10 beautiful & active volcanoes for your Costa Rica volcano tour
One of your first thoughts when imagining Costa Rica is surely the country’s gigantic volcanoes rising amidst the pristine rainforests. Costa Rica is a land of fire! It is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire and the Central American Volcanic Arc. There are 200 identified volcanic formations, 60 of which are classified as extinct volcanoes and 6 as active volcanoes – making Costa Rica an incredible place to get a glimpse of what rages inside the earth. If you’re planning a trip to Costa Rica, you can’t miss a breathtaking volcano tour. To help you decide, we’ve listed our top 10 most beautiful & active volcanoes in Costa Rica to visit for the ultimate thrill.
You’ll also find useful information on popular activities, special accommodations, beautiful national parks, and beaches. There’s a whole range of adventures you can experience around the fire mountains. The altitude differences at the volcanoes and the Costa Rican climate create enormous biodiversity in the plant and animal life that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Furthermore, the heat from the active volcanoes results in bubbling mud and hot springs that are popular with spa lovers. Each volcano has special characteristics. Would you rather climb the picturesque Arenal Volcano, bathe in the hot springs of Rincon de la Vieja, or peer into the crater of the unpredictable Irazu? Find your personal favorite among the volcanoes of Costa Rica! On the map you will get a rough overview of where the volcanoes are located in the country, so you can directly find a volcano near your vacation spot.
To enjoy your volcano tour to the fullest, good planning is essential. This way you can save time and money. Therefore, we have prepared our top 5 travel gadgets for your volcano tour. With these, you can’t go wrong!
If you’re looking for more tips for your Costa Rica trip, check out our Must-Have Costa Rica Packing List.
North of Monteverde National Park lies the beautiful Arenal Volcano. It is no wonder that the 1,670m high stratovolcano is probably the most popular volcano in Costa Rica. It has a symmetrical cone shape and really looks like something out of a picture book. In the past, Arenal erupted an average of 41 times per day. Since 2010, it has been quiet. However, the volcano is still active and is considered one of the most unpredictable volcanoes in Costa Rica. You can still see smoke rising from the crater during your volcano tour today. How long will the volcano remain dormant?
Directly at the Arenal volcano, there are numerous hiking trails that lead you through old lava fields and the multifaceted nature of Costa Rica. You will also pass the Laguna de Arenal, the largest lake in Costa Rica. We recommend the Arenal 1968 Trail in the green town of La Fortuna. You will hike through nature, picturesque coffee plantations and have the Arenal in view the whole time. There are enchanting viewpoints of the volcano and the lake. If you want to walk the whole trail, you should allow about 1.5 hours. It is easily manageable even for non-experienced hikers. You should not miss the 70m high La Fortuna waterfall.
An extraordinary alternative to hiking in the Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park. It offers you a two-hour tour over suspension bridges, which are installed in the middle of the jungle – not for the faint of heart! You will have breathtaking views of the rainforest and its wildlife. Although the 1968 Trail and the Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park can be explored on your own, it makes sense to book a guided volcano tour to learn more about nature, the volcano, and the hidden animals in the rainforest. We recommend this Combi Tour, which includes a great volcano hike, the hanging bridges, and the La Fortuna waterfall.
You are exhausted after all the hiking? The region has another highlight waiting for you: a bath in the hot springs in La Fortuna. The springs draw their soothing waters directly from the Laguna de Arenal.
Since the region around the Arenal Volcano has so much to offer, we recommend that you also stay there and take full advantage of the beauty of nature. From our own experience, we can say that it simply makes your tour more relaxed. For example, the Nayara Gardens Hotel, which we also got recommended, is particularly suitable for staying overnight. What we like most about the Nayara Gardens Hotel is that it is located in the middle of the Costa Rican rainforest and is the perfect starting point for your volcano tour. You even have a direct view of the volcano from the hotel. For relaxation, the Nayara Gardens Hotel also offers volcanic mud treatments to make you look beautiful.
