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A fiery phenomenon !!

Arenal Volcano Costa Rica

Volcanoes, Nature’s Hot Spots We are dancing on a volcano. ~ Narcisse Achille, 1795-1856

The most spectacular and exciting feature of Costa Rica’s central and northern mountain ranges are the active volcanoes that form their high summits. Active not just a millennium or two ago; several of your friendly neighborhood volcanoes are still going strong. These are Poás, Irazú, Barva, Orosí, Tenorio, Rincón de la Vieja, Santa Maria, Miravalles and, the most active volcano of southern Central America, Arenal.

Fiery phenomenon: The word “volcano” comes from the ancient Romans, who believed the tiny island of Vulcano, off northern Sicily, was the location of the fiery forge where the god Vulcan tempered Jupiter’s thunderbolts. The myth reflects modern scientific findings closely, both for the tremendous hot fire of eruptions as well as the fact that volcanoes attract lightening strikes around their peaks.

The country’s quieter mountainsides, fertile with the soil of eruptions eons ago, make ideal land for farmers. Most of these volcanic peaks are classified as extinct or dormant. But you can never be sure, as the small farming village of Tabacón on the slopes of Arenal found out in 1968. The entire village disappeared under lava.

Only a few kilometers below our feet, a sea of hot molten magma waits to break through the earth’s crust and engulf humanity in a bath of hellfire. Fortunately, the only place it manages to succeed is where the crust’s tectonic plates meet and grind against each other. In addition to causing earthquakes, these cracks form vents, which allow the hot magma to rise to the surface where it spews up, only to cool down, once again becoming solid rock. Lava is the term for molten magma when it reaches the surface. Rock upon rock, eruption after eruption, a mountain is formed.

Visiting the easily accessible volcanoes around San José – Poás and Irazú – is not particularly dangerous as these now vent only gas and steam, not lava. Their water-filled craters and lunar landscapes are absolutely fascinating. From the safety of the viewing platform, we once watched a volcanologist, dressed in a protective suit and air tank, walk down into the crater and take readings on the side of the green lake amid clouds of steam and gasses. A day-trip to either of these volcanoes makes a truly impressive and memorable experience – certainly one not to be missed. Other active volcanoes up the cordillera require a drive and can be visited as part of a day-trip itinerary or with an overnight stay.

The biggest attraction – and growing even bigger – is the dynamic Arenal Volcano, near La Fortuna. Arenal is a huge, cone-shaped volcano that rumbles and shoots rocks, lava, smoke and ash out its two main vents. When not obscured by clouds, it presents itself as a massive dark triangle with boulders as big as cars tumbling down its sides. At night, when the sky is clear and the lava flowing, it displays a light show like no other. There’s a pretty real sense of danger from being so close to such a powerful giant, but this thrill only adds a great deal to the experience. Arenal’s appealing bonus is the hot springs that bubble up from the ground to feed warm-water streams – popular as simple swimming holes or incorporated into a spa. Due to the volcano’s activity in the last few years, tourism has increased dramatically, with many new hotels and restaurants opened in the area.


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