The Irazú Volcano hike is a short but breathtakingly scenic trail that gives visitors the chance to stand atop of Costa Rica’s highest, not to mention one of its most active volcanoes. The flat trail within Irazú Volcano National Park can be covered in less than an hour, with incredible views in every direction. Hiking Irazú Volcano in Costa Rica is a great half-day trip. Additionally, it’s within easy distance of the country’s capital, San Jose. Located in Costa Rica’s Central Valley, this exquisite area is home to a number of national parks, with Irazú Volcano National Park being one of the best.
Also known as Volcan Irazu and Volcano Irazu, this gigantic volcanic complex, consisting of five huge craters, needs to be seen to be believed. And besides, who doesn’t like the idea of an easy hike to experience an active volcano?
In this guide, we’ll look at Irazú Volcano National Park and detail the very easy Irazú Volcano hike. We’ll discuss what you need to know before visiting, tour options and how to visit independently. And, whilst we’re at it, we’ll throw in some fun facts about Irazú Volcano in Costa Rica, too.
Irazú Volcano National Park
Irazú Volcano National Park covers an area of over 2,000 hectares. Its principal attraction is Irazú Volcano. And, understandably so. Irazú National Park was named after the village Iztarú, which once existed on the volcano. The name meant ‘hill of tremor and thunder‘. I suppose that gives an idea of the type of activity that came from this huge volcanic complex.
Irazú Volcano National Park was created in 1955 and there are two parts to the park. They are the Craters Sector, which we’ll talk about in this post, and the Prusia Sector. The Prusia Sector has additional hiking trails which we hear are very well set up for trail runners and mountain bikers. This sector is located in a different area of Irazú Volcano National Park to the volcano and requires a separate ticket for entry.
Irazú Volcano National Park Map
At the entrance to the Irazú Volcano hike is a map showing you where the craters are, viewpoints and where the trail leads.
The Irazú Volcano hike is a short loop of just under 2km. Covering a lunar landscape, the trail is simple and easy to follow. The main walkway to the principal crater is accessible to all with fantastic views if the weather behaves. The hike across Playa Hermosa Crater is a wonderful way to experience the vastness of a volcano crater and explore the varied flora and fauna that can survive within.
Irazú Volcano Hike Preview
- Type: Loop
- Distance: 1.9 km
- Time: 1 hour
- Accumulated elevation gain: 28m
- Difficulty: Easy
- Trailhead: Irazú Volcano Car Park
Irazú Volcano Hike
Arriving soon after 8:30am, the opening time, Dan and I headed straight to the highest peak of Irazú Volcano. We suggest you do the same. From here, the views are breathtaking. Should you visit on a clear day that is. It’s far more common to find Irazú Volcano shrouded in cloud rather than offering stellar views across to both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Still, we were very lucky. The volcano, its craters and surrounding landscapes were all on offer, and they looked incredible.
Highest View Point
From this vantage point, you’ll be able to look down over the gargantuan area that Irazú Volcano covers. The complex looks much less ‘volcano-like’ than that of other volcanoes we’ve hiked throughout Central America. For example, the obvious cone-shapes of San Cristobal Volcano in Nicaragua and San Miguel Volcano in El Salvador. Instead, the rippling volcanic edges are more reminiscent of mountain ranges and jagged peaks. The cloud inversions surrounding Irazú Volcano add to the feeling of being on top of the world. Well, at least Costa Rica anyway. At 3,427m above sea level, you’re pretty high.
After enjoying the views from this stellar lookout point, it’s time to head back down to the main car park and begin the short Irazú Volcano Hike.
Irazu’s Volcanic Craters
Irazú Volcano has five craters, each different from the next. The Irazú Volcano hike leads you on a relaxed walk to enjoy at least three of them up close. Beginning from the car park, there is a paved walkway that guides you out onto the crater field.
Diego de la Haya Crater
Along this walkway, the first crater you’ll come to on the Irazú Volcano Hike is Diego de la Haya. The Haya Crater is named after the Governor of the Province of Cartago at the time of the first recordings of volcanic activity in 1723. You’ll find a large crater measuring 600m across and 100m deep. Its ashen basin is barren and lifeless, with the odd patch of shrubbery beginning to take root. This crater is inactive and, at times, contains a small crater lake which has dried and reformed many times over.
