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Volcanoes of Costa Rica

Costa Rica is the land born of volcanoes. As part of the Circum-Pacific Ring of fire, over 200 volcanic centers have been recognized in the country, but only about 20 of them have juvenile size of appropriate size. From these twenty, only five (Rincón de la Vieja, Arenal, Poás, Irazú and Turrialba) have had eruptive activity in the past 400 years, even though the rest have certain level of activity (residual action) as fumaroles or gas emanation.

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This is a list of active (A or R=residual activity) and extinct volcanoes in Costa Rica from NW to SE, and the National Park where most of them are located:

Volcano National Park
El Hacha Peak
Orosi-Cacao Guanacaste
Rincon de la Vieja (and Santa María) A Rincón de la Vieja
Miravalles (and Paleomiravalles) R
Tenorio (Montezuma-Tenorio) R Tenorio Volcano
Arenal (and Chato) A
Poás A

Poás Volcano

Barva Braulio Carrillo
Irazú A Irazú Volcano
Turrialba A Turrialba Volcano


Costa Rica has four mountain ranges, which are from NW to SE: Guanacaste, Tilarán, Central Volcanic and Talamanca. Most of the Costa Rican volcanoes are located in the Guanacaste and Central Volcanic range. The Central Volcanic range has more active volcanoes, and are also younger (less than 1 my) than the volcanoes of the Guanacaste range (less than 2 my).

In the Guanacaste Range it is usual that what receives the name of a volcano is actually a massif with several craters or volcanic peaks. From NW to SE, this are the volcanoes of the Guanacaste Range: El Hacha Peak, Orosi-Cacao, Rincon de la Vieja-Santa María, Miravalles, Montezuma-Tenorio. All these volcanoes but the Miravalles are part of National Parks (see above). The largest volcanoes in this range are the Rincon de la Vieja and the Miravalles, and the only active (in terms of eruption) is the Rincón de la Vieja, which is also a national park. A geothermic project run by the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad (Costa Rican Electricity Institute) takes place in the Miravalles volcano. The volcanic massifs could have small volcanic-tectonic structures in their summits (Cacao, Miravalles, Tenorio) or great depressions or calderas at their bases (Rincón de la Vieja, Miravalles and Tenorio).

The Chato and Arenal volcanoes are located between the Guanacaste and Central Volcanic ranges. The Arenal Volcano was almost a perfect cone, until 1968, when after almost 500 years of inactivity the volcano exploded and more craters developed. Since that date, the Arenal has been active with lava emanations alternating with clouds of gas and steam on a daily basis.

The central volcanic range is the one with more active volcanoes that are less than one million years old such as the Poás (crater lakes), Irazú (green crater lake), and Turrialba volcanoes that are historically active; the current activities of the Barva volcano are sulfur exhalations and thermal waters. Most of these volcanoes and the surrounding areas are protected as National Parks, they are very close to San Jose city and one can easily visit them on a one-day trip.

Sources: Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica- OVSICORI. Chavarría, O. 2005. Costa Rica: Land of Volcanoes. EUNED. 360 p.

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