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As part of an extended stay in Costa Rica for the adoption of our 3 children (no, this is not Dan writing), we have taken a few excursions to let our kids see some more of their beautiful country. Since there was a break in the rainy season weather this weekend (hallelujah!), this meant visiting Irazu Volcano while we had the chance.
Volcán Irazú is located in Costa Rica’s central cordillera range of mountains. The volcano is at roughly 11,000 feet(!), something I was not aware of until I started doing a bit of research before our visit. Make sure you take the altitude into consideration. The walking at the park isn’t strenuous, but make sure you stay hydrated and rest often if you’re prone to altitude sickness.
The drive to Volcán Irazú
Visiting Irazu Volcano requires a roughly 90-minute drive from the capital of San José. Like roads to many other Costa Rican destinations, the road is winding and steep and only one lane in each direction. Since we had to gain approximately 7,000(!) feet in elevation, this meant the whole drive out of Cartago is up, up, up!
Fortunately, the drive to Irazu Volcano is spectacularly beautiful. We were treated to more than one amazing vista of Cartago and San José. If the clouds hadn’t rolled in and started drizzling rain by the time we were driving down, we would have stopped to take some panorama shots. Note to self: take the opportunity when it presents itself.
We drove the whole way ourselves, as I’ve been renting a car for our time here. If you’re *not* driving, there are plenty of tours departing from San José for visiting Irazu Volcano.
Entering the park to visit Irazu Volcano
We did hit some traffic at the park entrance to Irazu Volcano. I was initially a bit dismayed since we were a good 2 kilometers from the actual park, according to Google Maps. And at the rate we were inching along, I figure it was going to be well over an hour, maybe two, before we arrived.
Turns out there that the pay station was just around the corner. The wait way maybe 20 minutes, overall. Not great, but not too terrible.
Once we got to the entrance station, I expected to pay about $37 for all of us to enter. The Irazu Volcano cost for tourists is a hefty entry price of $15 per person ($1 for kids under 12), while adult nationals pay 1,000 colones (about $1.75). Yes, they really stick the tourists. Niños nacionales are only 500 colones. A vehicle also costs 1,100 colones.
We didn’t have identification for the kids, but I hoped that the fact that they don’t speak English and look totally different than us would be enough for them to believe that two Americans were bringing three Costa Rican nationals into the park.
As things turned out, the lady at the kiosk managed to give us a hefty discount without us really even asking. I told her 2 gringos plus 3 nationals when we arrived at the window. Puzzled, she then asked where we lived, and I explained we were from los Estados Unidos, but that the kids were from San José. Somehow, this ended up qualifying all of us as nationals, and we were in to the tune of $10 total. I’ll take it.
Our visit to the Irazu Volcano park was the intersection of a few factors that probably contributed to the crowded line: (a) good weather, (b) weekend, (c) late morning arrival. If visiting again, I would avoid the latter two while *definitely* planning the visit during good weather. Thus, I recommend….
Weather is the factor you should plan around
The lady at the arrival kiosk mentioned that we might not be able to see much due to the clouds. We’d entered them on the last part of the drive, and I had to admit, I was a bit worried we’d planned a completely useless visit to the volcano.
Fortunately, the clouds broke up enough for us the enjoy the park and get some great views of the craters.
I absolutely wouldn’t plan to visit Irazu Volcano if it is raining. When it rains in Costa Rica, it usually dumps. Being at the top of a mountain during a storm just seems like a nightmare.
Given the height of Volcán Irazú, you can actually see the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea from various viewpoints. But this requires a perfectly clear day, which are extremely rare.
Other tips for visiting Irazu Volcano in Costa Rica
If you’re an early riser, visiting Irazu Volcano is an easy half day that you should do in the morning. The park opens at 8:00 a.m. The weather is often best in the morning during rainy season, so get there early if you can. You’ll also likely beat the crowds.
Honestly, I probably wouldn’t recommend budgeting more than an 90 minutes at the park. A hour will probably be sufficient to enjoy the views of the craters (unless you have kids in tow, then you need more).
There are bathrooms at the park, and also a little souvenir store. I *thought* that there was a full cafeteria/restaurant, but that turned out not to be the case. Unless you like bagged chips and soda (or other sundries sold by the store), I would suggest either bringing lunch or planning to eat as you’re heading down. If you do bring a lunch, there are a decent number of picnic tables.
Take a jacket! I’ve spent most of my time in a t-shirt and shorts in Costa Rica, but this was one day I opted for pants. Coming from a climate where it is in the 50s and 60s most of the time, I was fine with a long-sleeve shirt over my t-shirt. In contrast, our Costa Rican kids were bundled up and complaining about the cold.
Visiting Irazu Volcano was a great excursion during our time here in Costa Rica. We’ve also visited the beaches on both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, something that was a bit more up the kids’ alley. I love everything about this country, the exceptions being the traffic in San José. Oh, and the road planning. Who in their right mind would have three consecutive one-way streets running the same direction??!?!
But I digress. If you have a chance to visit Costa Rica, I do recommend a visit to Volcán Irazú.
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