morning for the clearest views.
  • ·The dusty sand at the top tends to blow around, so don’t wear shoes or pants that can’t get dirty.
  • ·Remember to wear sunscreen. Even though it doesn’t feel like it, you’re still near the equator and you’ll burn quickly if you aren’t protected.
  • ·It goes without saying, but don’t feed the wildlife and don’t litter.
  • ·The entrance fee to the volcano also grants you access to Prussia Forest Park, so go for a hike through the lush forest after (the entrance is in a different location).

Park hours: 8 AM to 3:30 PM
Parking fee: ¢1,100 (approx. $2.00)
Entrance fee: ¢ 8,000 colones (approx. $16) for foreigners. ¢1,000 colones for locals

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