Gullfoss Iceland

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I'm an expat whose goal is to visit every country in the world.

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A Day Trip to Irazu Volcano

A Day Trip to Irazu Volcano

The day after my trip to Tortuguero National Park, I was scheduled to do another tour that I booked on Viator.  This time it was to Irazú Volcano National Park in central Costa Rica.  I was particularly excited about going on this tour since I had seen pictures of the main crater with its pristine water, and I wanted to see it for myself.  In addition to a visit to the volcano, the tour also included a stop to the Lankester Botanical Garden near Cartago, Costa Rica.

The landscape around Irazú Volcano

On the day of the tour, I was picked up from my hotel in San José at around 8am and taken to the tour van.  Unlike the Tortuguero National Park tour from yesterday, there were more people on this tour (probably 15 or so), but not everyone was going on the same tour.  While all of us were scheduled to see Irazú Volcano, some people were scheduled to only see the volcano and returned to San José, others were to be taken to a hot spring, and others were to be taken to the town of Cartago and the Lankester Botanical Gardens.  I was in the last group that was scheduled to see the volcano, Cartago, and the botanical gardens.

Since it was still early in the morning on Sunday, the guide explained that the first place we would stop would be Irazú Volcano.  The plan was to head there immediately before it got too crowded with people coming from San José.  The ride took about an hour driving uphill through some beautiful landscapes that got even more beautiful the higher the van ascended (check out the first picture).

The summit of Irazú Volcano

The first place we reached at Irazú Volcano was the summit which reached a maximum height of 3432 meters (11,259 feet).  Prior to leaving the tour bus, the guide told us to put on a jacket since it would be cold.  He was not lying.  The first thing I noticed when I got out was how cold and windy it was at that altitude.  The wind was howling, and I felt sorry for the couple of people who wore shorts.  It was almost like a winter wind up there.  I only had on a pair of khakis, short-sleeve shirt, and a windbreaker.  It was just barely enough for a short stay.

We only stayed at the summit for a little bit before the guide shuttled us back on the bus.  He wanted to make sure we got to the pièce de résistance; the water-filled crater before the crowds arrived.  I am so glad the guide had our backs on this.  We got to the crater and were given about 30 minutes to check out the crater and walk around the area.  It was just as cold and windy here even though we were at a slightly lower elevation.  In addition, because it was so windy, a lot of the dirt often got picked up, and I frequently got pelted in the face by fast-flying pieces of dirt.  By the time I got back on the bus, I could not feel fingers, but I was pleased that got to see the beautiful view.

The author with a view of Cartago, Costa Rica

Even though it was extremely windy and cold, the weather was generally good.  While I had read that there are sometimes super clear days with no clouds, it was rare.  Today was no exception.  Of all the pictures I took of the crater, only a handful showed some blue sky.  Most of the time the area was covered by clouds.  Hence, I often had to wait for clouds to hover past in order to get a bit of blue sky in the shot.  However, regardless of the cloud cover, this was definitely a high point (no pun intended) for me in Costa Rica.

After visiting Irazú Volcano, we headed down from the volcano to the town of Cartago, where we given some free time to wander around and check out the famed Basilica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles.  It is a famous pilgrimage site that dates from the late 17th century, but since it was Sunday, the church was packed for Mass, so it was not possible for me to check out the church in more detail, so maybe a return trip is necessary?

Once everyone returned to the meeting point, it was then that the group split up.  Myself and several others continued with the original guide while another group who were going to a hot spring went with another guide.  Those who were scheduled to only see the volcano were taken back to San José by a different driver.

Basilica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles in Cartago, Costa Rica

The next stop we made was to Lankester Botanical Garden, which is slightly outside of Cartago.  The guide took us around the area and showed us some unique plants and flowers which were native to Costa Rica and others which came from other countries.  During my time there, I noticed that many of the plants were very colorful.  One plant in particular caught my interest.  It was a cactus-like plant that was called a "Crown of Thorns" due to its many sharp thorns that resembled the biblical Crown of Thorns worn by Jesus during the Crucifixion.  The thorns were very thick, and it is definitely a plant you would not want to fall on top of or touch.  Also, unlike at Irazú Volcano, where it was freezing cold, it was very hot and humid down in Cartago, so it literally went from freezing to really hot and humid very quickly.

After the visit to the Lankester Botanical Garden, we drove for a bit in order to have a buffet lunch near an artificial lake.  It was then that everyone got to meet each other.  Aside from myself, there were two people who worked for Coca Cola making use of their free day to do the tour, a student who was studying in Costa Rica, and another person who was traveling through Central America.

Once lunch concluded, the guide took everyone to one final stop; the ruins of an old church that was built in the 17th century and later destroyed.  Today, the only existing parts are the frame while the interior is entirely gone.  We spent a little bit of time there, and when it started to rain we headed back to the van, and soon we were heading back to San José.

Walking through Lankester Botanical Garden

While I initially thought the day was concluded, upon arrival in San José, we had to take a detour because a pride parade was occurring very close to my hotel in the center of the city.  It was not difficult to tell what was happening since a lot of people were wearing the rainbow colors of the pride flag.  After being let off, I decided to check things out, and I was quite surprised by how many people I saw in attendance dressed in drag or other items signifying their tolerance for homosexuality.  I found this surprising since much of Central America is still quite conservative, but it was refreshing to know that the society does seem to be getting a bit more open and tolerant.  Hopefully, more parts of the world will follow suit in time.  It certainly could not hurt.

Overall, while my visit to Costa Rica was short, it was definitely enjoyable.  I was not only able to check out San José, but I was able to leave the city and get a nice taste of Costa Rica's famed nature and national parks.  For anyone who is thinking of visiting Costa Rica, I would definitely taking a trip to Irazú Volcano.  It was definitely my favorite part of the country, and I think it will be yours, too.

Please enjoy the photo gallery.  All photos were taken by me using a DSLR and iPhone.

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