Just 50 kilometers west of San Jose, at an altitude of 3,432 meters, lies the highest, active volcano in Costa Rica. Since its first historically recorded eruption in the early 1700s, Irazú has erupted a total of 23 times. The most famous of which, in 1963, was the same day John F. Kennedy (US President) began an official state visit. The ash that spread across all of San Jose as a result was so profound that infrastructure was unable to operate at full capacity for an entire year. Fortunately for Ticos, Irazú has been relatively quiet with her last eruption taking place in 1994.
After FINALLY going through the heart-breaking, soul-numbing, mind-boggling process that is searching for, inspecting, and buying a used car in Costa Rica that won’t break on me the day after I buy it… I decided I would explore this beauty of Costa Rica.
The drive from San Jose to Irazú is extremely straightforward, and, if you wake up early enough, you can make it in under 90 minutes with minimal traffic. Broken into three parts, escaping San Jose, enjoying the cooler climate of Cartago, and the adventuring into the mountainside, the drive is actually extremely relaxing, which I will probably never say again about driving in Costa Rica. Once you arrive at the top, there is a toll both that charges an entrance fee and parking fee of about $4 for locals and $20 for foreigners (I’ll leave this issue alone for now).
They say that at the top of Irazú on a clear day, you can see both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. If you’ve read any of my previous hiking posts, you’ll know that one thing I’m particularly good at, is attracting clouds to whichever mountain I visit. After parking my car, grabbing my camera, and heading out to take my first few shots, I realized that this day would be no different.
Inside the Irazú National Park Area lies a rather large plateau (seen below) that will take you just to the edge of the crater (left side of image). Of course, given my abilities, as soon as I came down from the parking lot area (far right side of image), the previously clear crater was immediately engulfed by clouds. Interestingly enough, instead of moving in a horizontal direction, these clouds were seemingly shooting straight up from the crater, and then twirling back downwards after passing the plateau.
Fortunately, with the exception of the crater, the clouds that would pass through the plateau were intermittent. Intense periods of low visibility were quickly followed by breaths of sunshine, allowing me to experience, albeit briefly, Mother Nature at her finest.
Even though I was still not able to see the crater due to cloud coverage, I was enjoying the short periods of clear visibility I was offered.
Oddly enough, Mother Nature sensed that I was feeling rather lucky and enjoying my limited cloud interruptions and decided to present me with this beauty below. As I was taking a picture looking back towards the parking lot, a rather high-speed cloud flew past the camera. Thinking it was just another short interruption, I kept the camera ready, waiting for the opportunity to take the shot. An immediate 15 degree drop in temperature reminded me that it would have been real nice to have listened to guidance and taken a jacket with me.
After what had to be a minute of near complete darkness, I pulled the camera down, looked around and realized I couldn’t see more than 50 feet in front of me. I am humble enough to admit that an ounce of fear stirred within me as I tried to remember just how close I was to the edge of the crater in order to not accidentally tumble down. Looking back towards what I thought was the direction of the parking lot, I saw two figures in the distance. One asks the other, “Are you sure the parking lot is this way?” To which the other replies “I’m pretty sure this is the right way.” It wasn’t.
Now, finding myself five minutes into this extreme low visibility scenario and without a jacket, I started back towards the parking lot, in the opposite direction of where the two lost souls seen below were heading. Mother Nature, sensing my hurried escape, decides it would be a opportune time for a little rain. As I pick up my pace, shielding my non-waterproof camera with my shirt, the rain falling from the cloud I was immersed in picks up in intensity forcing my to break out into a sprint. Continuously wiping water from my eyes and angry that I didn’t even get to see the lake at the bottom of the crater, I curse Mother Nature and her terrible sense of humor and vow to never again return to this terrible Volcano. Of course, as soon as I get to the parking lot, open my car and throw my camera in, soaking wet, I look back towards the plateau, and it is, crystal, clear…
About 20 to 30 Irazú visitors that day got to witness a 28 year old male, sprinting, soaking wet, towards the crater with camera in hand. There was no way I was letting another cloud rob me of my crater picture.