One of the most active volcanoes in Central America is located in Cartago, Costa Rica. Know as Turrialba Volcano, the stratovolcano looms above the nearby town of Turrialba. From the summit of the volcano, it is possible to see both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. Costa Rica is home to a number of incredible attractions, not to mention a variety of stunning volcanoes, but Turrialba is one place that you won’t want to miss. Explore the region, the volcano’s significance and history, what to do when you visit and how best to plan your trip to Turrialba Volcano.
Believe it or not, Turrialba Volcanic National Park is one of the least visited parks in all of Costa Rica. It’s hard to understand exactly why that is, even after you factor in that it can be closed at times due to extreme volcanic activity. The reason for its lack of popularity might be because the park isn’t as developed as some of the other volcanoes in the region. Of course, for many visitors that is a bonus! For intrepid travelers that want to get off the beaten path a little, Turrialba can be an amazing adventure. If you’re more of a luxury traveler, don’t worry: There are some truly breathtaking all-inclusive and upscale accommodation options in the area.
Turrialba has an elevation of nearly 11,000 feet, and it is believed to be more than 1.5 million years old. It is located close to Irazú Volcano, which is also active, and leads to the two volcanoes being called siblings or a pair. They are both part of the same single geological system. It is certainly easy enough to visit both volcanoes on the same trip, and to explore the surrounding rainforest and wildlife simultaneously.
Turrialba erupted five dramatic times during the 19th century, with the last major eruption taking place in 1866. From then all the way until 1996, the volcano was completely dormant. In that time, there was significant growth throughout the area. Brief eruptions have taken place since 2010, and the park closed for several months as a result. Keep in mind that the park only closes when safety is a concern, ensuring that all visitors can feel secure when they enter the park and explore the incredible volcano up close.
It is worth noting that a trip to Turrialba is a great idea it even when the national park is closed. The park itself is enormous, occupying nearly 4,000 acres of land. However, there are plenty of nearby spots where you can spot the volcano from a distance without entering the park. The town of Turrialba itself, for example, is always open to the public. If the park is closed because of volcanic activity, Turrialba is an exciting place to watch the eruptions safely.
The overwhelming majority of international travelers who visit Turrialba come via San Jose. That’s because San Jose is the capital of Costa Rica and the home of its largest airport, the Juan Santamaría International Airport, or SJO. If you’re planning to fly to Costa Rica, there’s a good chance that you’ll land at SJO and then navigate to other destinations from there.
Unfortunately, the railroad line that used to lead to Turrialba is no longer functioning. The good news is that there are a range of transport options to help you get to your destination. From San Jose, there are regular buses that depart as frequently as every 15 minutes during weekdays. The journey will take just over two hours, and the cost is a very affordable USD $3 each way. The Turrialba bus station is very modern and is located on Highway 10 just on the western edge of the town.
There’s also the option to drive to Turrialba, which many visitors opt to do. This also lets you set your own route and make stops in adjacent destinations like Cartago or Capellades. If you’re interested in driving yourself all the way into the national park, then make sure you have a vehicle with 4-wheel drive. Many of the final miles of the road are dirt rather than pavement, so getting there with an organized tour is a very popular option. Taxis are also very affordable in the area, so that can be an option for shorter trips in and around town.
Turrialba is located in the region of Costa Rica known as the Central Valley. Unlike the coastal areas along the Pacific or the Caribbean, the Central Valley has a unique climate that is very distinct to the area. Of course, you’re still in the tropics. That means you don’t need to worry about things like extreme cold or snow. Nonetheless, the weather in Turrialba can be very different from the weather in Limon or Punta Arenas.
Although it can easily reach 95 degrees Fahrenheit along the coast, Turrialba sees high temperatures of about 80 degrees throughout the year. Low temperatures hover around 65 degrees year round as well. However, Turrialba does experience a dry season and a wet season. From December through April, there tends to be a lot of sunshine and very little rain in the region. From May through November, there can be daily rain. Fortunately, that rain tends to appear in the late afternoon or evening, freeing up your mornings for sightseeing in the sun.
It’s worth noting that the weather near the top of the volcano is very different from at the base. If you opt to climb to an elevation of over 10,000, be prepared for a drop in temperature. Experiencing the volcano in the humidity can be almost dreamlike, since you’ll actually be up amongst the clouds at that elevation.
Things to Do
Visiting Turrialba is a great idea primarily because there are so many different things to do and see in the area. The volcano is naturally a primary attraction, but that is really just the tip of the iceberg.
If you’re up for an adventure and you’re ready to tackle the volcano, then you can climb to the summit of Turrialba. You’ll walk through cloud and rain forests, and the biodiversity of the flora and fauna along the way is something you’ll never forget. Whether you’re hiking up the volcano or just exploring the surrounding rainforest within the national park, you’ll have the chance to spot howler monkeys, toucans, bamboo forests, armadillos, giant toads and so much more. The volcano is also home to three large craters, all of which were formed by volcanic activity. When the national park is open, you can walk around and even in some of these craters yourself.
There are also plenty of incredible outdoor attractions that you can enjoy when the park is closed, but you’ll still have views of the volcano. One of the most popular attractions in the Central Valley is the Guayabo National Monument. This ancient and indigenous settlement is nestled on the lower slope of the volcano, and it was once home to more than 10,000 people. This is Costa Rica’s biggest collection of pre-Columbia ruins, but it has been abandoned since 1400 AD. Today, you can explore the ruins on your own or on a guided tour, admiring the ancient architecture that looks as if it grows out of nature.
Turrialba is also known as one of the top water sports destinations in Costa Rica. In particular, the Pacuare River can deliver hours and hours of rapids and breathtaking scenery. There are also shorter, easier routes that might appeal to families or seniors.
The town of Turrialba is also home to the Botanical Gardens at CATIE, or the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center. You’ll have the chance to see a wide variety of local plants, and several beautifully manicured gardens are the ideal place to enjoy a picnic. You can even opt to rent a bicycle and see more of the gardens on wheels.
Where to Stay
Seeing everything that Turrialba has to offer in a single day would be impossible. That’s why many visitors opt to spend several night in the area. Fortunately, there are a wide range of accommodation options, and the price range is incredibly flexible so that it can suit just about any budget. From all-inclusive options to budget-friendly hotels, Turrialba has something for everyone.
If you want to be as close to the volcano as possible, then the Vulcan Turrialba Lodge is the ideal choice. It is the nearest hotel to the volcano, and guests are able to begin their hikes to the volcanic summit right from their cabins. The cabins are basic, but they do include private kitchens. Travelers recommend bringing along your own groceries and focusing on the magnificent views from the lodge.
If you’re more interested in an all-inclusive experience, then Casa Turire is a fantastic option. The building is a traditional and grand hacienda home, offering a boutique feel with just 12 rooms. While the hotel is small, you won’t lack for amenities. You can enjoy the swimming pool, the private balconies, the gift shop and the onsite bar with views of both the Turrialba Mountains and Angostura Lake.
Turrialba Volcano is not somewhere you’ll have to battle with crowds, but it still offers a long list of incredible outdoor activities and attractions. From relaxing with stunning views to hiking through craters, this region in Central Costa Rica is a dream come true.
If you are interested in more information about Costa Rica Volcanoes, we recommend reading the following articles:
Active Volcanoes in Costa Rica
Costa Rica Volcanoes – How many are there?
Rincon de la Vieja Volcano