On Sunday, January 26, 2014, we visited Volcán Irazú, in the Province of Cartago, and the area (Orosi Valley) around the town of Turrialba.
The Irazú Volcano National Park was created in 1955. From 1963 to 1965, this volcano was extremely active and destroyed the surroundings around the peak and seriously affected the cities of Cartago and San José. In 1994, there was a huge explosion on the north wall of the main crater.
The national park is about 5,000 acres and is at an elevation of just over 11,000 feet above sea level, making this the highest active volcano in Costa Rica. Believe me, it is cold up there ... wear long pants, a warm sweater, hat and gloves (ha ha, if you can find those here in Costa Rica).
We drove the paved road to the visitor center and then walked the short trail to the rim of the volcano's two craters. A wood fence makes sure one cannot walk right to the rims so you cannot see down to the bottom which is far, far below. The visitor center sells hot coffee (from a machine) and a few snacks and has information on the volcanos. Get there early - we did and the vehicle lineup to get in was very short. When we were leaving, the lineup to get in was very long. Also, clouds can settle in later in the day and obstruct any views.
Irazú is definitely worth a visit. Don't forget to buy strawberries and the local cheese from the venders by the sides of the roads. Bring a cooler in your vehicle.
Afterwards, we drove to Turrialba, a small town (but larger than Atenas), 53km east of San José. Turrialba is known for popular white-water rafting trips, pre-Columbian history and tropical botany. We have to go back here because I want to see the Guayabo National Monument, a pre-Columbian site that has been excavated and is open to the public.
We drove past the Center for Agronomy Research and Development (CATIE), 5km southeast of Turrialba on the road to Siquirres. It is one of the world's top facilities for research into tropical agriculture. They offer guided tours.
For lunch, we stopped in at Turrialtico, an open air restaurant and hotel overlooking the Turrialba Valley. Stunning views, excellent food and service - we want to go back. It is a popular place to stay for the white-water rafting folk.
We were so impressed with the entire area that we both said we could easily live there. Unfortunately, it is not central enough for our needs at this time but we look forward to going there again.
We decided at the last moment to take the GPS option on our rental car and are very glad we did. We would still be driving around, lost forever. So take our advice - always use a GPS. The roundabout in Cartago is something else. At one point, the GPS suggested a shortcut which we took. The unpaved road was not the best but it took us through Tico areas that we never would have seen otherwise and it did save us time. The best times often occur on a road we do not know about.