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Costa Ricas highest volcano !!

The voyage of discovery lies not in finding new landscapes – but in having new eyes. ~ Remembrance of Things Past, Marcel Proust, 1871-1922

The drive up from Cartago to Costa Rica’s highest volcano is magnificent. Volcanic eruptions over the millennium have blessed the slopes with fertile soil and farmers try to use every inch of land. The route is quite long, 32 km/20 miles of winding road above the valley, to a high altitude, 4,332 meters / 11,260 feet above sea level. Bring warm clothes to layer as you get higher, it can get very cold at the summit.

Each switchback offers a photo opportunity and there are numerous pull-overs. As you get closer to the summit, the temperature drops and the crops change from semi-tropical to temperate to cool / cold-weather produce.

Near the park entrance (US $6, open 8 am-3:30 pm) you’ll find restrooms in a small coffee and gift shop next to the parking lot. The landscape up here is lunar; nothing but lichens and the odd plant grow in the gray cinder soil.

Follow the path to the long wooden fence that separates you from the deep active crater. In its center is a round lake of bright pea-green water with a couple of fumarolas that emit hot sulfur gas and steam. We’ve been assured there are days when you can see both oceans from Irazú’s summit, but unless you’re very early and very lucky, chances are the Atlantic side will be too cloudy.

Bring your camera just in case. Buses to the volcano direct from San José leave at 8 am weekends and holidays on Av 2 across from the Gran Hotel The ride takes two hours.

Two restaurants are noteworthy on the mountain’s slopes. The first, Restaurant 1910 (open daily from noon to 10 pm), offers buffet dining with a generous selection of Tico and international dishes, great coffee and desserts.

The walls have old photos from the 1910 earthquake that destroyed so many of Cartago’s old colonial buildings. Good eats. The second eatery is closer to the summit. Hotel Montaña is a family restaurant and old hotel with a great deal of character.

The grounds that surround its metal-clad exterior are manicured and the atmosphere inside the restaurant is like stepping back in time. The Victorian-era rooms upstairs provide adequate accommodations – basic but clean – with lots and lots of wood. This is a grand place that has retained its grandeur, but one that progress and people have passed by.


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