We wind past small pueblos. Restaurants, bus stops and abandoned buildings kiss the road, beckoning visitors to stop with their offerings of warmth and coffee. We wind past fincas. These beautiful acreages of rolling green land are interrupted only by the small cottages that call the land home. We wind past farms. Potatoes, onions and cabbage are grown here, harvested and sold along the roadside and in the cities down below.
Driving to Irazú Volcano
We wind up from the valley where grey clouds fill the sky to a place where rain pelts the windshield. The rain turns into dense fog that drapes the landscape in a blanket of clouds and for several moments there is nothing to see but this tunnel of thick mist.
Through the fog we wind until –here comes the sun, it’s brilliance revealing the bounty of colors and the vastness of hills on this brilliant mountainside.
On this relaxed Sunday afternoon families are out, hiking, driving and lunching along the road at the various local restaurants that promise stunning views and traditional dishes. The cows are out this afternoon too, grazing, climbing, mooing.
Summiting Irazú Volcano
Up, up, up we continue until we reach the gates of Irazú Volcano National Park. At 11,260 feet, Irazu Volcano is the highest active volcano in Costa Rica. We have climbed nearly 6,000 feet in less than an hour.
Entering the national park is an experience that echos what it can be like to be a gringa in Costa Rica. My Tico friend pays 1,000 colones ($1.86 US) to enter, and I, unable to remotely pass as being Tico with my strange accent and blonde locks, pay the gringa fee of $15.
From the parking lot, it’s a short hike to a panoramic viewpoint Diego de la Haya, a green crater lake that is the volcano’s most recognizable image.
We hike through Playa Hermosa, a crater area that resembles not a beach as its name implies, but a dusty, moon landscape, or maybe J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth.
On this particular day the green crater lake is dry. On the clearest of days from here one can see both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts that boarder the country, but today, as most days, the air is thick with clouds, and we are lucky enough to just be able to see the crater.
A frosty, wet air brushes our faces and my hands turn red. The average temperature here is 7 degrees Celsius, or 45 degrees Fahrenheit. It is the coldest I have been in Costa Rica.
Irazú volcano last erupted in 1994. It’s most famous eruption occurred in 1963 during US President John F. Kennedy’s state visit to Costa Rica. The eruption was so profound that it showered the city of San Jose, roughly 30 miles away, in ash.
Irazú Volcano National Park is home to much wildlife including rabbits, armadillos and a variety of bird species.
Visitors without a car who wish to visit Irazu can take the bus that leaves daily at 8 a.m. from the intersection of Avenida 2 and Calles 1/3. The bus returns to San Jose at 1 p.m. Round-trip fare is $8.