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Irazu Volcanoe National Park

The slopes north of Cartago rise gradually up the flanks of Volcán Irazú. The views from on high are stupendous. Every corner reveals another picture-perfect landscape. You'll swear they were painted for a Hollywood set. The slopes are festooned with tidy little farming villages with brightly painted houses of orange, yellow, green, and light blue. Dairy farming is an important industry, and you'll pass by several communities known for their cheese. The fertile fields around the town of Cot look like great salad bowls--carrots, onions, potatoes, and greens are grown intensively.

main craterVolcán Irazú, about 21 km northeast of Cartago, tops out at 3,432 meters. Its name comes from two tribal words: ara (point) and tzu (thunder). The volcano has been ephemerally active, most famously on 13 March 1963, the day that U.S. President John F. Kennedy landed in Costa Rica on an official visit: Irazú broke a 20-year silence and began disgorging great columns of smoke and ash. The eruption lasted two years. At one point, ash-filled vapor blasted up into overhanging clouds and triggered a storm that rained mud up to five inches thick over a widespread area. No further activity was recorded until December 1994, when Irazú unexpectedly hiccuped gas, ash, and breccia. It still rumbles occasionally.

The windswept 100-meter-deep Diego de la Haya crater contains a above clouds sometimes-pea-green, sometimes-rust-red, mineral-tinted lake. Fumaroles are occasionally active. A larger crater is 300 meters deep. A sense of bleak desolation pervades the summit, like the surface of the moon. It is often foggy. Even on a sunny day expect a cold, dry, biting wind. Dress warmly. The average temperature is a chilly 7.3° C (45° F). Little vegetation lives at the summit, though stunted dwarf oaks, ferns, lichens, and other species are making a comeback.

Don't be put off if the volcano is shrouded in fog. Often the clouds lie below the summit of the mountain--there's no way of telling until you drive up there--and you emerge into brilliant sunshine. On a clear day you can see both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. The earlier in the morning you arrive, the better your chances of getting clear weather.

Irazu volcano

Volcan Irazu Photo Gallery

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