The highest and most visited volcano in Costa Rica, hiking Irazú is almost like visiting another planet
The highest volcano in Costa Rica, Irazú stands at 11,260 feet tall, and is the most visited volcano in the country. Classified as an active volcano, Irazú has erupted 23 times in recorded history, starting in 1723. Perhaps its most famous eruption, however, happened on March 19, 1963, on the day of President Kennedy’s official visit to Costa Rica. More recently, the volcano erupted in 1994, which lasted only one day. Since then, Irazú has remained in a dormant state, awaiting eager visitors.
A large part of Irazú’s popularity is due to the fact that it is the peak closest to a major metropolitan area. From San Jose, it’s about 40 miles one way to Irazú Volcano National Park. Driving the road to the volcano offers spectacular views of the valley below, and as you climb higher, you may even be able to see both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans if the day is clear enough.
Guided tours are a popular option when exploring the volcano, or you can travel there independently. Busses operate on the week days from San Jose to Irazú, and will cost you about $5 round trip. Alternatively, you can also grab a taxi from San Jose for roughly $25.
Climate and Topography
Once you reach the peak of the volcano, there are several nice, short hiking options that you can take. From the summit parking lot, it’s about half a mile to a lookout point that offers spectacular views of some of the volcano’s craters, and there is also a longer trail that will take you along some of the craters.
Because of the volcano’s height, it tends to be very chilly near the summit. Temperatures average between 27 degrees Fahrenheit and 63 degrees, and the summit is often covered in a layer of clouds, cooling things even further. The best time to visit is between December and March, which is the driest season.
Flora and Fauna
Looking more like a moonscape than something on planet Earth, the area around the crater is almost devoid of any trees or vegetation thanks to the volcano’s recent history of eruptions. Further down the mountain and into the park, however, you’ll find primary, secondary, and cloud forest within the 5,705 acres than comprise the park.
While it can be difficult to see wildlife here because of the volcanic activity, many species of animals still call the mountain home. Bird species such as owls, hummingbirds, and robins live in the park, and foxes, rabbits, coyotes, and armadillos all call the Irazú area home as well.
What to Bring
You should always be prepared when you head out on a hike, and in addition to the regular hiking essentials, you’ll need a few additional layers to combat the cool temperatures on the volcano’s peak. Be sure to bring water, snacks, a map, your camera, and an extra warm jacket, even if you don’t plan on doing that much hiking while on your trip to Irazú. At the base of the summit, there is a gift shop that also sells food and hot drinks, so after a chilly day at the peak, you can warm up there.