Country Guide » Volcanoes
The Irazu Volcano is the highest active volcano of Costa Rica, with 3,432 meters of altitude. It is located in Cartago, some 32km from the city of Cartago, and it is very easily reached by car. It stands majestically in the Central Valley and is visible from almost everywhere. It last eruption occurred in 1965; in 1963 the volcano it erupted smoke and ash, on the very day John F. Kennedy landed in Costa Rica. It carried on being active for two years and has been dormant ever since.
Irazu comes from an indigenous word that meant “Thunder and Earthquake Mountain”. Irazu is classified as a stratovolcano. ‘Irazu’ is actually a derivative of an Indian word, which means ‘thunder and earthquake mountain’. An active stratovolcano, Irazu has had a number of volcanic eruptions over the years. The first documented eruption was in 1723 by Diego de la Haya, after which one of Irazu’s five craters has been named. The last time Irazu erupted was in 1994. However, in 1963 on the day President John F. Kennedy made an official trip to Costa Rica, this volcano spewed to life after a period of 20 years, and then went on to stay active for another two years, before going dormant again.
Irazu is not just the highest, it is the largest volcano of Costa Rica. The erupted ash made the soil of its slopes and surrounding areas exceedingly fertile; potatoe onions and all sorts of vegetables grow there. It has however little wildlife due to its volcanic activities and to the agriculture. Foxes, rabbits, coyotes owls, robins, hummingbirds and porcupines are about all you can expect to see there. Most of the parks forest is found on the Caribbean side of the volcano. The summit is mostly made up of black ash, with a few resistant shrubs here and there that have acclimatized somehow to the harsh conditions and cold winds.
Irazu is a stratovolcano, also called composite volcano; these volcanoes have a tall conical shape for years of lava, pumice, tephra and ash building up on their slopes. They have periodic explosive and quiet eruptions. Typically the lava of these volcanoes cools down before it has a chance to go too far.
Most people like to climb to the Diego de la Haya crater when they visit Irazu; it has the strangest green colored lake in its center. The best time to climb, either by foot or by car, is between March and April, where there is less rain, and if you are lucky, you may get to see the both the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans from the summit. The Park counts with many hiking trails, rest rooms and picnic areas, and there is even a souvenir shop and a small snack stall that also sell warm drinks, just what you need in this climate. The park is opened from 8am to 4pm everyday, and you will be wise to take warm clothing as it gets pretty chilly up there!
Getting to Irazu is pretty easy; From San Jose, go east to Cartago, from where it is only 39 kms to the National Park. The roads are paved and in very good condition. The drive is also pleasant and scenic, with panoramic views of the Central Valley.