Continuing along the footpath you’ll arrive at the Main Crater. Separated by just a narrow ridgeline from the Diego de la Haya crater. This is the largest crater of the Irazú Volcano complex. Measuring just over 1,000m across and 300m deep, the main crater is almost circular in shape. Depending on what time of year you visit, you may find the crater to be either dry or contain a small lagoon. We visited at the end of dry season and so experienced a dry crater bed.
Amazingly though, if you do visit when the rainwater has gathered in the basin, it can be a total surprise as to what colour you may find the lake to be. Due to the acidity of the pooled water, colours can vary from turquoise, mustard, red, grey and green. Again, similarly to the Diego de la Haya crater, the water here has dried and reformed several times.
Continue along the fenced edge of the main crater to enjoy views of the caldera from different angles. Please respect the barrier though and do not attempt to climb over it for better views.
As you near the top corner of the Irazú Volcano hike, you’ll notice the path end and the trail turn onto a wide expanse of ashen ground. This is Playa Hermosa, and is actually another of Irazú Volcano’s craters. It’s a huge span of land, surrounded by a lush amphitheatre of vegetation blanketing the crater edges. It’s an incredible landscape to walk through. The contrast between the dense covering of the Playa Hermosa crater walls and the barren crater floor is quite impressive. It feels like wandering on another planet.
The stroll across Playa Hermosa is the largest portion of the hike. Here, you’re free to explore as you please. Although, we found sticking to the edges of the crater the most enjoyable way to experience this natural wonder.
On a short trail like the Irazú Volcano hike, Dan and I decided we’d take a leisurely walk round the circuit, taking many photographs as we went, rather than leap into our usual speed hiking. Also, given the elevation of Irazú Volcano, and that we were not so acclimatised to the higher altitudes, racing around probably wouldn’t have been such a good idea.
WHAT’S SPEED HIKING? It’s covering more distance and trail in the time you have, exercising a little more exertion and enjoying even more hiking in the day. Find out more about speed hiking here.
From here, the trail loops around and you’ll soon be back at the car park.
Hiking Irazú Volcano and marvelling at this amazing volcanic complex is an easy excursion for most. The ability to drive to the crater itself, and then take a short and very picturesque walk around its principal craters, makes this volcano one of the most accessible and straightforward to enjoy in Costa Rica. Minimal effort with maximum reward, win win.
What to Know Before Visiting
Buying Tickets for Irazú Volcano National Park
Irazú Volcano tickets must be bought, in advance, online. It’s not possible to show up and pay for a ticket at the entry gates. Tickets cost $15USD/person ($5USD/child under 12) and there is an additional parking charge of ₡2000/vehicle ($3USD)
Visit the SINAC website to buy your tickets.
Irazú Volcano National Park is open from 8:30am–3:30pm, including holidays.
Irazú Volcano Weather
The weather atop Irazú in Costa Rica is fairly predictable, to be honest. The summit is often covered in mist, with an atmosphere that is wet and cloudy, especially during the rainy season (May-Dec). The average annual temperatures range from 5–9°C.
When to Visit
The best time to visit Irazú Volcano in Costa Rica is first thing in the morning. This way you can avoid the crowds and hopefully catch sight of the craters before the usual clouds roll in.
There is a very well maintained road leading up to the summit of Irazú Volcano, accessible for 2WD. Although, the road that continues up to the highest point of the volcano is unpaved, and so it’s recommended to walk this short distance if you don’t have a car with high clearance. Or, if you’re just nervous about your rental car.
At the main car park there are free public toilets to use as well as a gift shop and small cafe. This is also where you’ll find the bus stop for taking the bus back to San Jose, if you need. Also, there are picnic benches should you want to stop for lunch.
Irazú Volcano Tours
Due to the ease of access to Irazú Volcano, and the shortness of the hike, you’ll find you won’t need more than half a day to enjoy this incredible place. That being said, an Irazú Volcano tour is a great option to save time and perhaps add on some other excellent attractions in the area. The city of Cartago is one such popular place to visit after spending a morning hiking Irazú Volcano.
