It’s been a tough decade for volcano tourism in Costa Rica. Arenal, Poás, Turrialba, Chato, Miravalles (re-opened!), Rincón, Von Seebach, and Santa Maria have been impacted by increases or decreases in volcanic activity or oddly by weather and bureaucracy in a couple of cases.
On the positive side the increase in gas venting, rock and ash ejection and even lava activity closing visitor centers, access roads and hiking trails also creates a dramatic backdrop for nearby attractions that remain open. There are also a few volcanoes where access remains unaffected (see below).
Volcano Closures in Costa Rica
Poás -CLOSED 2017 – Once the most visited volcano in Costa Rica the trails, overlook and visitors center with its volcano museum were closed indefinitely in April 2017 due to increased activity.
UPDATE: June 6 2017 – Another ash and steam eruption ensured that the park will remain closed so the best view you can get is from the OVSICORI live crater camera.
UPDATE: July 4, 2017 – Recent evidence of lava ejections from the “Boca Roja” (Red Mouth) crater at Poás volcano mean the temporary closure of the national park, museum and visitor’s center will continue indefinitely. When Arenal started spewing lava access was prohibited for 50 years.
UPDATE: October 23, 2017 – Local communities petitioned to reopen the park because the volcano has been relatively quiet for several months. A decision is pending but I would be surprised if the petition is granted before 2018
Chato – OFF LIMITS 2017 – Cerro Chato has been inactive for thousands of years. The clear cold lake in the bottom of the crater and the spectacular views of Arenal a mere mile north from the rim made this the most popular volcano hike in Costa Rica. Unfortunately the trail was declared off limits in February of 2017 because guides were using it to stage climbs up the back side of Arenal and there wasn’t sufficient manpower to patrol.
We’ve been told that there is also insufficient manpower to enforce the Lago Chato closure. Only the official guided hikes are being cancelled and many people are ignoring the ban and hiking anyway.
Miravalles – RE-OPENED May 2017 – the trails from the outskirts of Bijagua to the waterfalls in Miravalles National Park were wiped out by Hurricane Otto in November 2016 but have been re-built and are open as of May 2017 – Yipee!
Turrialba – CLOSED 2015 – the most extensive and beautiful network of volcano trails in Costa Rica shut down in 2015 due to dangerous levels of activity in two of the craters. The road to the rim is also closed to the public.
UPDATE: July 2017 – The National Seismological Network used a drone to confirm what residents have been reporting – a lake of lava more than 150 feet across has formed in the west crater of Turrialba volcano. Locals have noted an orange glow reflecting off of nighttime clouds for several weeks. The surfacing magma ensures that the peak and crater trails will remain closed but some are hoping to draw tourists to the surrounding area for lava viewing.
Rincón de la Vieja, Von Seebach, Santa Maria – OFF LIMITS 2014 – Starting sporadically in 2014 all three trails (north from Las Pailas, west from Santa Maria and south from Dos Rios) to all three craters were closed due to increased levels of activity in Rincón. Although 2016 and 2017 have been quiet the trails remain closed indefinitely.
Arenal – DORMANT 2011 – Arenal quit spewing lava in 2011 and although it still looks cool it’s a shadow of its former spectacular self.
SJO Juan Santamaría International Airport – INTERMITTENT CLOSURES – Increased activity at Turrialba has shut down Costa Rica’s main airport a few times for a couple of hours to a couple of days. Poás is even closer but so far the ash fall has been carried away from the airport by prevailing winds.
NOTE: the status of trails and other amenities is subject to change without notice – use the directory of Costa Rican National Parks to contact the local offices for updates.
Drive up Crater
Of Costa Rica’s three drive up volcanoes only the road to Irazú remains open. Although the colossus dominates the eastern skyline and appears close enough to touch from downtown San José the paved road winds for an hour and a half past the famous cathedral and ruins in Cartago, bucolic hills, and finally elfin cloud forest before reaching Irazú’s summit.
Crater Lake Hikes
If you want to hike right up to a crater lake there are still a couple of trails open to Lago Barva (in Braulio Carrillo near San José) and Lago Danta (near Tenorio). It was frequently warm and sunny at Lago Chato where a refreshing swim in the crater lake was de rigueur after the long hot climb.
Both Barva and Danta are at significantly higher elevations than Cerro Chato, much colder and surrounded by cloud forests rarely penetrated by the sun so swimming is not popular.
Directions and map to the Barva Volcano trail in Braulio Carillo National Park
Tenorio Volcano National Park has always been one of our favorites. Access to the top has always been limited and less than 1 in 5,000 visitors ever made the difficult climb preferring to hike to the amazing Celeste Waterfall and hot springs of the lower slopes instead.
On the slopes of Poás volcano La Paz Waterfall Gardens, and the Doka and Britt Coffee plantations are still open and considered premier attractions from San José and the central valley. While entry into Poás National Park is cut off, a slight detour (and possibly some 4WD) to the east puts visitors on the trail head to the crater of Barva Volcano in Braulio Carrillo National Park.
Rincón de la Vieja
The closure of the trails to the triple summits of Rincón, Seebach and Santa Maria will probably go unnoticed by the vast majority of visitors most of whom would never attempt the long, steep and extremely challenging climb if it were open.
The closure has not impacted the trails to the waterfalls, back country hot springs and the nature walk around the geysers and boiling mud pots which all remain open. Additionally, the slot canyon white water tubing, ziplines, spas and other attractions outside the park are still some of the most popular day trips from the Guanacaste beaches.
Although the spectacular night time displays stopped years ago, Arenal volcano still puts out enough heat to warm the hot springs and the region still attracts tourists with zip-lines, rafting and other adventure activities.