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How To Experience The Best Costa Rica Volcanoes: Arenal, Poas, Rincon De La Vieja, Irazu, And Turrialba

How To Experience The Best Costa Rica Volcanoes: Arenal, Poas, Rincon De La Vieja, Irazu, And Turrialba

Last updated on May 23rd, 2022 at 11:32 am EST

Want to know our pick for the BEST VOLCANO TO VISIT in Costa Rica?
It is featured on DIY Costa Rica!
Want to save money in Costa Rica?
Our sister site, Pura Vida! eh? Inc., has volcano tour discounts. Con mucho gusto (you’re welcome) and pura vida!
🙂

Costa Rica’s active volcanoes: Know this first

First things first: rugged Costa Rica is ridden with volcanoes. Most don’t take the iconic shape of a cone, and none spew red-hot lava, so unsurprisingly, the majority are mistaken for mountains.

Even if you don’t realize it at the time, no matter where you travel in Costa Rica, you’ll likely drive around or be within eyeshot of a volcano during your trip. This anticlimactic experience probably isn’t enough to wow you, but don’t fret; there are Costa Rica volcano experiences that will. Continue reading below to learn about these experiences, specifically, ways to discover Costa Rica’s top five volcanoes⁠—Arenal, Poas, Rincon de la Vieja, Irazu, and Turrialba⁠—each of which is currently active⁠.

Costa Rica volcano national parks

Each of the five Costa Rica volcanoes detailed below is located inside its eponymous national park: the Arenal Volcano National Park, the Poas Volcano National Park, the Rincon de la Vieja National Park, the Irazu Volcano National Park, and the Turrialba Volcano National Park. Each national park welcomes visitors, although the Turrialba Volcano National Park is often closed due to volcanic activity (see below for details). One of the national parks, the Poas Volcano National Park, requires visitors to have a reservation. While participation in volcano tours that take place at the various national parks is encouraged, some activities inside the parks (including hikes to the craters of the Arenal Volcano and the Rincon de la Vieja Volcano) are prohibited.

Without further ado, here’s what you should know about Costa Rica’s top five active volcanoes: the Arenal Volcano, the Poas Volcano, the Rincon De La Vieja Volcano, the Irazu Volcano, and the Turrialba Volcano.

Map of Volcanoes in Costa Rica

We created the above map to showcase where each active Costa Rica volcano is located. Included on the map are the following sites (each of which we detail in this blog post):

  • Arenal Volcano (marked by a mountain icon)
  • Irazu Volcano (marked by a mountain icon)
  • Poas Volcano (marked by a mountain icon)
  • Rincon de la Vieja Volcano (marked by a mountain icon)
  • Turrialba Volcano (marked by a mountain icon)

Costa Rica Volcanoes: The Arenal Volcano

Ways to experience the Arenal Volcano

For our full article about the Arenal Volcano National Park, don’t miss our related blog post:

Why You Should (And Shouldn’t) Visit The Arenal Volcano National Park

The most visited and recognizable Costa Rica volcano is the Arenal Volcano. Though we were lucky enough to spend several years living at the base of this volcano back when it used to erupt on the regular (see our blog post Why You Should (And Shouldn’t) Visit The Arenal Volcano National Park for an account of what that was like), nowadays, only faint puffs of smoke escape its crater. Smack dab in the heart of Costa Rica’s epicenter of adventure (the town of La Fortuna; see our blog post Must-Know Info About La Fortuna Costa Rica From Longtime Residents for our La Fortuna city guide), the Arenal Volcano is the showstopping centerpiece atop the table of Costa Rica tourism. It’s also the best Costa Rica volcano to visit if you want to see and/or snap photos of an iconic, cone-shaped volcano. Though the most straightforward way to experience this particular Costa Rica volcano is to hike around its national park, there are actually countless ways you can experience the Arenal Volcano during time spent in touristy La Fortuna. Here are a few suggestions.

