Did you know that Costa Rica lies at the crossroads of two tectonic plates? And, did you also know that the theory of plate tectonics states that volcanoes are birthed from shifting tectonic plates? It’s no wonder, then, that there are roughly 200+ Costa Rica volcano formations – some more than 65 million years old!
But, let’s back up for a hot second (get it?!). Specifically, let’s start with the basics: Costa Rica’s volcanoes are many, but they all belong to the nation’s three volcanic ranges: the Guanacaste Volcanic Range (home to the Rincón de la Vieja, Orosi, Miravalles, Tenorio, and Arenal Volcanoes, among others); the Central Volcanic Range (comprised of the Poás, Barva, Irazú, and Turrialba Volcanoes, among others); and the Talamanca Volcanic Range (home to El Viejo Volcano).
Geography lesson, complete. And now, a fun fact: Of the 200+ Costa Rican volcano formations, just seven volcanoes can be considered active: Rincón de la Vieja Volcano, Poás Volcano, Arenal Volcano, Irazú Volcano, Turrialba Volcano, and Tenorio Volcano, with an honorable mention for the not-so-active-but-don’t-count-it-out-yet Miravalles, which clawed its way onto the active volcano list when it emitted a single puff of steam… way back in 1946. Somebody was feeling a little neglected, clearly.
Okay, okay, by now you’re thinking, get on with it! You want to hear about our favorite Costa Rica volcano tours. We promise we’ll get there. But, before we do, we think you may want to know a bit more about Costa Rica’s volcanoes – and the ones you can easily visit from Tamarindo. No? No problem. You can skip straight to the tours!
Now, About Those Four(ish) Erupting Volcanoes
Aaaah, a volcano enthusiast after our own hearts! We hunger for more explosive information, too. So, how about a brief overview of what most people would call the four most-active Costa Rican volcano formations?
Yes, we said four. Because, while there are seven active volcanoes in Costa Rica, “active” is a relative term when it comes to volcanoes. There’s a big difference between “active” – take, say, Miravalles Volcano and its single puff nearly 75 years ago – and an actively erupting, furiously lava-licious, red-hot mountain of doom.
Yeah, Costa Rica doesn’t have those. Not even four of ‘em. Because, when we say four erupting volcanoes, we mean steaming, belching, occasionally disruptive mountainous monsters. Low danger quotient. And there’s hardly any lava.
What we do have are a few poorly mannered volcanoes – four of which have fairly regular temper tantrums – that spit out abrasive ash, hot steam, and the occasional malodorous hot gasses. And, while we’re on the topic of abrasion, heat, and odors, you should know: Costa Rica takes its safety seriously, so when there’s even the slightest hint of an impending eruption, parks and volcanoes close to the public.
Case in point: Turrialba Volcano National Park has been closed since 2014. Poás Volcano National Park has been closed since early 2017. Tenorio Volcano National Park is on watch. And Rincón de la Vieja has closed several times over the last few years. Still, if you’re in the area, you still have a great chance of catching awe-inspiring views of spewing steam and ash.
(Psst! Want to know more about Costa Rica’s active volcanoes? Seek and ye shall find.)
The Closest Costa Rica Volcano to Tamarindo: Rincón de la Vieja
If you’re looking for the nearest and dearest volcano to our hearts – and the shortest day-trip distance away from Tamarindo – then look no further than Rincón de la Vieja Volcano and its eponymous national park.
Named for a tragic local legend – the story of a young woman whose lover was thrown into the volcano’s crater (by her own father, no less!), hence the name Old Woman’s (Maiden’s) Corner– Rincón de la Vieja is a 1-million-year-old andesitic complex volcano located about 14 miles northeast of Liberia and 2 hours from Tamarindo. It’s arguably our favorite volcano in the country – and not just because it’s close.
The main appeal is the volcano’s sheer diversity of sights, most of which can be observed on a quick walk through Rincón de la Vieja National Park’s Las Pailas trail. And, there’s the beauty of it: with just a couple of hours and (preferably) and eagle-eyed expert guide, you’re well on your way to staring into the mouth of a mini-volcano (volcancito), walking past boiling mud pots (or pailas, hence the trail name), and observing steaming fumaroles, where steamy volcanic gasses escape through cracks in the ground.
If that’s not enough excitement, tackle the park’s secondary Cangreja (Crab) Trail: During the greener months, a haven of rushing waterfalls, cool lagoons, and tranquil swimming holes. And, did we mention the natural hot springs? Welcome to volcanic zen.
Travel Bragging Rights: Arenal Volcano
If you’re looking for that one “ooooh, look what we did!” kind of volcanic moment, then we have to point you in the direction of Arenal Volcano and its eponymous national park. Owning one of the world’s “most perfect” volcanic cones, Arenal Volcano is as visually impressive as it is geologically impressive. It’s also the most popular (and most-photographed) Costa Rica volcano. We’re talking serious vacation cred, people.
