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If you think Costa Rica is nothing but beaches and rainforests, then you need to think again. With the Coco and Caribbean tectonic plates crashing together and creating more than 200 volcanos from Guatemala to Panama, Costa Rica is home to more than 110 volcanos, many of which are still bubbling. The landscapes that surround the volcanos of Costa Rica are intriguing and sport a wide range of diversity from cloud forests to rainforests to alien arid landscapes that prove to be a volcanic playground for thrill seekers.
Now you are wondering about which the best volcano in Costa Rica for you is to visit. Don’t worry here is a quick rundown on our five favourites in no particular order.
Arenal is by far the most famous volcano in Costa Rica. This perfectly shaped symmetrical cone is located near the town of La Fortuna in the north-western portion of the country, Arenal displayed a tremendous amount of activity from 1968 until 2010. Unfortunately, till today, travellers are not allowed at the top of the Arenal Volcano but you can enjoy the surrounding attractions. The volcano is part of the Arenal Volcano National Park which boasts numerous geothermal hot springs, excellent hiking trails and a ton of adventurous attractions from ziplining to white-water rafting and the scenery includes cascading waterfalls with swimming holes.
- Location: Near the town of La Fortuna in the Northern Lowlands
- Last erupted: December 2010
- Status: Dormant
- Height: 1,670m
- How to get to Arenal Volcano National Park: Travellers can access Arenal volcano from a variety of places including San Jose and Liberia. Traveling from San Jose is roughly a 3-hour trip primarily driving on Route 32, Route 4 and Route 142. From Liberia involves a 3-hour trip by driving on Route 1 and route 142. There are a number of half and full-day tours available from both cities as well as many of the beach resorts in the Guanacaste region such as Tamarindo.
This volcano is the second largest crater in the world that is easily accessible by car and foot. At Poas Volcano National Park, visitors can stare down into the massive crater which measures 1.5km in diameter and is roughly 300m deep. There are actually two craters for visitors to gaze upon at Poas volcano, where travellers can feast their eyes on an acid filled lake called Caliente Lagoon and a cold freshwater lake named Botos Lagoon. Lagoon Caliente lies within the bottom of the larger crater with gorgeous blue to green acidic water which is surrounded by active fumaroles and numerous geysers that shoot to heights of 250m. Botos Lagoon is surrounded by a lush tropical landscape which makes for an intriguing contrast to the barren landscape of Lagoon Caliente.
The ease of access to Poas Volcano National Park makes this the most visited volcano in Costa Rica. However, the volcano has been showing activity since last year and the park was closed to tourists, it is rumoured to be reopened in June 2018. Make sure to follow-up on the reopening dates before planning a visit.
- Location: Northeast of San Jose near the town of Alajuela in the North Central Highlands
- Last erupted: 2011
- Status: Active
- Height: 2,708m
- How to get to the Poas Volcano National Park: Travellers can expect a 1-hour drive from San Jose that primarily follows Route 712 and Route 120. Make a stop at the La Paz Waterfall Gardens on the way for a picture-perfect day.
With four cones and two craters Tenorio Volcano is a pleasant surprise to travellers but not just for the volcano. The Tenorio Volcano National Park encompasses nearly 32,000-acres of lush rainforest and cloud forest as well as the stellar Rio Celeste. The sheer beauty of the Tenorio Volcano National Park is two-fold with hiking trails that lead you past interesting mud pots, geysers and numerous geothermal hot springs as you gaze at incredible wildlife from the rarely seen puma to white-face howler monkeys. While the Rio Celeste has an incredible hue of blue water that is created by the sulphur and calcium carbonate released by the volcano. A must see is the Celeste Waterfall which tumbles down into a spectacular pool of azure coloured water that is ideal for swimming. The trail to the top of the volcano can only be accessed with special permission from the government and hiring an indigenous guide who is familiar with navigating the tree tunnels to the peak.
- Location: East of Liberia near the village of Bijagua in the Northern Highlands
- Last erupted: 1816
- Status: Dormant
- Height: 1,916m
- How to get to the Tenorio Volcano National Park: Visitors can find access from Liberia and San Jose. Travelling from Liberia you can expect a 1.5-hour drive primarily along Route 1 and Route 6. If you are leaving from San Jose expect a 4-hour drive while navigating Route 1 and Route 6. Many travellers coming from San Jose decide to spend the night at one of the nearby eco-lodges to get the most out the long drive or you can take a full day guided tour that includes a stop at Tenorio Volcano National Park and Rio Celeste.
Rincon de la Vieja, also known as the “Old Woman’s Corner or Witch’s Hideout” is one of the more intriguing Costa Rican volcanos that travellers can visit. Rincon de la Vieja is surrounded by the 34,000-acre Rincon de la Vieja National Park which is simply packed with loads of fun activities that range from hiking on more than 40km’s of trails while viewing hundreds of waterfalls, mud pots and numerous sulphurous as well as natural hot springs. Many travellers believe that the area surrounding Rincon de la Vieja is similar to viewing Yellowstone in the United States. The contrast in environments at Rincon de la Vieja is another interesting aspect which includes an arid climate on the Pacific Ocean facing side and a lush tropical climate along the Caribbean Sea facing side. The wildlife, waterfalls as well as thermal features are spectacular and if you are up for a strenuous 8-hour roundtrip hike you can view the Santa Maria crater.
- Location: Northeast of Liberia in the Guanacaste Region
- Last erupted: 2011
- Status: Active
- Height: 1,916m
- How to get to the Rincon de la Vieja Volcano: Traveling from Liberia you can expect a 1.5-hour drive along primarily Route 1 and Route 917. Many travellers decide to spend at least one night in one of the many lodges that surround Rincon de la Vieja National Park. There is a plethora of activities to do here, from horseback riding to hiking and ziplining.
Having the distinction of being the tallest of all Costa Rican volcanos, Irazu is also one of the more famous volcanos in Costa Rica for its 1963 eruption. On March 19, 1963, United States President John F. Kennedy was visiting San Jose and Irazu greeted the president with a violent eruption that left 0.5m of ash over the Central Valley. Known by locals as “Thunder and Earthquake”, this active volcano is a treat for visitors who arrive early in the morning when spectacular views of the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean will be candy to their eyes. The peak of Irazu volcano is easily accessed by a paved road and once travellers are on top they can peer down into an enormous crater named Diego de la Haya which is 1,050m across and 300m deep. There are numerous walking paths which offer spectacular vistas of the blue-green lake that resides in the crater. The 500km² base at Irazu Volcano National Park is the largest of any volcano in Costa Rica and sports lush fertile farmland that is packed with vegetation but not much wildlife.
- Location: Northeast of San Jose near the town of Cartago in the Central Valley
- Last erupted: 1994
- Status: Active
- Height: 3,432m
- How to get to the Irazu Volcano: Traveling from San Jose you can expect a 1.5-hour drive along Route 219. Irazu Volcano National Park is easily accessed and a pleasurable day trip from San Jose. Make sure to stop at Cartago on your tour, the former capital city of Costa Rica, where visitors can explore the Cartago and Ujarras Ruins as well as the Lankester Botanical Gardens.
As you can see the volcanos of Costa Rica come in many fashions from dormant to active as well as feature stunning rain and cloud forest backdrops. Whether you are a thrill seeker, nature lover or photographer there is a perfect volcano in Costa Rica for you to experience that will give you beautiful memories for a lifetime. Now the decision is left up to you on which one of these interesting volcanos of Costa Rica you will visit.
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