Irazu National Park
Irazu National Park is located about 20 miles (32 km) from the city of Cartago (Costa Rica’s former national capital). Irazu National Park is found conveniently close to town, so you can stay at a hotel in the city, and plan a day tour to see this geological giant. The picturesque ride up to the National Park is almost as captivating as the actual place itself, with its small towns and quaint townspeople tending their little stands by the side of the road, hoping to sell the goods from their farm. Once at the top of the 11,260 foot (3,432 m) high volcanic peak (Costa Rica’s highest), the chilled winds can be pretty piercing (the average temperature is 45ºF), so it is recommended to wear warm attire. There is a point where the altitude and the weather conditions inhibit the growth of most plants. Only the hardiest plants thrive in the summit and dwarfed trees testify as to the harsh conditions. With their gnarled limbs and small size they add to the mysterious charm of the place. The sparse panorama is like a vast desert that induces a tranquil and meditative state of mind. The green colored, 984 foot (300 m) deep lake in the middle of Irazu’s crater is a sight unlike any other in Costa Rica. A walk along the wooden fence that borders the area showcases the peak from many angles, providing some great photo opportunities, so don’t forget your camera!
There is an interesting story about the Irazu peak. When President John F. Kennedy made an official trip to Costa Rica back on March 13th, 1963, he probably didn’t expect the welcome he got. The Irazu peak came to life after 20 years of inactivity, and began spewing smoke and ash from its crater, and did not stop for another two years. What an incredible reception for the American President! The soot got as far as the capital of San Jose where people in those areas closest to the peak had to shuffle around with umbrellas to protect themselves from precipitating ash. These abnormal conditions converted a tropical shower into a slushy deluge of ash and water that rained down on the surroundings to cover some areas with up to 5 inches (13 cm) of mud, causing the destruction of homes and businesses and, unfortunately, even taking some lives. Irazu has remained dormant ever since, aside from a bit of action it showed in 1994, but nothing compared to that day in the 60’s, when President Kennedy himself witnessed the amazing power of nature that is seen in so many forms in Costa Rica.
The National Park at Irazú is open Monday through Thursday, from 8:00 am-3:30 pm, and Friday through Sunday, from 8:00 am-4:30 pm. Early birds may get the chance to see both the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans if they are lucky enough to get a clear day. March and April are the best months to visit, as they are the driest. Even on a cloudy day, though, the peak itself is an amazing sight. There are paths set up to take hikes through several areas of Irazú, but make sure to stay on the trails; trying to make your own way might damage plant life and you could get lost. A small fee per person is charged at the ranger’s office at the entrance of the park. Up near the crater, there is ample parking space. You will also find restrooms, picnic tables, a souvenir shop, and a small stand that sells coffee hot cocoa, and other snacks. Ironically, although there are many telephone antennas at Irazú, there is no phone service on site. Private buses can be chartered to take you up to this beautiful park, and special guided tours can be taken that stop in other important landmarks of Cartago. Contact us with all your questions and booking needs, and make your trip to this natural wonder a reality.