Dan and I personally chose to take a tour to visit Irazú Volcano in Costa Rica. This meant we weren’t restricted to bus times, which coincidentally would not have got us to Irazú Volcano in time for the incredible views we saw. Also, a rental car can be a very expensive business in Costa Rica. Given our short trip and being keen to arrive early to maximise our chances of seeing the craters, we decided a half-day tour was the best option for us.
Being based in the capital of San Jose, we chose to visit Irazú Volcano and hike the craters with Willy Tours – a San Jose based tour operator. We chose their ‘Awesome Volcanoes’ tour package which included a visit to the volcano followed by a stop in the historic city of Cartago. The price is $75USD/person with a minimum of two people required. The tour generally runs for around 5 hours and includes round trip transportation from your accommodation in San Jose.
To book this tour or any other tours in Costa Rica, simply contact Willy Tours on Whatsapp (+505 8362 1717). Otherwise, drop into their office in San Jose to find out more information. And, feel free to check them out on Facebook and Instagram. They are an eco-friendly company offering wonderful tours.
How to get to Irazú Volcano National Park
If visiting Irazú Volcano independently, you have a couple of options. Most visitors will be looking to visit from San Jose. From here, you can either take a car rental or catch the bus. Due to the distance between San Jose and Irazú, it would not be advisable to take a taxi.
How to Get to Irazú Volcano From San Jose
From San Jose, head out of the city, east, towards Cartago. Once at Cartago, take route 219 out of the city northwards. You can also follow signs from here that will lead you to Irazú Volcano National Park. Dependent on traffic, the journey time should be around 1.5 hours.
Irazú Volcano by Bus
Getting to Irazú Volcano from San Jose in Costa Rica by bus is a little more time-consuming, but still very straightforward. From San Jose, the bus service is provided every day at 8:00am. The bus leaves from street 1-3 Avenue 2, in front of Hotel Costa Rica. The bus costs ₡2690 ($4USD) and takes around 2 hours, arriving at the National Park at around 10:00am. The return bus leaves Irazú Volcano for San Jose at 12:30pm. Plenty of time to have explored the craters.
Irazú Volcano Facts
- Irazú Volcano is a stratovolcano.
- It’s summit elevation is 3,432 metres.
- Irazú Volcano has five craters. They are called Main Crater, Diego de la Haya, Playa Hermosa, La Laguna, and El Piroclastico.
- The last Irazú Volcano eruption was in 1994.
- The location of the volcano is just 31km from Cartago city.
- The National Park is home to numerous animals including armadillos and hummingbirds.
- A few days before John F Kennedy was due to conduct a state visit to Costa Rica in 1963, Irazú Volcano erupted, covering San Jose and the surrounding Central Valley with ash.
Five Hiking Essentials
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See it in action
These hiking boots are super comfortable for hiking in and exploring Costa Rica
This camera is super lightweight and compact, so it's perfect for hiking in Costa Rica. The Sony Cybershot RX100 VII takes high-quality photos and 4K videos
As the highest volcano in Costa Rica, it's not unusual for the summit to get a little chilly. Better pack that fleece for extra warmth
The gaiter can help cover your airways during times of increased gases in the atmosphere
Wet weather is common at Irazu Volcano. Make sure to pack a waterproof jacket!
Make sure to also pack 1L of water, snacks, sunglasses, sunscreen and a hat.
For a more comprehensive hiking gear list, check out our 66 Travel Accessories That You Must Travel With. Or, for a summary of everything you’d need for a backpacking trip, visit our Ultimate Packing Checklist.
Tips for Visiting Irazú Volcano National Park
- Arrive early: as mentioned, it is far more likely to find Irazú Volcano covered in clouds than not. With that being said, your best chance at being able to see the craters, and surrounding landscape, is to visit in the morning. By mid-morning/lunchtime, you’ll find the usual cloud starts to roll back in and obscure any chance of views.
- Respect active volcanoes: given the nature of visiting an active volcano, it is always advisable to listen to any recommendations given by park rangers on the day of your visit. It is for your own safety.
- Packed lunch: Cracking out a packed lunch at the picnic areas after hiking Irazú Volcano is a great add on to your morning. You can spend even longer enjoying this fantastic national park. However, be mindful of racoons and coatis that may be interested in your food. And remember, it is not permitted to feed any animals in Irazú Volcano National Park.
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