A Visual Guide to Costa Rica Volcanoes

Costa Rica volcanoes…

are a sight to behold! Scattered around the small, tropical country are 67 of the mighty lava spewing mountains—6 of which remain active. In general, volcanoes make great sightseeing trips, as well as hiking trips for various audiences. Every volcano in Costa Rica is worth seeing, but we’ll take you through some of the most exciting.

Arenal Volcano

Costa Rica Volcanoes

If you’ve heard of any Volcano in Costa Rica, it’s probably Arenal. Located just outside of San Jose in the province of Alajuela, Arenal is regarded as the most active volcano in Costa Rica, despite being dormant since 2010. Prior to its cease of activity, on a few cloudless nights each year, visitors to the area could catch a glimpse of molten hot lava oozing down the sides of the 5400-foot volcano, the orange glow illuminating the dark, countryside nights. Anyone who’s seen it can confirm it’s one of the most sublime sights one may ever see.

There have been multiple major eruptions in the volcano’s history, the most infamous occurring in 1968 when surrounding villages were leveled and just under 100 people died. At the time, the volcano was assumed dead, but was awoken by a sizeable earthquake. La Fortuna, a town under 10 km from Arenal’s peak, got it’s name (which translates to “the fortunate”) from avoiding disaster when an eruption destroyed everything on the opposite side of the volcano.

Irazu Volcano

Costa Rica volcanoes

Make way for the tallest volcano in Costa Rica! Standing at a whopping 11,260 feet, it was bestowed a name which translates to Thunder and Earthquake Mountain. Located in the Cordillera Central, Irazu isn’t far from the city of Cartago. The behemoth last erupted in the mid 1960s, taking just short of 50 lives, countless homes, and even a few factories. On days when there’s not a cloud in the sky, the waters of the Caribbean and Pacific are visible at the summit (for those that are adamant on catching the double ocean view, it’s best to go in the morning since it can get cloudy in the afternoon).

Irazu volcano sits on a national park by the same name, which totals out at 5700 acres; much of which is seemingly never-ending primary, secondary, and cloud forest. Five craters are situated at the top of the volcano; the main crater is nearly 3500 square feet in diameter and 1000 feet deep.

Animal life is fairly limited at Irazu. Though it’s not uncommon to catch glimpses of coyotes, weasels, coyotes, and various birds, it’s much more renowned for its beautiful natural views than for rare species sightings.

Rincon de la Vieja Volcano

Costa Rica volcanoes

Rincon de la Vieja is located in the province of Guanacaste, which sits in the northwest corner of Costa Rica, inside its namesake 35,000-acre national park. It’s an absolutely beautiful park, lush with a variety of plant life due to the alteration in climate and altitude.

Famous folklore surrounds Rinco de la Vieja, telling the story of Curabanda, an Indian princess who fell in love with a warrior from a rival tribe. Curabanda’s father, at his disapproval, tossed his daughter’s lover into the volcano. Curabanda continued to live on the side of the volcano, where she birthed the deceased father’s child. To introduce father and son, Curabanda tossed the child into the flames and remained volcano-side and served as a healer until her ultimate death. In her later years, locals referred to her home by the name Rincon de la Vieja, which translates to Old Woman’s Corner.

Beyond the compelling tale behind the volcano, it remains a popular hiking, birdwatching, and overall geological destination. Its last major eruption occurred in 2011. Due to the eruption and the ash/mud it sent over 100 feet from the main crater, visitors are not allowed access to the crater for the time being.

Turrialba Volcano

Costa Rica volcanoes

Located in Cartago, this 11,000-foot volcano sits adjacent from Irazu, matching its massive height in the Central Highlands. 1866 was Turrialba’s last significant eruption, but volcanic activity has continued at the peak, where smoke and gas are consistently emitted.  It – the main crater at the peak – used to be a central attraction, in which visitors could hike extensively. However, due to the emissions of late, guests can view the main crater only in segments of 15 minutes.  Down beneath the summit is extensive cloud forest, as well as a mountain range of lesser height.

Turrialba experienced a condensed period of activity in the mid 1800s when it released mild to major explosions upwards of 7 times. However, in the past 3500 years, it’s considered to have experienced 5 total major eruptions.

Poas Volcano 

Costa Rica volcanoes

Like Irazu and Rincon de la Vieja, Poas is also located in the Central Highlands in its namesake national park; though it’s one of Costa Rica’s tallest volcanoes, it’s a bit shorter than its companions, towering at a whopping 9000 feet. It is of the most active volcanoes in Costa Rica, with bursting geysers launching skyscrapers of excrement over 800 feet.

The summit, which is reached by way of cleared paths, is a stunning sight to behold, with a massive crater and a gorgeous lake.  However, avid hikers can take a mildly rigorous journey through cloud forest for a sightly, adventurous trip to the peak. And just so you know, it’s a bit chilly at the top, so make sure to bring a light jacket or sweater. With the beautiful lake at the peak, Poas is surely one of the most beautiful Costa Rica volcanoes.

Tenorio Volcano

Costa Rica volcanoes

Sitting in Guanacaste, the Tenorio Volcano is a 6300-foot tower in the middle of the forest that encompasses it.  The flowing life that surrounds Tenorio includes gushing waterfalls, mysterious lagoons, hot springs, and even the occasional geyser. Wildlife in the area includes the illustrious puma, one of the most beautiful beasts seen in nature! The true treasure of the Tenorio Volcano National Park is the Rio Celeste; a dazzling blue river illuminated by sulfur emissions and calcium concentrate from the volcano.

The park is open daily to visitors from 8am to 4pm. It is a great hiking spot, especially when you reach the summit, where Lake Nicaragua is visible on cloudless days.

Miravalles Volcano

Costa Rica volcanoes

Miravalles is a sister volcano to Tenorio, which tops out at just over 6600 feet into the sky! It is the highest point in the Cordillera de Guanacaste (Guanacaste Mountains). There is very little activity in the volcano’s history, with just one reported eruption occurring in 1946.

The forest reserve caps out at 29,000 acres, which was established in 1976. Miravalles Forest Reserve include tributaries and rivers that cross the Gulf of Nicoya all the way through the fields into Nicaragua. The cloud forest that surrounds the volcano is active with deer, pacas, monkeys, coyotes, felines, and plenty of other lively species in Costa Rica. In its many craters, there are bubbling water pools, waterfalls, and hot, deep mud pits.

Much like the other Costa Rica volcanoes, it can get quite cold at the summit. Temperatures fall to the low 40s (Fahrenheit) with regularity.

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