The Irazu Experince
We decided to try the local way to get to Irazu and it turned out to be quite an enjoyable trip.
After a bit of reading and a visit to San Jose tourist office, we realized that there was a direct bus all the way, but only at 8 am...uh well, we took the longer route.
Bus to Cartago is running every 10 minutes and costs under $2 for a 45 minute trip. Buses are fresh Chinese Higer - there is plenty of room for a comfy ride.
Cartago itself is worth to spend a few hours in. There are some ruins and tons of local history in this old Costa Rican capital. We had other plans for the day and were walking around in search of the Irazu bus.
Local folks were very helpful...maybe a touch too much even. One elderly gentleman approached us and, assuming where were heading, did not let us go until we were in line to board the bus. All good, but we still had another 30 minutes to go - enough for a stroll around the city. Good Samaritan did not think so - every time we tried to politely thank him, he took our chat for confusion and kept repeating that the bus will come here… He even told a man in line for the bus something pointing at us. We felt like useless toddlers in the safe hands of experienced adults. No trust. We found that hilarious (walking in the shoes of our baby).
At any rate, the bus ride to the peak is about $3 plus entrance to the park will run another $15 per head. There were some small picturesque villages on the way. Our bus driver seemed to know local folks - one lady even gave him a muffin when he picked her up on a mountainside.
There were two main walking trails to explore around Irazu - if you want to get to the peak of 3,500 or so, prepare to walk up hill for a kilometer. Grey, volcanic sand was the primary surface for walking around the crater viewpoint. The volcanic lake was of an awesome turquoise hue and looked like something out of this world.
We hiked to the mountain top which took our breath away both literally and figuratively. Thin air made it a bit challenging, but at least the temperature was comfortable below 20C.
The summit was above the cloud line, we spent good amount of time marveling at the clouds passing below and listening to the roaring thunder in the distance. Watch out for sunburns, thin ozone layer at that altitude makes skin more susceptible.
The gift shop at the parking lot was overpriced and lacked decent food options. Luckily we picked up some pastries at Cartago and enjoyed a neat picnic with a view. The volcano has been dormant since the 60s, but one could feel the potential for destruction by looking at the barren landscape all around.
Our ride back was on the last bus at around 3:15pm. The thunder clouds started forming into a formidable storm by that time and we were driving straight into it coming down the mountain.
We would suggest not to do a private tour for this activity - local buses are reliable and fast (given the mountainous roads). Information about the points of interest is readily available - it is so much fun to discover a bit by yourself. Save your money for the breathtaking Tabacon Volcano and Springs.