Costa Rica is one of the loveliest and most biologically diverse countries on earth. From its roiling ocean surf to colorful tropical birds, from long, pristine beaches to its dense and pretty rainforest, this Central American country is a paradise on earth. One way to experience the splendor of Costa Rica’s unique geography and natural wonder is by visiting one of its incredible volcanoes.
The Arenal volcano
The Arenal volcano is the most active in Costa Rica, towering nearly 5,500 feet above the picturesque green fields that surround it. Arenal’s beauty is dramatic, and it can frequently be seen spewing lava and clouds of billowing smoke high in the air. Not to worry; it is currently a safe volcano to visit, and has often laid dormant for hundreds of years. If there’s any danger, your tour operator will let you know.
Arenal sits in the middle of the spectacular Arenal Volcano National Park, which has many wonderful hiking trails and observation points. The park is about 60 miles from San Jose, but the roads are winding and slow, and the trip can take a few hours. Arrange for a guided tour, or book yourself into one of the many fabulous resorts in the area.
Whatever you do, plan to spend some time walking through the park’s wild beauty, visiting Lake Arenal and some of the region’s famous volcano-heated hot springs, many offering incredible views of the nearby volcano. Stay a day or two and go windsurfing or fishing on Lake Arenal, plan a whitewater rafting trip, or arrange a canopy tour of the rainforest.
The Poas volcano
Another popular destination is Poas Volcano National Park, which is a little closer to San Jose – this volcano is less than 50 miles away from the capital city.
Poas volcano has two craters, and is surrounded by dense and beautiful rainforest. A popular stop along hiking trails in this stunning national park is the Botos Lagoon, with its cool, deep blue mountain waters.
Poas has been erupting for thousands of years, and you still see steam rising from its smoldering craters when you visit. Another major attraction here is the incredible biodiversity around the volcano. It may be small, but this national park is home to four distinct microclimates, nearly 80 different species of birds, and mammals such as the Poas green-yellow squirrel, which is only found here. Don’t forget to stop at nearby La Paz waterfall for a photograph or two.
The Irazu volcano
One more unique and dramatic site in Costa Rica is the Irazu volcano, which once showered San Jose and nearby towns with ash for nearly four years back in the 1960s. Luckily, it has been quiet ever since, and its slopes are now home to many family farms.
This volcano is only 30 miles drive east of San Jose. There’s a great hiking trail from the park entrance up to the summit, which offers a spectacular view. The summit of Irazu volcano is close to the tree line, but high enough to be above the clouds. On a clear day you can see not only the crater, but if you’re lucky, you can see as far out as both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts of Costa Rica.