If you like it a little less luxurious but very authentic and green, the Hotel Lomas del Volcan is perfect for you. It is located 14km from the Arenal Volcano but offers a unique view of the volcano and especially the rainforest in which it is embedded. Particularly beautiful at the Hotel Lomas del Volcan is the 1.5 km long private nature trail
2. Cerro Chato
Right next to Arenal is its little brother Cerro Chato at 1,140 meters. In contrast to the temperamental Arenal, the volcano has been inactive for 3,500 years, so that a 500-meter crater lake could form on it. From the town of La Fortuna, you can book guided tours to Cerro Chato for a closer look at this turquoise lake. As a reward for the sweaty climb to the volcano, take a refreshing bath in the middle of the rainforest – who can say that they have ever bathed in a volcano?
Tip: the hiking routes to Cerro Chato are very demanding trails and partly not always open due to bad trail conditions. It is best to inform yourself about this before your volcano tour or play it safe and climb the volcano with a local guide. If you are not able to climb the volcano, we recommend you to do a nice tour along the foot of Cerro Chato. How about a visit to a chocolate plantation?
The “rumbling mountain”, as the Irazú is translated, is with 3.432m the highest and also one of the most dangerous and unpredictable volcanoes of Costa Rica. It gives off ash again and again. The last time it erupted was in 1994. Irazú is located in the oldest Costa Rican national park in the central valley only 50km from San José. From San José, the volcano is very easy to reach, as the road leads directly to the crater peaks. There are two main craters, the “Crater principal” and the smaller crater “Diego de la Haya”. In the main crater, there is a yellow-green sulfur lake, which is a great photo motif on your volcano tour. Due to their extreme height, the crater peaks are mostly hidden in the clouds. However, if the weather cooperates, you will have a breathtaking view of the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean from the Cerro Alto Grande viewpoint, all at the same time! The best time to climb the volcano is before 10 am, as it is usually surrounded by clouds after that. Also, don’t forget to pack a sweater or jacket on your volcano tour to Irazú. Due to the altitude, temperatures at the summit can be around 0°C.
Of course, we don’t want to withhold a few fun facts from you, because Irazú has already had celebrity visitors in the past. For example, the famous astronaut Neil Armstrong climbed Irazú and compared the volcano with the surface of the moon. In 1963, U.S. President John F. Kennedy visited the capital city of San José and witnessed an extreme eruption of Irazú, which hurled chunks of rock 500m into the air. So if you want a volcano tour to one of the most dangerous volcanoes, Irazú is the one for you!
Just 45 km from Costa Rica’s capital, San José, the dramatic Poás Volcano towers over the Central Valley. The volcano and the rainforest that surrounds it are part of Poás Volcano National Park, which is the most visited national park in Costa Rica because of its proximity to San José. Poás, with its 2,708m, is not as huge as Izarú, but it is one of the highest volcanoes in the country. It has not only one but two enchanting crater lakes, Laguna Botos and Laguna Caliente. The latter is particularly beautiful to look at because of its intense turquoise color. But the idyllic appearance is deceptive because the water is one of the most acidic in the world and is extremely corrosive. Laguna Caliente is the second largest geyser in the world. Therefore, it is unfortunately not suitable for bathing. But there is a viewing platform at the crater rim, from which you have a breathtaking view into the 300m deep gorge and the steaming water surface. In the immediate vicinity is also the popular waterfall La Paz, where you can refresh yourself.
Turrialba volcano is the most eastern active volcano of Costa Rica and is often in the shadow of its big known brother Irazú. Accordingly, it is also located near the capital San José in the northeast of the city of Cartago. Turrialba has three summit craters and is very active at times. In 2016, it even paralyzed the largest airport, Juan Santamaría, with its ash.
If you like to do a volcano tour with beautiful views and few tourists, Turrialba is our recommendation. It is one of the least visited volcanoes in Costa Rica and this is definitely not due to its beauty. On the contrary, at the top, Turrialba offers you a view of the Irazú, Poás, and Barva volcanoes, the Caribbean Sea, and the tropical rainforest – a breathtaking 360° panoramic view! Why is it the case that the Turrialba is less visited? Well probably because it is neither the highest, nor the oldest, nor anything else, and is also quite difficult to reach. Large masses of stones make it difficult to advance with vehicles. The last part has to be climbed on foot during a hike of several hours.
If you nevertheless want to climb the Turrialba volcano, it makes sense to stay overnight directly at the volcano, because the city of Cartago is 1.5 hours drive away. Our recommendation is the Vista Turrialba Lodge directly on the hill below the smoking volcano. It offers you an enchanting garden and a great view of the volcano. The hosts also offer small guided tours through the rainforest and have good tips for your volcano tour.