While this andesitic stratovolcano lay dormant for centuries, it erupted with a serious (and fatal) bang in 1968. For decades, it was the most active volcano in Costa Rica, spitting out nightly lava shows for all to enjoy.
That said, while its fiery displays tapered off in 2010, the volcano and its town of La Fortuna have remained very popular, thanks in large part to a booming adventure tourism industryand Costa Rica’s most spectacular volcano-fed hot springs. Dozens and dozens of them. With waterslides. And swim-up bars. And after-dark lights. It’s pretty special.
Oh hey, we finally go there: our favorite Costa Rica volcano tours! Hurray.
First things first: We emphasize that Costa Rica volcano tours are safe. Not because we pretend that volcanoes are inherently safe, but because Costa Rica takes volcano safety seriously: If there’s a chance of eruption, the park and/or volcano access are close to the public. Period. No exceptions.
What’s more, most of our favorite tours don’t take you onto the volcano and up to the crater – in almost every case, that would be ill-advised if not forbidden – but around the volcano: the best lookout points, the most scenic hot springs, the most adrenaline-pumping and volcano-adjacent activities– all the good stuff, none of the real and present danger. So, reserve (and enjoy) with confidence.
Volcano & Waterside Adventure Package
Located at the base of Rincón de la Vieja Volcano (about a two-hour drive from Tamarindo), this tour takes place at a mountain lodge and scenic cattle hacienda. (Not an oxymoron; it really is beautiful!)
Surrounded by lush and impressive rainforest, here you’ll find some of Costa Rica’s most lovely views over the Pacific Northwest, Rincón de la Vieja, and Guanacaste’s savannah lands. It’s also where you’ll begin your zip-line tour through transitional rainforest and magnificent biodiversity: toucans, monkeys, poison dart frogs, and other rainforest dwellers, among them.
Next, travel over cattle plans and hike to a refreshing waterfall. Once you’re thoroughly exhausted, we’ll finish at Mother’s Nature’s best spa: volcano-fed hot springs, a sauna, and a volcanic mud bath. Be sure to take a dip in one of the thermal pools and, if your mettle can stand it, take a ride on the 400-metre, semi-natural waterslide.
Rincon De La Vieja National Park Hike + Hot Springs
If you prefer an adventure quotient more on the tame side than HIGH-OCTANE OMG OMG waterslide, then Rincón de la Vieja delivers with a scenic hike and hot springs visit.
We’re hitting the Pailas Trail – our favorite – cozy up to a river bed, rich with wildlife (hi there, coatis, howler monkeys, toucans, white-faced monkeys, and more!) and sites, including steaming fumaroles, mud pots, steam jets, and more. We’re crossing streams and bridges and, once we circle back around to our starting point, we’re adding on a visit to the Colorado River and its 82-foot Oropendola Waterfall. Relax, swim, and take it all in. And, take a waterfall leap, if you dare!
Afterwards, dig into a delicious Costa Rican lunch before heading off to the nearby Caño Negro River and its restorative hot springs. Bathe, bask, relax and enjoy to your heart’s content. And don’t forget to lather up some volcanic mud. It’s good for your skin!
Miravalles Volcano Tour + Hot Springs
Located just two hours from Tamarind, Miravalles may not have the same street cred as Arenal, but it’s an incredible day trip, nevertheless. In fact, it’s one of the most beautiful areas in our region, serving up a wide array of activities, scenery, adventures, and vistas over valley, savannah land, and forest. It’s exuberant, in a word.
The day’s adventure begins with a horseback ride to the volcano’s foothills, where you’ll set off to explore five gorgeous waterfalls. You can even swim at the base of one! After the morning, tour, sneak in a delicious Costa Rican lunch before taking a 30-minute hike to the one of Miravalle’s seven craters. Along the way, keep your eyes peeled for fumaroles, craters, and mud pots.
Your hike ends at a natural pool of volcanic mud, well known for its medicinal properties and skin-pampering benefits. Climb on in and slather that mud everrrrywhere!
Arenal Volcano Overnight Tour
The best way to enjoy Arenal Volcano, when you’re in Tamarindo, is really on an overnight tour. Because, while you could do it in a day, it would be a loooong day. So long, you might take home memories of exhaustion, rather than volcano-fed fun. So, we highly recommend an overnight trip to Arenal!
It begins with a drive to the 1968 eruption site, where you can see and observe first-hand the destruction wrought by the surprise lava flow. Today, most of the destruction lies beneath the lake – and most of the above-water lands have recovered, and are now home to exotic secondary rainforest home toucans, sloths, monkeys, birds and other wildlife.
After your hike, you’ll head to Baldi Hot Springs, a recreational resort known for it varying 25+ thermal pools – some cool, some hot, and some in between – as well as its swim-up bars, waterslides, and other diversions. Enjoy dinner and an evening at the hot springs, before heading to your Arenal hotel for the night. In the morning, we’ll pack in some of the country’s most exhilarating canopy zip-lines, before we head home to Tamarindo.
And, there you have it: a primer to the most active volcanoes and our favorite Costa Rica volcano tours. Which grabbed your attention?