Traveling to Costa Rica conjures up some specific images—tropical rainforests, gorgeous beaches, and volcanoes are the three most common. When you stop to think about it from a practical standpoint, you might ask why volcanoes are something that attracts tourism. It’s a mountain, and mountains are all over the place yet we’re still drawn to them. But these mountains explode and throw hot lava around. Come along with me on Day Seven of my bucket list adventures and I’ll show you why.
Most, if not all of our travel clients are avid adventurers and have been to many fascinating places that have mountains. There are tons of recreational opportunities that mountains offer us. There’s also a different sort of wildlife experience with mountains. But volcanoes? What is it about these mountains that draw tourists? Some volcanoes are silent, some are smoking, some are rumbling and some are downright spewing venom. They’re truly alive and for me that makes a hike on a volcano a mystical experience. The idea that I am walking on a sleeping giant is spooky and thrilling. It takes me back to childhood stories of fantasies where troll-like creatures were hiking along a mountain track not realizing that they were actually on the back of the sleeping Dragon until it woke and smoke started to vent from its nostrils. Feel the chills?
Another cool thing about the Volcanos is the vegetation growth that’s around them. The forests are typically dense and lush, teeming with wildlife. It’s different from a virgin rain forest, as the trees are not as tall and the forest floor is much thicker with vegetation. The soil is richer in minerals which feed a wider variety of flora and fauna. This in turn attracts a wider variety of wildlife, which attracts a wider variety of people, like YOU!
Costa Rica has over 200 identifiable volcanic formations dating back more than 65 million years. Today, however, only 100 or so show any signs of volcanic activity, while just five are classified as active volcanoes with at least one eruption since 1994. Most of the volcanoes in Costa Rica lie in the northern part of the country and in the Central Highlands.
Irazú, immediately east of the capital San José, is Costa Rica’s highest (over 11,000 feet high) and one of its most active volcanoes. Ash from the last major eruption of Irazú in 1963-65 caused heavy damage to infrastructure and life in San José and its surroundings.
Costa Rica´s most active volcano is Poás, the most frequently visited and prominent in the country. It contains a green acid crater lake and during some of its frequent eruptions, water from the lake is ejected like a geyser.
Arenal is one of the most active volcanoes of Central America and a major tourist attraction in Costa Rica. It is famous for a large explosive eruption in 1968 that killed several people and threw incandescent bombs 5km in distance from the vent. When you visit the volcano you’ll see on the side of the road large indentations in the ground, some 15 or 20 feet wide. These are the craters left from those bombs it threw out. 1992 was the last major eruption, and left a pile of lava rock at the base of the volcano. Arenal has been in near-continuous activity building a lava dome and displaying mild
explosive activity from the summit crater. The dome is typically covered in a cloud but at night it’s possible to see the red fire streams flowing down the side of Arenal. When you come to visit this volcano, we’ll arrange for a private guide to take you to the 1992 lava flow where you’ll hear the volcano rumble and the rocks tumbling down the side. Our guide will give you a lot more background on the history of this mystical mountain and the community that surrounds her.
Another popular attraction given to us by the volcanos are the hot springs in the Arenal area. Several
hot spring facilities have been built to welcome the visitors but our favorite are the 18 pools at the Springs Resort. Tabacon is also a great place to enjoy the healing waters. For those that want a truly natural hot springs experience we know of a hot spring stream in the forest that is visited by locals but not known to tourists. You have to do a little hiking to get there but if this is the way you like to soak, it’s well worth the effort.
One night while up in Arenal we decided to go check out a secret spot for viewing the lava flow. We drove around the volcano to the back side where we heard it’s the best vantage point to see the red lava streaming down. We rumbled on down this dirt road in the dark for 40 minutes and then began to see a couple cars parked on the side. We drove over the bridge where some people had gathered and I pulled over to park, not realizing that I actually was still on the bridge. I had almost driven right off of it with the four runner teetering from side to side with front passenger side wheel hanging off the bridge. She was about to flip over into the river. I told the boys to jump out on the left-hand side and ask for help. I needed weight on the back driver side corner of the car so the tire would grab hold and I could then back up. Three little boys were not going to cut it, I needed some big people. The boys came back with just what I had in mind, three strong corn-fed guys who spoke not just English, they spoke Nort Woods Wisconsin English! “Oh hey there…… you got yerself a pickle right there now huh?” “Boys, git yer bewts up on dat bumper hey and I’ll be right here on dis side” “ok now give her da gas”… Bam! We were fully back on the bridge, thanks to my brat buddies from Wisconsin who just happened to be on the back side of a volcano in Costa Rica.
How ’bout dat!
Turrialba (3340 m) is the easternmost of Costa Rica’s active volcanoes. It’s a large stratovolcano with a complex of three summit craters and its flanks mostly covered by farmland and forest. While this
volcano is not much of a tourist attraction, it has more effect on tourism than any other. After its previous eruption in 1866, signs of unrest started in 2006 and new activity began on Jan 4, 2010 sending ash into the air and closing the San Jose airport from time to time.
Rincón de la Vieja is the largest volcano in northwest Costa Rica, and tourism has grown in this area because of her. There are a few new resorts in this area, and it’s the closest volcano to the Liberia International Airport. We can take you to natural hot springs here too.
Tenorio is not considered active, but there’s a very cool reason to come visit this volcano… Rio Celeste, a super stunning water phenomenon. It’s a river of glowing iridescent blue waters spilling over a waterfall into a lagoon. To get to these falls you begin hiking from the volcano park entrance and around the base of the Tenorio volcano. As you walk through the forest you’ll notice hissing and steam blowing through vents in the side of the hill. So even though Tenorio is considered dormant, to
me she is still very much alive. The further you get, the more frequent you’ll see these vents hissing away welcoming you to something that you know is going to be very cool. Eventually you’ll start to walk alongside what looks like a normal stream, then further up the trail this stream converges with another, and at this point the water turns iridescent blue, a result of the mixing of phosphates from one stream and minerals of the other. As you follow this glowing blue stream you’ll discover boiling pools of water releasing sulfur scents into the air.
We love bringing clients to this National Park and a quaint rustic lodge called La Carolina. For those who appreciate simple cabin living in nature, this is just a place for you. It has my favorite hot tub built
right into the banks of the river and heated up by firewood. No gas, no electricity. Meals are served family style on long tables where the guests gather, share stories and become friends. The last time I was there, we met a group of Irish musicians who had been on tour in United States and were taking a break. We stayed up late that night playing music and sharing stories. I invited them to come to Nosara and play at a favorite local bar. I couldn’t believe my luck because at that moment we were hosting at Tierra Magnifica the CEO of Coca-Cola and his extended family, all from Ireland. When we got back into town, I flew up to TM and said, “John I got a surprise for you after dinner tonight, we’re going to hear some live music.” It was a spectacular night of Irish ballads with John and his brother leading the way.
Sometimes when I share these stories even I wonder, “did that really happen”? These are the kinds of things that just seem to happen when you visit mystical places.
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