6. Rincón de la Vieja
The 1,916m high volcano Rincón de la Vieja is located in the province of Guanacaste, where in the 1990s many parts of the surrounding area fell victim to the severe eruption. Since 2017, the situation has calmed down again and you have the opportunity to take a volcano tour to the “place of the old woman”, as the name translates. The volcano owes its name to an old legend in which an Indian princess fell in love with the chief of the enemy. When her father found out, he challenged the chief and threw him into the volcano’s crater. The grieving princess is said to have lived on the slope of the crater from then until her death.
On the way to the Rincón de la Vieja, you will find hot springs, steaming mud holes, and geysers everywhere in the area, signaling how much it is still bubbling under the surface. There are many guided volcano tours to the volcano and through the green surroundings, where you can get to know these fascinating natural spectacles and bathe in them. For the more adventurous, there is the possibility of ziplining in the Rincón de la Vienna National Park. From our own experience, we can highly recommend it. In addition, the landscape offers you enchanting waterfalls like the Oropendola waterfall with its turquoise pool. You can easily stay overnight in the famous city of Liberia, which is also home to an international airport. Our tips for the city and accommodation can be found below.
The rather unknown volcano Tenorio is located in the north of Costa Rica and has two craters. The surroundings of the volcano, the so-called Tenorio Volcano National Park, is actually the real highlight and so far still a little insider tip. The rainforest is incredibly beautiful and is home to the gorgeous Rio Celeste and its waterfall, which has a great turquoise color because of the sulfur of the volcano. The national park also has great flora and fauna. If you are lucky (or unlucky, depending on how you look at it :P), you will meet a jaguar or puma. The ascent to the volcano is only allowed with a special permit. Nevertheless, a trip to the national park is worth it because of the fascinating beauty it has to offer.
However, access to Tenorio Volcano National Park is not easy either. There is very little public transportation that goes to the volcano. In addition, some of the roads are unpaved, steep and loose rocks can slide down. It is best to check in advance if the roads are currently passable and if your rental car is suitable. Alternatively, you can book a tour directly to the national park and be on the safe side.
The Barva volcano is located in the Braulio Carrillo National Park, about 30 km from San José. Nevertheless, it is not very much visited, since the road conditions are very irregular and some of them can only be managed with an off-road vehicle. Barva is now an inactive volcano, but this should not stop you from planning a volcano tour there. Similar to Tenorio Volcano, it is its surroundings that make a trip there so beautiful. Braulio Carrillo National Park is characterized by over 6,000 species of plants, many mountains, rivers, and lagoons. There are a large number of magnificent hiking trails that you can use to explore the park and that also leads up to the crater of the volcano. At the top, a lovely lagoon with emerald green water awaits you. On your way, you will surely meet some rare birds and monkeys. Particularly beautiful viewpoints are the Vara Blanca and the Cacho de Venado. So if you need a break from San José, how about a day in the green at Barva Volcano?
If you are planning a volcano tour, you will, first of all, consider the active and famous volcanoes like Arenal and Rincón de la Vieja. The Miravalles volcano you will probably encounter less in the many guidebooks. Nevertheless, it has an equally beautiful and natural splendor and you don’t have to share it with many tourists as it is rather unknown. It is located about 50 km from the international airport of Liberia in the province of Guanacaste and you can reach it very easily. Miravalles had its only eruption in 1946 in the form of a steam explosion. If you want, you can also hike to the top and enjoy the great view.
Miravalles has not only beautiful hikes to offer but also thermal springs where you can bathe. We recommend the Hotel Yoko Termales, which offers five thermal springs, an artificial waterfall, and a water slide. You can either stay there directly or just stop by for a visit. About half an hour from Miravalles is the waterfall Llanos de Cortez, where you can refresh yourself after a hike. However, you should plan a trip there in the morning hours, since it is very crowded from noon on. Miravalles may not be the most famous volcano in Costa Rica, but as you can see, it is definitely worth a visit!
