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Irazú Volcano is the highest volcano in Costa Rica standing at 11,260 feet (3,432 m) above sea level. In fact, it is not unusual to be above the clouds when looking out from the summit. This impressive active volcano is located in the hills above the city of Cartago. It is easily accessible as a day trip from San Jose.
We live about an hour away from the Irazú Volcano, so we have visited numerous times. We even planned to have our official wedding at the volcanic crater. Unfortunately, there was heavy rain on that day and we had to move locations at the last minute.
So are you ready to visit Irazu Volcano National Park in Cartago, Costa Rica? The stunning views of Costa Rica’s Central Valley from above and seeing the deep volcanic crater up close and personal definitely make it worth a visit!
We created this guide to assist you in planning the perfect visit here with advice on what to wear, the best time of year to go, and more!
Irazu National Park at a Glance
Opening Hours: 8:00 am until 3:30 pm every day including holidays.
Cost: $15 USD per adult. $5 USD for kids.
Location: Above the town of Cartago in the Central Valley Region of Costa Rica
Guided National Park Tour (with transportation from San Jose): San Jose to Irazu Tour
Best Time to Visit: Dry Season (mid-December through mid-April) and early in the morning
Background Info on Irazu Volcano
While Irazu has erupted multiple times throughout history, the most notorious was in 1963. This eruption occurred just days before US President John F. Kennedy’s state visit to Costa Rica. The capital, San José, was completely blanketed in ash. This then persisted for two years.
Although Irazu Volcano is still considered an active volcano, there has not been much seismic activity here since a one-day-long eruption in 1994.
There are several craters at the top of Irazu, but the most famous is the Diego de la Haya which is a green crater lake. It is mostly known for its vibrant color.
Diego de la Haya is the name of the Cartago governor of Cartago in 1723 who first reported volcanic activity of Irazu.
The national park, stretches over 5,705 acres and consists of another area called Sector Prusia.
Not only does the park offer breathtaking views and geological wonders, but it is also home to a variety of wildlife from armadillos and owls to vibrant hummingbirds.
If you are interested in the geological backdrop, the Irazú volcano is a stratovolcano. It is distinguished by its irregular shape and series of distinct craters.
Radioactive dating shows that the volcano is at least 854,000 years old. It is believed that eruptions peaked at 570,000 years. The most recent active phase was from 136,000 years to the present day.
What to Kow Before Visiting Irazu Volcano
Here is all the info you need to plan your visit
Irazu Volcano National Park is open daily from 8:00 am until 3:30 pm. This includes all national holidays.
Entry to the park is:
$15 for adults
$5 for children (12 years old and younger)
Children under the age of 2 are free
For Costa Rica residents the admission cost is 1,000 colones for adults and 500 colones for children.
You do not need to book your tickets ahead of time. We have never had a problem just showing up and buying tickets. However, there is a chance they could make you wait until someone leaves if the park is overly full.
Also, note that all Costa Rica national parks are going cashless. You will need to pay your entry fee with credit card.
There is a fee for parking. This is ¢2000 for cars.
Irazu Volcano is located above the city of Cartago in the Cartago Province. It will take you about 1.5 hours to drive here from downtown San Jose.
Just be warned, the start of this drive requires some city driving which can be a bit terrifying in both San Jose and Cartago.
Once you get out of the cities you will be rewarded with beautiful back roads that are well maintained and have beautiful Central Valley views.
Note that although the roads are well maintained it can be really steep and curvy in some spots.
In your GPS or on Waze just type “Volcano Irazu” to find accurate directions to the ranger station from your location.
If you plan on renting a car while in Costa Rica, check out our rental car page for some helpful tips and to get a 10% discount on your car rental.
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If you are not planning to rent a car it is also possible to visit Irazu Volcano as part of a tour from San Jose. These tours often include transportation, admission, lunch, and an experienced guide who speaks English. We get into the best day excursions with transportation further in this post.
For a more budget-friendly option, there is a public bus that leaves from downtown San Jose every day at 8am.
It arrives at Irazu Volcano a little after 10 am. The bus departs Irazu back to San Jose at 12:30 pm. It will cost a few dollars each way. The downside is that this doesn’t give you a whole lot of time to explore the summit area.
If you plan to take the bus from San Jose you need to wait at the bus stop right in front of the National Theater on Central Ave. You will see a bus stop that says “Volcan Irazu.”