You can view the Arenal Volcano at a distance while:

  • Zip-lining
  • Touring hanging bridges
  • Riding an aerial tram
  • Soaking in hot springs
  • Horseback riding
  • Bird-watching
  • Mountain biking
  • Riding an ATV
  • Kayaking or stand-up paddling on Arenal Lake
  • Strolling around downtown La Fortuna
  • Staying at an accommodation in the La Fortuna/Arenal area that provides volcano views
  • Crossing Arenal Lake (coming to or from Monteverde)

You can hike trails around the foothills of the Arenal Volcano at:

  • the Arenal Volcano National Park
  • Arenal 1968
  • El Silencio Mirador y Senderos
  • The Arenal Observatory Lodge

You can combine a guided volcano tour (i.e., a hiking tour around the foothills of the volcano) with the following guided experiences:

  • Waterfall visits
  • Hot spring visits
  • Zip-line tours
  • Hanging bridge tours
  • Horseback riding tours
  • Mountain biking tours
  • Safari float tours

What’s not permitted at the Arenal Volcano

Apart from the inclined trails that you’re welcome to hike around the volcano’s base, hikes on other trails that lead up the steep slopes of the Arenal Volcano are strictly prohibited. This means that it is not possible to arrive at and/or see the crater of the Arenal Volcano.

A rundown of the Arenal Volcano National Park

  • Experience type provided: volcano visit, educational walking/hiking tour
  • Location: west of downtown La Fortuna, on the road to the community of El Castillo
  • Sectors that are open to the public: two; the Main Sector and the Arenal Peninsula Sector
  • Operating hours: 8:00am to 4:00pm daily
  • Visit recommended for: individuals of all ages
  • Parking: free parking on-site
  • Bathrooms: free bathrooms on-site
  • Degree of physicality required to visit: low to moderate, depending on the trails that are hiked
  • Wheelchair access/suitable for the mobility impaired: no, but there’s a volcano viewpoint that can be accessed by car (no hike required)
  • On-site attractions: great bird-watching, multiple volcano viewpoints, Arenal Lake viewpoints, an observation tower, an opportunity to climb over lava rocks, an opportunity to view a giant Ceiba tree
The average Arenal Volcano experience:

Since it isn’t possible to reach the crater of the Arenal Volcano, most Arenal Volcano tours stick to the volcano’s foothills where flat and hilly trails weave through forest and decades-old lava rocks roughen the landscape.

Costa Rica Volcanoes: The Poas Volcano

For information about planning a visit to the Poas Volcano National Park, don’t miss our related blog post:

How To Reserve The Poas Volcano National Park (Screenshots)

Ways to experience the Poas Volcano

The Poas Volcano has long been one of the most popular Costa Rica volcanoes to visit, thanks in part to its proximity to the Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO) (a one-hour drive). What makes visits to this particular volcano tricky to coordinate, though, is the fact that reservations for the date and exact time you plan to visit are required (see our related blog post How To Reserve The Poas Volcano National Park (Screenshots) for information about the reservations process). If you aren’t opposed to following the reservation process and committing to an exact date and time for your visit, you’ll be able to experience the one and only way to currently visit the Poas Volcano, which is to walk the short, wheelchair-accessible trail that leads directly to the volcano’s active crater from just beyond the parking lot. If you do that, you’ll be rewarded with an opportunity to stand at the edge of the crater⁠—a pretty incredible experience on clear, sunny days when the crater’s beautiful blue pool is visible.

What’s not permitted at the Poas Volcano

Unfortunately, hiking trails inside the Poas Volcano National Park other than the main trail that leads to the main crater, including the forested trail to Lake Botos that we used to love to explore, are closed to the public.

A rundown of the Poas Volcano National Park

  • Experience type provided: volcano visit, educational walking tour
  • Location: north of downtown Alajuela, near Poasito
  • Sectors that are open to the public: one; the Main Sector
  • Operating hours: 7:00am to 2:00pm daily
  • Visit recommended for: individuals of all ages, especially young children, seniors, and others who would prefer an easy walk
  • Parking: paid parking on-site
  • Bathrooms: free bathrooms on-site
  • Degree of physicality required to visit: low
  • Wheelchair access/suitable for the mobility impaired: yes
  • On-site attractions: crater viewpoint, the educational display about volcanoes inside the park office
The average Poas Volcano experience:

The accessible crater atop the Poas Volcano draws in crowds of sightseers. Poas Volcano tours involve driving up the volcano’s slopes and walking the short, paved trail that connects the parking lot and the crater.

