Turrialba Volcano National Park, Cartago

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While many sites in Costa Rica are so fascinating that it is hard to keep visitors away, there are some spots that are very underrated and don’t see a lot of visitors. One of those places that isn’t visited often - and is even reported to be the least visited in the country - is Turrialba Volcano National Park; and this was before recent volcanic activity caused the park and volcano area to close to visitors. The park itself is in Cartago Province in Central Valley, and has experienced many closings recently, which isn’t helping it increase its visitor numbers. Safety is most important, though, and the park will open to guests again once there is no longer a threat from the volcano.

One of the reasons that the park isn’t more popular is because it isn’t as developed as some of Costa Rica’s other national parks. The park itself is close to both the city of San Jose and Turrialba, and, when open, is worth visiting even if you have to take a bus to do so.

If you are ever in the area when the park is accepting visitors, it is definitely worth a visit. Not only is the park beautiful, but you won’t experience the crowds that you would at other, more popular, national parks in Costa Rica. You can use the Volcano Turrialba Lodge, located near the park, to help you sign up for an organized tour of the park. The official path to the park is only paved for about 10km, and then the rest of the way you’ll be traveling on a dirt track. If you are planning on adventuring into the park on your own, you’ll definitely need to be driving a 4WD vehicle. The entry fee into the park is under $10, and well worth it.

While the route leaves something to be desired, the park is something to wonder at once you are there. While the city of Turrialba was one the way to get to the Caribbean coast in Costa Rica, it now mainly serves as a way to kick off other activities, including visiting the national park. There are lush green slopes, and plenty of dairy farms. The summit of the volcano offers a cloud and rain forest that is amazing to explore; it is home to wildlife and foliage that you can see during a hike. Some of the wildlife you might encounter includes giant toads, agouti, toucans, howler monkeys, armadillos, and long-tailed hermits (a type of hummingbird). There is also an array of rich foliage, which includes bamboo, awaiting you in the forests.

It is also common to encounter old lava flows during your hike. This is evidence that the area was once home to rivers that flowed with hot magma from the volcano.

Turrialba Volcano

The Turrialba Volcano used to release plums of white smoke regularly, which cause the early Spanish settlers to name it Torre Alba, which translates to “white smoke.” It is the second tallest volcano in the country; Irazu Volcano is the tallest. It’s height is recorded as 10,919 feet, which was measured from the southeast end. On a clear day, you can see amazing views of the Caribbean coast, along with other volcanos, from the volcano’s summit. The accompanying rainforest covers about 3,900 acres. It truly is a great background and highlight to an area that offers some wonderful exploration opportunities for the adventurous traveler.

The volcano has three large, main craters that are easy to access when the park is open. Visitors can roam these craters while they take in the scenic summit views.

Recent Activity and Eruptions

Turrialba Volcano sat dormant for about 130 years, last erupting in 1866, until its most recent activity. That being said, even without a major eruption, fumarolic activity at the high peaks did remain constant. The major eruptions that have been recorded where both in the late 1800s, and the most recent activity flared up starting in 2014. There have been ash clouds released that have caused closures of airports and deposited ash throughout Costa Rica.

This recent activity (early 2016) - involving ash, gas, mud, and sometimes magna - has cause the park to close and to remain closed for now. Once it is safe, the park will reopen to visitors.