If you are not sure if you are in the right spot, don’t hesitate to ask someone else at the bus stop. Ticos are some of the nicest people you will ever meet and they will likely be more than happy to assist you.
There is a huge parking area that visitors can use next to the main crater. As I mentioned above, you need to pay ¢2000 per vehicle for parking.
When you purchase your admission ticket and enter the park the park ranger will ask that you back into the parking space. This is required so that all visitors can quickly depart on the off chance that there is volcanic activity.
Also, please do not leave anything of value in your vehicle. We have never heard of any cars being broken into here, however we have also never noticed any parking attendants keeping an eye on vehicles either.
There is a gift shop near the main parking lot. You can buy some souvenirs here as well as snacks and drinks. It is a bit overpriced, but a good option if you really need some food or a drink.
There are bathrooms for visitors to use and an area with picnic tables if you would like to bring a picnic lunch.
If you opt to have a picnic at Irazu, these little guys (coatis) may be cute but they are also quite the food stealers. Definitely keep a close eye on your lunch.
What to Bring
Keep in mind that the higher elevations here might be a problem for you. I find that I always get out of breath and can feel a little lightheaded up here. I always bring a bottle of Gatorade and I think the electrolytes really help, but who knows, it could all be in my head.
You can buy Gatorade or Powerade at almost any little store that you pass on your way up to the national park.
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You do not need to worry about mosquitos up here. The elevation is too high for them.
We also suggest bringing:
- A bottle of water
- sunscreen (even though it may be cool up there the sun is really strong)
- your camera
What to Wear
It can be really cold up at the top of Irazu, so layers are always a good idea here.
I typically wear some kind of workout pants and a few layers on top (t-shirt and sweater). I’ve also worn my rain jacket up here because it can be very windy and the jacket provides good wind protection.
A hat is also a must because of the strong sun.
I find that I tend to start off cold but after doing a bit of walking I tend to get warm, so the layers are a necessity.
You also need to wear some type of shoes you can walk OK in. It’s not a crazy hike or anything, but you will be walking on unpaved paths at some points.
Best Time to Visit
It is always best to visit Irazú Volcano National Park in the mornings. As the day progresses there is a higher chance that the volcanic craters will get fogged in.
Also, dry season (December – late April) typically offers the best views because you won’t have to contend with any rain. If you visit during the rainy season it becomes even more important to arrive early in the day. The rain typically rolls in by 2pm.
You can ask when you pay if the volcano is clear. The ranger will be happy to tell you. If the volcano is clouded in, I do not suggest visiting.
Keep in mind that due to the higher elevation there can be cold weather here, even on sunny days. In April (which is often the warmest month of the year) the average temperature is 51.5 °F.
Hiking at the Volcano
One of the best things about Irazu Volcano is that the walk is moderate. From the main parking lot it is possible to walk to what is referred to as The Main Crater on a flat, well-maintained paths within a few minutes.
There is another crater called the Diego de la Haya crater. To get here you need to go up a steep hill to the summit of Irazu. The hike is only about a half-mile, but it can be really exhausting due to the extremely high altitude.
If you do not feel comfortable walking up the road, but would like to see the top lookout point, it is also possible to drive to the top on the paved road.
Diego de la Haya has a green crater lake and a nice viewpoint out over the Central Valley. We have heard that on a really clear day you can see all the way to the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Coast, but we have never experienced that.
Also, sometimes you can see Turrialbe Volcano erupting in the distance like in the picture above.
It is not unusual to be literally above the clouds at the very top of the volcano.
There are three other craters that are part of the national park. These are called; Playa Hermosa, La Laguna, and El Piroclastico.
Irazu Guided Tours
If you are staying in the San Jose area and will not have a rental car, the best way to visit the Irazú Volcano National Park is with a guided day tour. We really like this option because it relieves you of the stress of driving here.
Plus, most tours include other nearby activities for a completely fun-filled day.
Our four favorite day tours are:
Irazú Volcano National Park (Half Day)
A half day tour with transportation from your San Jose area hotel. This day trip visits Irazu Volcano and Los Angeles Basilica with an experienced guide.
San Jose to Irazu Volcano National Park, Cartago City and Orosi Valley
I like this tour for combining the main sights in the area in one fun-filled day.
