Active Volcanoes in Costa Rica

There you are, soaking in a hot spring. Your shoulders are covered in clay, and the sun is trickling through the jungle canopy. And look! Monkeys in the branches! Is this the life or what?

And then you remember: There are a lot of active volcanoes in Costa Rica and you’re chillaxing next to one. A real volcano.

Actually, the volcano is the reason there are hot springs for you to chillax in.

Come to think of it, should you be worried? About, you know, eruptions?

No. Volcanoes are a wondrous part of the Costa Rican landscape, and they’re generally very docile. Most volcanoes are nestled into pristine national parks, and they make great places to visit on your Costa Rican vacation.

Here are the five best:

  • Irazú: This is my favorite volcano, partly because it’s so close to San José. A winding road leads up the slopes, and you won’t even realize it’s a volcano until you reach the top. But there’ll find a massive crater and lots of blackened gravel fields. At more than 11,000 feet, you’re so high up that you’re eye-level with the clouds!
  • Turrialba: You can actually see the smoking cone of Turrialba from Irazú, but this volcano feels much further away. The mountain overlooks a beautiful valley famous for its cheese (also called Turrialba). When Turrialba blows smoke, as it often does, the ash falls all over the Central Valley, and the plumes of smoke are breathtaking.
  • Arenal: Standing in the middle of the Costa Rican highlands, Arenal is everything you want in a volcano: It’s a perfect cone, you can see it from miles around, and it’s still very active. The mountain isn’t gushing lava like it used to, but it’s still a mythic sight, especially at sunset. The adjacent town of La Fortuna is also an outdoorsman’s paradise.
  • Poas: This volcano is located just north of Alajuela. The crater is massive and contains a burbling blue lake, and you can watch spools of smoke rise from its depths all day. There’s also a second lake and tons of trails that cut through the alpine rainforest.
  • Rincon de la Vieja: This volcano is the pride of Guanacaste, and it’s an adventurous drive from Liberia. This is where you’ll find the most primal specimens of volcanic life: hot springs, waterfalls, and a maze of mountain trails.

If you do decide to hike into the upper regions, make sure to bring sunblock and lots of water. Elevation sickness is a real problem, and heights of 11,000 ft. can make the average person feel woozy and dehydrated.

And don’t get me wrong: All the volcanoes I’ve mentioned are active, and they do erupt from time to time. But the eruptions usually consist of massive black plumes shooting into the air. If you’re lucky enough to see a smoking crater, the most you’ll have to worry about is how best to photograph it.

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