Turrialba Volcano National Park
The air is crystal clear, fresh and with temperatures more akin to a northern October. The flat Caribbean lowlands stretching to the shores of the sea can be seen to the northeast. A look to the west reveals the peaks of Barva and then Poas volcanoes rising above the jade green Cordillera Central. To the south, our view of the Pacific Ocean is blocked by the Talamanca massif that rises even higher than our 3,000 meter elevation. Closer at hand lies one of three, active smoking craters. Although this is a rare, clear day, we have to take in our views and get our photos quickly; Turrialba volcano is just too active and dangerous for visits longer than 30 minutes.
Location and how to get there
Turrialba Volcano National Park is located just east of Irazu Volcano in the central part of Costa Rica, 14 kilometers north of the town of Turrialba. From San Jose, follow signs to Cartago, then signs to Irazu Volcano. Instead of going to Irazu, follow signs to Pacayas and Santa Cruz. From Santa Cruz follow the signs for Turrialba Volcano up the rough road (4WD necessary) to the park entrance. The entire trip takes around 2 and a half hours by car from San Jose.
Below the lunar-like landscape around the craters is treeline shrub and montane rain forest. The old growth rain forest is mostly composed of oak species at the higher elevations, tropical hardwoods at lower elevations. Both forest types are very diverse in mosses, ferns and orchids and support populations of bird species endemic to the mountains of Costa Rica and western Panama such as the turkey-like Black Guan, Resplendent Quetzal, Volcano Hummingbird, the friendly Collared Redstart, Sooty Robin and others.
Hiking to the Craters
Hiking trails lead to the summit and the eastern and central craters of Turrialba. They pass through high elevation forest (some of it affected by gases from the volcano) and old lava flows. The central crater is the largest and deepest with a 50 meter diameter and has shown the most activity. It has two cones that emit steam, sulphur and could emit much more such as in 2007 when it erupted ash and gases. Since then, a 30 minute restriction for summit visits has been enforced. Both trails are fairly rough and unsigned. Visitors should take proper precautions because they are essentially on their own. Although rangers are usually present at the summit, a ranger station with facilities is lacking.
White water rafting
Although not in the national park, excellent white water rafting can be had near Turrialba. Trips on the Pacuare and Reventazon rivers pass through beautiful forested canyons with monkeys and toucans frequently seen. These can be arranged online or from Turrialba town. Rafting trips during October and November are often cancelled because of high rainfall.
The closest hotel is the appropriately named Volcan Turrialba Lodge. This mid-range hotel offers a variety of tours in and around the national park. Several other hotels are available around Turrialba town and Cartago.