This tour includes transportation from San Jose area hotels, a visit to Irazu Volcano, a visit to Orosi village, and a visit to Los Angeles Basilica.
A delicious typical Costa Rican lunch is also included.
Irazú Volcano, Orosi Valley, and Lankester Gardens Combo Tour
Experience the magic of Irazú Volcano National Park’s breathtaking peaks!
Also, wander through the colorful plants, including orchids, at Lankester Gardens. You’ll also get the chance to visit the Virgin of the Angels Basilica in Cartago.
Your transportation and entry costs are covered! Plus, a delicious local lunch at a restaurant is included.
Unveiling Guayabo: Archaeological Wonders & Volcanic Majesty
In my opinion, this is the most authentic and nice tour you can take to Irazu.
On this excursion, you will visit Irazu Volcano, Turrialba Volcano, and Guayabo National Monument.
This tour includes transportation from and back to San Jose area hotels and an experienced guide (who is amazing). However, entrance to Irazu Volcano and Guayabo National Monument need to be purchased separately.
What to Do After Irazu Volcano National Park
There are actually some great things to do near Irazu from other hiking opportunities to culturally fun.
Here are some of our favorite things:
Check Out Prusia Forest
The Prusia forest features several trails, ranging from shorter, easier walks to longer, more challenging hikes.
I’ll warn you, these trails are intense! You are at a super high elevation here so please take it easy.
The main attraction (in our opinion) is the tall coniferous tree forest (pictured above).
Prusia is actually part of the Irazu National Park. We have actually never gone to both Prusia and the volcano on the same day. So, I am not sure if you can use your Irazu admission ticket to get into the Prusia sector or if you will have to pay a second admission.
If you try to visit both in one day, please let us know if you were able to use the same admission ticket.
Just keep in mind that you will be very high in elevation. Take your hike slow. I got so out of breath when hiking at Prusia and was having trouble breathing because I completely overdid it.
Visit an Abandoned Sanatorium
Visiting an abandoned sanatorium is probably not on your list of “must do” things in Costa Rica, but it is pretty cool. Just down the street from Irazu and Prusia is this abandoned hospital with several buildings.
Almost all of the buildings are open for visitors to walk through. When we visited we paid about $5 per car to enter. We brought a picnic lunch and enjoyed it on the grounds before checking out all the buildings.
Go to Lankster Gardens
Situated near downtown Cartago is this really nice botanical garden. The garden is a research center affiliated with the University of Costa Rica.
Here you can see thousands of orchid species, tropical plants, and walk on picturesque trails. We love the Japanese garden section. It is a peaceful place to relax.
Check Out Downtown Cartago
Cartago is not the nicest city in the world, but if you go to Irazu Volcano from San Jose you will need to drive through the downtown area. So, we suggest stopping here to see a few different things.
1. Ruinas de Cartago: This is an unfinished church that was destroyed by an earthquake. It is now a city park. I love the look of this place.
2. Basílica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles: This is arguably the most well known church in Costa Rica. This church honors the Virgin of Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles, discovered by a peasant girl.
Legend says the statue mysteriously returned to its original location multiple times, prompting the church’s final location.
Every year, up to 2.5 million pilgrims, many from San José, visit the basilica on August 2nd, some even crawling on their hands and knees.
The church is usually open to the public and you can usually go in for free.
Orosi is a small town located not too far from Irazu.
We suggest parking your rental car in the downtown area and checking out the oldest church still in use in Costa Rica (built in 1743). This church is called Iglesia Colonial de Orosi. It is almost always open to the public and free to explore.
You can also walk across a suspension bridge over the river in this small town as well. It is located very close to the church, so I suggest leaving your car and just walking to the bridge. Additionally, the Orosi Valley is beautiful. If you have no plans, just drive and enjoy the views!
Here are the best places to spend the night that are very close to the Irazu Volcano.
We also have a guide to the Cartago area. This will help you find tasty restaurants, accommodation options, and more fun things to do nearby.
Conclusion: Irazu Volcano National Park
In conclusion, a visit to Parque Nacional Volcan Irazu makes a great day trip from the San Jose or San Jose International Airport area. I mean, how often in your life do you get to visit an active volcanic crater up close?
Just always keep in mind that this is the tallest volcano and your health needs to be your priority at this elevation.
If you have any questions about visiting Irazu Volcano don’t hesitate to leave them in the comment section below. We are always happy to help you out!
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