A visit to Irazu Volcano National Park in Cartago, Costa Rica is a great day trip option from the San Jose area. Here you can enjoy stunning views of Costa Rica’s Central Valley from above and see a deep volcanic crater up close and personal. This is also the highest volcano in Costa Rica. In fact, it is not unusual to be above the clouds when looking out.
We created this guide to assist you in planning the perfect visit to Irazu Volcano with advice on what to wear, the best time of year to visit, and more!
About Irazu Volcano
The Irazu peak stands at 11,260 feet (3,432 meters high). In fact, we have never experienced this, but we have heard that on a clear day it is sometimes possible to see both the Pacific coast and Caribbean coast of Costa Rica from the top of the volcano.
Although it is considered an active volcano, there has not been much seismic activity here since a one-day-long eruption in 1994. In 1963 it began erupting a week before President John F. Kennedy began a state visit to Costa Rica. Irazu then continued to erupt for about two years. This was the most prominent and continuous volcanic activity that Irazu has experienced in its recorded history.
There are several craters at the top of Irazu, but the most famous is the Diego de la Haya crater lake. It is known for its vibrant greenish color. Diego de la Haya is the name of the Cartago governor of Cartago in 1723 who first-ever reported volcanic activity of Irazu
What to Kow Before Visiting Irazu Volcano
Irazu Volcano is open daily from 8:00 am until 3:30 pm. This includes on all national holidays.
Entry to the park is $15 for adults and $5 for children (12 years old and younger). For Costa Rica residents the admission cost is 1,000 colones for adults and 500 colones for children.
Irazu Volcano is located 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 San Jose and Cartago.
Once you get out of the cities you will be rewarded with beautiful back roads which are well maintained and have beautiful views. Just 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 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.
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.
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 about $2 each way.
If you plan to take the bus from San Jose you need to wait at the bus stop right in front of the Narional 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 lot that visitors can use which is included with the cost of admission. When you purchase your admission ticket and enter the park the attendant 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 definitely a bit overpriced, but a good option if you really need some food or a drink.
There are bathrooms for guests to use and picnic tables if you would like to bring a picnic lunch.
One of the best things about Irazu Volcano is that the walk is not strenuous. From the main parking lot it is possible to walk to the main crater on flat, well-maintained paths within a few minutes.
If you would like another view of the crater, it is possible to walk up the steep road pictured above to a lookout point. The walk 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.
What to Bring
Definitely bring a bottle of water, a drink with electrolytes (I find Gatorade really helps with the altitude), sunscreen (even though it may be cool up there the sun is really strong), your camera, and several layers of clothes
What to Wear
It can be cool up at the top of Irazu. I always wear some kind of workout pants. I also usually wear a few layers (t-shirt and sweater). 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.
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.
Helpful Visitor Tips
-Try to arrive to the park early: For the clearest views it is often best to arrive at the park early in the day. Keep in mind that the park opens at 8:00 am. Typically, the clouds have not yet rolled in at this time.
If the volcano is clouded in there is really no point of visiting. You won’t be able to see anything. You can ask when you pay if the volcano is clear. If it is not you can opt to do one of our nearby suggested activities at the end of this post.
– Take it slow: I always get a bit lightheaded and short of breath while visiting Irazu. It’s important to remember that you are at a really high elevation. In fact, at it’s highest point Irazu is 11,260 feet above sea level..
– Watch out for your food: If you opt to have a picnic at Irazu, these little guys (coatis) may be cute but they are also quite the food stealers.
– Look out for the Turrialba erupting: From the top of Irazu, you should look out and see if you can see the Turrialba Volcano erupting. It has been erupting on and off for the past few years and on a clear day it is usually easily visible.
What to Do After Irazu Volcano National Park
There are actually some great things to do near Irazu. The downtown area of Cartago itself is not exactly filled with tons of fun activities, but the area surrounding Irazu is home to some amazing places such as coffee plantations and beautiful views. Here are some of our favorite things….
Do some more hiking: There is a nice pine forest (how strange for Costa Rica) located close to Irazu Volcano called Prusia forest with plenty of nice walking trails. The picture of above is of me in the forest.
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 area 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 mental hospital: Visiting an abandoned mental hospital 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 mental 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.
Fish Your Lunch: One of our absolute favorite things to do in Costa Rica is to go fishing at a trucha. A trucha is a small farm that has a pond stocked with fish (usually trout) and a restaurant. When you arrive you will get a line with a little piece of bate on the end.
Once you catch a fish they will take it and cook it up for you with some tasty side dishes. Usually, the sides are rice, beans, and a salad.
You can expect to pay about $10 for your meal and a unique experience. We included some truchas in the map at the end of this post.
Enjoy the Views: We love the area around Irazu for its amazing views of Costa Rica’s Central Valley. During the rainy season you can expect lush green rolling field views. There are plenty of spots to pull off on your drive to or from Irazu to enjoy the views.
Visit Orosi: Orosi is a small town located not too far from Irazu. We like to park across from the small river to Orosi and walk across the suspension bridge into town. It costa a few dollars to use the bridge. Once in Orosi we suggest checking out the cute town church.
Here is a map so you can see where these fun activities are located. ↓
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.
If you have any questions about our guide to Irazu Volcano please leave them in the comment section below and we will get back to you as soon as possible. We are always happy to help you out!
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