Holy Smokes! Visiting Costa Rica's Volcanoes
Updated: Sep 4
Two-thirds of all the earth's volcanoes sit within the Pacific Ring of Fire, which includes New Zealand, Indonesia, Japan, the Pacific Islands, Russia, the west coast of the U.S., Costa Rica, Chile and then back to New Zealand! Costa Rica is home to six active volcanoes, and dozens that are dormant or extinct. We would like to introduce you to four of them – Arenal, Rincon de la Vieja, Poás, and Miravalles.
One of Costa Rica’s most famous destination spots, Arenal was formed 7,000 years ago. Its most active recent eruptive period began in 1968 with an explosion that buried three small villages and, sadly, left 87 people dead. Between 1968 and 2010 there were constant minor eruptions on an almost daily basis. In 2010, however, Arenal’s explosions and lava flows decreased significantly. Experts tell us that the volcano is still alive, but is currently “sleeping.” One of the reasons Arenal is so popular is because it is a stratovolcano – a symmetrical cone-shape that was formed from sticky lava that doesn’t flow easily, and therefore builds up around the vent, forming a volcano with steep sides. It has the classic look of a science fair project volcano.
If you're staying in the Arenal area, there is so much to do! Check out these great Arenal Area Tours to get the most out of your vacation.
If you are staying in a Guanacaste beach town, we have a full day tour, Arenal Volcano Tour, with hiking, a tram ride, and hanging bridges that will give you some of the best views of this stunning volcano!
Rincon de la Vieja
I have a fondness for this volcano, especially because I happened to be visiting there with my family on the day that it erupted in June, 2021. It was over in a matter of seconds and we weren’t aware it had happened until later in the day. Still, we loved knowing that Costa Rica’s sleeping giants do wake up sometimes to remind us that we are small in their shadows. At nine miles wide, and 6,286 feet (1,916 meters) high, Rincon de la Vieja is called the Colossus of Guanacaste. It boasts nine volcanic craters and more than 32 rivers that flow down its sides. Scientists estimate that this impressive volcano dates back around 600,000 years. All of that trapped heat underground gives rise to hot springs that bubble up to the surface on the volcano’s slopes.
One of the best ways to experience Rincon de la Vieja National Park is on a day trip from the Guanacaste area. We have three tours that travel to the Park, each with different activities and sights to see. Our tours page is a great place to start your search for adventure.
Poás Volcano is a popular, active volcano, which has one of the largest craters in the world. The Poás Volcano National Park consists of nearly 15,000 acres and at least four different habitats. The park is also home to eighty different species of birds. Birders will enjoy spotting hummingbirds, toucans, sooty robins, black guans, tanagers, and even the crowned jewel of Costa Rican bird enthusiasts, the resplendent quetzal. Poás's bubbling crater lagoon is one of the country’s most thrilling attractions. The volcano has erupted approximately 39 times since 1828, and shows signs of mild activity on a continuous basis. In order to get a good view of the crater, it's best to visit Poás in the early morning, as clouds tend to move in over the course of the day. Be sure to dress warm - it's quite chilly.
For a vacation package that includes a stay near the volcano and a tour of the National Park, check out our Birdwatching in Paradise vacation package.
A lesser known volcano, but one that is still full of magic and mystery, is Miravalles. It reaches a height of 6,654 feet (2,028 meters), and was created by a succession of dramatic eruptions over a million years ago! While the only recorded eruption on Miravalles happened in 1946, that doesn’t mean that nothing is happening underground. In fact some of the country’s electricity is derived from its geothermal fields. Geothermal energy is harnessed to generate electricity when water is injected deep underground and returns as steam to drive a turbine on an electric power generator. Costa Rica is proud to be the third highest producer of geothermal energy in the Americas (after the United States and Mexico).
One of the best ways to enjoy all of this steamy goodness is to float a mile down the thermal river at the Rio Perdido Hotel. We offer a day trip to Rio Perdido, which will also introduce you to an intact dwarf forest, an uncommon ecosystem, usually located at high elevations, which features miniature trees and small species of fauna such as rodents and lizards. There are other exciting features on this tour including zip lines, white water tubing and wildlife viewing. Click here to learn more.
We hope you include a volcano visit on your next trip to Costa Rica!
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