Irazu Volcano National Park, Costa Rica
A massive mountain stands to the east of San Jose. It is one of the highest mountains in the country and on clear days the silhouettes of radio masts are visible on its blocky peak. Fantastic scenery unfolds on a drive up the mountain; the road passing through potato and onion fields. Although the rich black soil hints at the true nature of these highlands, you don’t really see what this mountain is until you reach the very top. Here at the summit is the result of a massive volcanic explosion that took place 1,000s of years ago; the huge crater of Irazu Volcano.
Location and how to get there
Irazu Volcano National Park is the huge mountain at the eastern end of the central valley; on clear days, radio masts can be seen on its summit. It is located to the east of San Jose, just north of Cartago. Cartago sits at the base of Irazu and is the city you need to drive towards for visiting the national park. From San Jose, follow road signs to Cartago and the brown volcano signs. Keep following the volcano signs to reach the summit of and entrance to Irazu Volcano National Park. Depending upon traffic, the trip takes about an hour from San Jose.
While the high elevations (3,000 plus meters) of this national park make it less diverse than lowland areas, many of the park’s species are restricted to the high mountains of Costa Rica and Panama. There are common endemic birds such as Sooty Robin, Black-billed Nightingale Thrush, Flame-throated Warbler and Fiery-throated Hummingbird found alongside not so common spectacular species such as the Resplendent Quetzal. The birds forage in oak trees covered in moss and bromeliads. A few rare frog species can be found in the bromeliads and White-nosed Coatis look for hand-outs on the roadside. Shrubby paramo vegetation with many rare plant species is found near the crater.
The Summit of Irazú
Irazu Volcano National Park has a fantastic crater that is easily accessible. The crater is found at the end of the road not far after the entrance to the national park. A walkway through a wide field of volcanic ash leads to the crater overlook. Mostly dormant for the time being, this huge hole on the mountain’s summit has become partly filled with water turned green by minerals. Be very careful about leaving your vehicle unattended in the parking lot; many cars have been broken into at this spot.
The Volcano Museum
The Volcano Museum is found on the left side of the road before the entrance to the national park is reached. Like most museums, it is informative, educational and fun for kids. Unlike most museums, it also provides access to trails through montane rain forest with a chance at seeing Resplendent Quetzal. The museum is connected to a cozy restaurant, the NocheBuena, which has active hummingbird feeders. It’s best to visit the volcano museum on the way down because the crater frequently clouds up by mid-morning.
Hotels near Irazú
A wide variety of hotels are found in nearby Cartago and San Jose.