The completely extinct stratovolcano Orosí is located in Guanacaste National Park, right on the border with Nicaragua. The volcanic complex is composed of the Orosí, Orosilito, Volcán Pedregal and Dem Cacao. The area around the volcano is a popular tourist and research destination mainly because of its great biodiversity. There is even a research facility at the base of the volcano, the Maritza Biological Station, which conducts studies on tropical ecosystems. So if you are interested in research and nature around the volcano, the Orosí represents the right volcano tour for you.
Orosí is the last volcano on our Top 10 most beautiful & active volcanoes in Costa Rica list. Finally, we would like to tell you that a volcano tour or a tour through the rainforest always has its dangers and something can go wrong, even if we hope not. We recommend our insurance partner World Nomads to help you not to think too much about what can go wrong and how you can protect yourself against it. The insurance applies especially to individual travelers and adventurous activities, allowing you to enjoy your trip without restrictions.
5 great Travel Gadgets for your next volcano tour
You want to explore the rainforest and its volcanoes? A rain or softshell jacket should not be missing! We recommend this water repellent and a windproof softshell jacket. In Costa Rica, you always have to expect rain showers, not only in the rainforest. Also, it can be windier and cooler in the higher areas like on the volcanoes. With this jacket, you will be well equipped for Costa Rican weather. Be sure to include it in your packing list.
The tropical paradise in Costa Rica truly offers all kinds of activities such as hiking, volcano, and jungle tours. Good footwear should not be missed by any means. We suggest you wear waterproof and slip-resistant hiking shoes, as it can rain frequently and the ground can quickly become muddy. These pair of hiking boots are our loyal companions.
Surely no one wants to have to use a first aid kit on vacation. Nevertheless, it is better to be on the safe side. We recommend this small and handy first aid kit especially for your volcano tours and trips through the rainforest because the paths are often muddy, slippery, and stony. This way you can take care of small injuries quickly and easily. We really recommend this first aid kit to your standard packing list when traveling 🙂
A water bottle should not be missing on your volcano tour. One advantage of the bottle is that you don’t have to buy plastic bottles during your entire Costa Rica trip. Plastic bottles are neither good for your health nor for the environment. Since tap water is not necessarily recommended in Costa Rica, it’s best to take a lightweight water bottle with a filter like the one from LifeStraw with you on your trip – super useful, don’t you think? Plus, you can fill up your LifeStraw water bottle in the rainforest and still have plenty of water when you arrive at the top of the volcano.
The Insect Repelling Wrist Band is a good alternative to the conventional insect spray (which in our opinion often smells quite strong :P). The rainforest that usually surrounds the volcanoes is teeming with mosquitoes. That’s why you should always have mosquito repellent with you. These bands not only protect you from pesky insect bites but can also be worn as a colorful accessory. Be sure to pack them for your volcano tour.
Would you like to learn about other useful travel gadgets for your next Costa Rica trip? Then check out our great Costa Rica packing list. Feel free to leave us feedback if you like it or if you are missing something 🙂
Amazing National Parks in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is the land of fire mountains and unique nature. There are countless volcanoes and a huge variety of nature, which are protected in the 27 different national parks and nature reserves of the country. Costa Rica is one of the most diverse and interesting countries in Central America and this is your chance to experience these natural phenomena first hand. We present you our top 3 national parks in this section:
1. Poas Volcano National Park
The most visited national park in Costa Rica, Poas Volcano National Park is home to one of Costa Rica’s most popular volcanoes. The lookout point at the crater rim of active Poas is a real magnet for visitors. You can admire the view of the turquoise acidic crater lake there. The volcano is surrounded by dense cloud forests, ferns, and wildflowers. You can expect spectacular wildlife and a variety of hiking trails.
Where to stay: Poas Volcano Lodge
2. Braulio Carrillo National Park
North of the capital San José the Braulio Carrillo National Park is located, which consists of a huge forest in the mountains. It is known as the green paradise of San José and attracts many visitors because of its great diversity of animals and plants. More than 500 different species of birds and 6000 species of plants live in the national park. In addition, with a little patience, you can also admire tapirs, anteaters, bats, and wild cats. During your hike through the rainforest, you will also pass beautiful waterfalls, lakes, and the extinct volcano Barva.