Costa Rica Volcanoes: The Rincon de la Vieja Volcano

With each passing year, interest in visiting the Rincon de la Vieja Volcano increases, mirroring the growth in popularity of the adventure centers that dot the volcano’s foothills. Fortunately, this volcano still feels off the beaten path despite its path becoming more trodden, mainly because it sits at the end of a long road that cuts through a rural area, and is a 45-minute drive from the nearest city. Because tourism in the Rincon de la Vieja area is understated, this is the best Costa Rica volcano to visit if you want to couple your visit to a volcano with other adventure or nature tours but you’d rather not travel to a busy, highly sought-after destination like La Fortuna. Like visits to the Arenal Volcano near La Fortuna, though, the Rincon de la Vieja Volcano can be experienced in a few different ways. Here are some suggestions:

You can view the Rincon de la Vieja at a distance while:

  • Participating in adventure or nature tours run by adventure centers like Hacienda Guachipelin and Buena Vista del Rincon
  • Staying at an accommodation in the Rincon de la Vieja area that provides volcano views
  • Driving Highway 1 around the city of Liberia

You can hike trails around the foothills of the Rincon de la Vieja Volcano at:

  • the Rincon de la Vieja National Park
  • Adventure centers like Hacienda Guachipelin and Buena Vista del Rincon

You can combine a guided tour of the Rincon de la Vieja National Park with the following guided experiences:

  • Waterfall visits
  • Hot spring visits
  • Zip-line tours
  • Horseback riding tours
  • River tubing tours
  • Canyoning tours

What’s not permitted at the Rincon de la Vieja Volcano

The Rincon de la Vieja Volcano contains plenty of hidden treasures, including bubbling hot springs and mud pots, and smoking fumaroles. These attractions can be dangerous if you get too close, so you must stay behind the park’s guardrails and not go near the hazards. (Swimming in the hot springs is not permitted.). Also, although years ago it was permitted to hike to the top of the Rincon de la Vieja volcano, the trails that lead the way are currently closed to the public; access is strictly prohibited. This means that it is not currently possible to arrive at and/or see the crater of the Rincon de la Vieja Volcano.

A rundown of the Rincon de la Vieja National Park

  • Experience type provided: volcano visit, educational walking/hiking tour
  • Location: northeast of Liberia, in a remote location
  • Sectors that are open to the public: two; the Pailas Sector and the Santa Maria Sector
  • Operating hours: 7:30am to 5:00pm Tuesday to Sunday (the Rincon de la Vieja National Park is closed on Mondays)
  • Visit recommended for: individuals of all ages
  • Parking: free parking on-site
  • Bathrooms: free bathrooms on-site
  • Degree of physicality required to visit: low to moderate, depending on the trails that are hiked
  • Wheelchair access/suitable for the mobility impaired: only the first few meters of the principal trail in the Pailas Sector are paved
  • On-site attractions: waterfalls, good wildlife-watching; an opportunity to see a mini volcano (named Volcancito), hot springs, fumaroles, and mud pots
The average Rincon de la Vieja Volcano experience:

Since it isn’t possible to reach the crater of the Rincon de la Vieja Volcano, most Rincon de la Vieja Volcano tours stick to the volcano’s foothills where flat and hilly trails pass through forest and lead to fascinating attractions and a handful of waterfalls.

Costa Rica Volcanoes: The Irazu Volcano

Ways to experience the Irazu Volcano

The Irazu Volcano is one of only two Costa Rica volcanoes that permit visitors to stand at the edge of a crater. (The other is the Poas Volcano.) This is the main reason to visit the Irazu Volcano⁠—Costa Rica’s tallest volcano, which sits 11,000+ feet above sea level (more than double the height of the majestic Arenal Volcano)⁠—to peer into its deep, daunting crater. Fortunately, unlike visits to the Poas Volcano, visits to the Irazu Volcano don’t require a reservation, making this volcano the best Costa Rica volcano to visit if you want to lay your eyes on a crater in a hassle-free way. Though there’s only one way to see the Irazu Volcano’s crater, there are actually two ways you can experience this volcano:

  • You can walk the short, wheelchair-accessible trail that leads directly to the volcano’s active crater from just beyond the parking lot
  • You can hike less-traveled nature trails elsewhere in the park, though you’ll need to drive to the off-site Prusia Sector for that

