Costa Rica Volcanoes

Arenal volcano spewing lava at night, Costa Rica

Arenal volcano spits lava on a regular basis and – on a clear night – puts on a terrific fireworks show for lucky visitors and residents of la Fortuna. Photo by Matthew Landry

Best Costa Rica Volcanoes


Arenal volcano and La Fortuna town, Costa Rica

Arenal the morning after, seen from the nearest town, La Fortuna. Photo by WiDi

Arenal is the most shapely and lively of Costa Rica’s 300 volcanoes, acting as the centrepiece for La Fortuna’s tourist trade. Climbing is forbidden, but the live lava views can be spectacular. The dry season offers your best chance of the rare sight of magma flow or a mini-eruption.

The volcano’s base area is a fascinating mass of magma caves; the best route to the base is via a forested path from Tabacon Resort. There are hot springs and cold drinks not far away for pure hedonistic viewing.

La Fortuna town

La Fortuna (La Fortuna de San Carlos) offers plenty of tourist excursions and activities when Arenal volcano is not in entertainment mode. Hiking, biking, caving, visiting the Catarata de La Fortuna (a 70m waterfall) and slumping in beautifully designed natural hot pools, for a start.

Poas and Irazu

Poas volcano, Costa Rica

Poas Volcano and its brilliant blue lake from a viewing platform. Poas is a day trip from San José. Photo by Peter Andersen

Arenal is some way north of San José but two other active volcanoes are closer to the capital and can be visited on day trips – Irazu in the Central Valley and Poas on the Northern Plains with its iridescent crater lake. Both of these are possible to approach much closer than Arenal.

Other active volcanoes are Turrialba in the Central Valley and Rincon de la Vieja on the North Pacific coast, while another 60 are dormant. i. e. ready to blow at any time.

Irazu Volcanic Crater, Costa Rica

Irazu’s dormant volcanic soup.

Hot Spring Spas

a natural volcanic mud pool bath, Costa Rica

A boiling mud pool in the Rincon de la Vieja region. Photo by Steve Jurvetson

Rincon de la Vieja is a satanically misshapen volcanic landscape of craters and pools and bubbling mud. Good for hiking, riding and simmering in hot springs.

A thermal spa supplied by warm, mineral volcanic springs is a must-do after a hard day’s hiking or other activities, but this is not the place for it, unless you fancy being boiled alive. The Arenal area in particular is packed with superb, beautiful spas and layered pools spectacularly configured into both natural and stylish-but-unnatural environments.

These hot springs come from underground water that is heated by volcanic vents and forced upwards toward the surface passing through mineral deposits and gases which dissolve in the water.   Cloudy pools have high levels of minerals dissolved in them whereas clearer pools have roughly the same mineral content but they are less dissolved.