Where to stay: Mountain Lodge CheTica
3. Rincon de la Vieja National Park
In the middle of a wonderful tropical landscape in the north of Costa Rica is the Rincon de la Vieja. The name refers to the active and fascinating volcano but also to the very diverse national park of the same name. Hot springs, bubbling mud holes, gushing waterfalls, colorful birds, and diverse flora and fauna can be found in the national park and offer you an unforgettable experience. Especially authentic is an overnight stay in a typical jungle lodge in the national park.
Where to stay: Hacienda Guachipelin Volcano Ranch Hotel & Hot Springs
Our favorite beaches in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is located on both the Pacific and the Caribbean Sea. This means that you can visit both seas on one trip. You can expect a lot of wide white sandy beaches, lined with palm trees and real Caribbean flair. The Pacific coast is also very popular with surfers. We have summarized the dream beaches of Costa Rica for you listed here.
1. Playa Blanca and Playa Vargas (Cahuita)
Just 15km north of the party town of Puerto Viejo is the small village of Cahuita with the beautiful beaches Playa Blanca and Vargas. The village exudes a hippie flair and is popular with young backpackers. Both beaches are located at Cape Punta Cahuita, a small headland with a coral reef. The white sand beaches are situated right next to the Cahuita National Park, so from there you can make perfect tours through the flora and fauna. A highlight of the beaches is the egg-laying area of the green sea turtle.
2. Flamingo Beach (Guanacaste)
Flamingo Beach is an absolute dream beach: white sand, clear blue water, and elegant flair. However, there are no flamingos here. Depending on the weather conditions, the sand may turn into a lovely shade of pink. This paradise beach is located just an hour from Liberia International Airport in the province of Guanacaste. Flamingo Beach is especially popular with luxury vacationers. You can book sailing and fishing tours, scuba diving, play golf, and take a volcano tour to Rincon de la Vieja.
3. Ostional Beach (Nicoya Peninsula)
Ostional Beach is a very special beach with black sand. It is the second-largest breeding ground of Olive Ridley turtles in the world and one of the few places on earth where you can experience this phenomenon. In addition, the beach is very popular for surfing, stand-up paddleboarding, and horseback riding. Ostional offers many hiking trails through the mountains behind the coast, where you can listen to birdsong and see monkeys. In the evening you will be fascinated by the breathtaking sunsets.
Budget flights to Costa Rica
Unique cities in Costa Rica
Besides gigantic breathtaking volcanoes, gorgeous beaches, and a natural paradise, Costa Rica offers you plenty of stunning cities that are also absolutely worth seeing. No matter in which direction you want to start your travel, we have gathered the most beautiful cities for you. Here you can already find a sneak preview featuring our top 3 cities in Costa Rica:
Liberia, or the Ciudad Blanca (White City) as it is called by the locals because of its white earth, is the capital of the province of Guanacaste. The city is especially known for its international airport and its good location to many wonderful sights, beaches and national parks in the region. Almost all roads in Guanacaste pass through Liberia. Particularly worth seeing are, for example, the Rincón de la Vieja National Park, where the volcano and its bubbling mud holes are a highlight, the Tenorio Volcano National Park, and the beaches Playas del Coco, Tamarindo, and Samara. Liberia is therefore the perfect starting point for excursions in the Guanacaste region!
Cartago is probably not the first city that is being recommended to you in Costa Rica. This is because the city center is very hectic and somehow doesn’t look very inviting. We, therefore, suggest you to stay a little bit outside the city center because the region has a lot to offer. First of all, the famous Irazú volcano which you can climb is very close by. Alternatively, how about an eerie tour of an abandoned hospital, a hike through the Prusia Rainforest, white water rafting, or the beautiful Lankester Botanical Garden? You’re truly spoiled with choices!
The small student town of Turrialba is located in the highlands of Costa Rica and lies at the foot of the country’s largest volcanoes, Irazú and Turrialba. The two volcanoes are among the highlights of the city and you can take beautiful volcano tours during your stay in Turrialba. In recent years, however, another highlight has gained popularity in the city: White water rafting, for which the city is now known throughout the country. In the evening you can end the evening in one of the cozy bars.
Would you like to learn more about Costa Rica’s stunning cities? Then check out our list of Costa Rica’s best cities including your ultimate sightseeing guide. You will also find valuable information about tours, landmarks, and attractions of those cities!
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