The 3,378m (11,080-ft.) Irazú Volcano is historically one of Costa Rica’s more active volcanoes, although it’s relatively quiet these days. It last erupted on March 19, 1963, the day that President John F. Kennedy arrived in Costa Rica. A good paved road leads right to the rim of the crater, where a desolate expanse of gray sand nurtures few plants and the air smells of sulfur. The drive up from Cartago has magnificent views of the fertile Central Valley and Orosi Valley, and if you’re very lucky, you might be able to see both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Clouds usually descend by noon, so get here as early in the day as possible. Dress in layers; it can be cold at the top if the sun’s not out.
The landscape here is often compared to that of the moon. A short trail leads to the rim of the volcano’s two craters, their walls a maze of eroded gullies feeding onto the flat floor far below. A 2km (1.25-mile) trail loops around the rim of the Playa Hermosa Crater. The visitor center up here has info on the volcano and natural history. The park restaurant, at an elevation of 3,022m (9,912 ft.), with walls of windows looking out over the valley below, claims to be the highest restaurant in Central America.