A rundown of the Irazu Volcano National Park

  • Experience type provided: volcano visit, educational walking tour
  • Location: north of downtown Cartago, near Tierra Blanca
  • Sectors that are open to the public: two; the Main Sector and the Prusia Sector
  • Operating hours: 8:00am to 3:30pm daily
  • Visit recommended for: individuals of all ages, especially young children, seniors, and others who would prefer an easy walk
  • Parking: free parking on-site
  • Bathrooms: free bathrooms on-site
  • Degree of physicality required to visit: low
  • Wheelchair access/suitable for the mobility impaired: yes
  • On-site attractions: crater viewpoint, nature trails
The average Irazu Volcano experience:

The accessible crater atop the Irazu Volcano is the attraction’s best feature. Irazu Volcano tours involve driving up the volcano’s slopes and walking the short, paved trail that connects the parking lot and the crater.

Costa Rica Volcanoes: The Turrialba Volcano

Unfortunately, the Turrialba Volcano National Park is currently closed due to volcanic activity. To avoid showcasing information and photos that represent an experience that isn’t currently available to the public, we’ve removed the majority of content from this section. When the park opens up to visitors again, we’ll update this section, especially if there are new details to share. Pura vida! 🙂

Which Costa Rica volcano is the best to visit?

When deciding for yourself which Costa Rica volcano would be the best for you to visit, consider the following questions and answers.

Which Costa Rica volcano is the closest to the San Jose/Alajuela/SJO Airport area?

The Poas Volcano, followed by the Irazu Volcano.

Which Costa Rica volcano is the closest to the La Fortuna/Arenal area?

The Arenal Volcano.

Which Costa Rica volcano is the closest to the northern Pacific coast/Guanacaste/Liberia/LIR Airport?

The Rincon de la Vieja Volcano, followed by the Arenal Volcano.

Which Costa Rica volcano provides the best volcano-viewing experience?

The Arenal Volcano, if you want to see a cone-shaped volcano, or else the Poas Volcano or the Irazu Volcano, if you want to lay your eyes on a volcano’s crater.

Which Costa Rica volcano provides the best crater-viewing experience?

The Poas Volcano and the Irazu Volcano.

Which Costa Rica volcano provides the best hiking experience?

The Arenal Volcano, followed by the Rincon de la Vieja Volcano.

Which Costa Rica volcano provides the most rugged, off-the-beaten-path hiking experience?

The Turrialba Volcano (when open to the public).

Which Costa Rica volcano is the easiest to walk/hike?

The Poas Volcano and the Irazu Volcano have flat, paved trails. The Arenal Volcano and the Rincon de la Vieja Volcano have some easy forested trails, as well as moderate trails.

Which Costa Rica volcano provides challenging treks for more experienced hikers?

The Rincon de la Vieja Volcano and the Arenal Volcano.

Which Costa Rica volcano is wheelchair accessible/best for the mobility-impaired?

The Poas Volcano and the Irazu Volcano.

Which Costa Rica volcano has hot springs within its national park?

The Rincon de la Vieja Volcano. (Swimming in the park’s hot springs is not permitted.)

Which Costa Rica volcano contributes thermal water to local hot springs outside the boundaries of its national park?

The Arenal Volcano, the Rincon de la Vieja Volcano, and the Irazu Volcano.

Which Costa Rica volcano is most often visited in combination with participation in other nearby activities?

The Arenal Volcano, followed by the Rincon de la Vieja Volcano. Truly, though, visits to any of the five volcanoes described in this article can be combined with participation in other activities.

Which Costa Rica volcano provides an opportunity to view lava?

No volcano in Costa Rica emits lava.

QUESTION TO COMMENT ON: Have you visited one of the above-mentioned Costa Rica volcanoes? Which one did you pick, and why?

Pura vida!

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How To Experience The Best Costa Rica Volcanoes: Arenal, Poas, Rincon De La Vieja, Irazu, And Turrialba
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How To Experience The Best Costa Rica Volcanoes: Arenal, Poas, Rincon De La Vieja, Irazu, And Turrialba
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Wondering which Costa Rica volcano is the best to visit? We compare Costa Rica's top 5 volcanoes, outline ways to visit each, and answer popular volcano-related questions!
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The Official Costa Rica Travel Blog
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