Volcan Irazu National Park
Two mighty volcanoes, Irazu and Turrialba, both more than 3,000 meters high, dominate the eastern highlands between the cities of Cartago and Turrialba. On a clear day they are visible from far and wide.
Volcan Irazu (3,432 m), the higher of the two mountains, was declared a national park in 1955 by the Costa Rican government. The Turrialba volcano became a national park in 1996. The name Irazu stems from two Indian words; ara, meaning point and tzu, meaning thunder. The aptly-named “Thunder Point” is Costa Rica’s most active volcano.
The first eruption recorded by white settlers was in 1723. Further eruptions followed irregularly with occasional long periods of inactivity. When then U.S. President Kennedy visited Costa Rica on March 13, 1963, the volcano woke from its 20-year Rip Van Winkle sleep and spewed ashes and smoke for two full years. The eruption covered an area of 300 square kilometers with ash. Another 100 square kilometers were buried under rock and volcanic mud. The eruption damaged the grain harvest in the regions surrounding Cartago and San Jose, and blocked water pipes, gutters and sewers. The ash, when it comes into contact with water, solidifies into a kind of cement that is virtually impossible to remove.
Presently, it is possible to see four craters from the lookout point. The active main crater in the middle of the park has a diameter of 1,050 meters at the top of its cone and is 300 meters deep. The crater is filled with a yellow-green sulfurous fluid. Its eastern neighbor has an aristocratic name, Diego de la Aaya. Its crater measures 100 meters in depth and has a diameter of 700 meters. Two more extinct craters rise nearby.
The frosty temperatures at the edge of the crater of Irazu, which Ticos also call “The Powder Keg of Nature,” range between 11° and -3°C, depending on the season. A warm sweater or jacket is advisable for anyone planning to make the trip to the crater. The harsh conditions at the summit have limited vegetation to a sparse covering of dwarf oak, sturdy vines and ferns.
Frequent cloud bursts occur throughout the year at the summit of the volcano. The masses of rainwater stream down the lava slopes to regularly irrigate the fertile fields below. There is a paved road leading all the way from Cartago to the edge of the crater, a distance of 34 kilometers. Visitors are advised to make the trip as early as possible because, generally, at around 10 o’clock in the morning thick rain clouds begin to gather over the peak, obscuring the view.
The edge of the crater has been developed for tourists, and features convenient picnic tables as well as a small soda restaurant that sells snacks and cold drinks.