After a hearty breakfast at the hotel, we boarded the bus for a two and a half journey to the Irazu Volcano in the town of Cartago. Irazu means "mountain of the thunder." This name was given by the indigenous people who lived in the area due to the sounds it made. At 3,400 meters or 12,000 feet, Irazu is the highest volcano in Costa Rica. The last time it erupted was in 1963 when it released clouds of ashes over San Jose along with lava. It is a pyroclastic volcano, which means that when it erupts it throws huge chunks of rock. As we drove up from the base of the volcano, we hoped that the volcano would not celebrate it's 40th anniversary since its last eruption today. Irazu's twin volcano, Turrialba, is another active volcano that tourists are not able to visit because of its recent eruptions and acid rain. Our group debated who we should sacrifice when we heard that the indigenous people used to sacrifice virgins in order to appease their gods.
Although the bus ride was long, we were able to view beautiful landscapes and learn about some of the wildlife at these high elevations. We got amazing sights of the Talamanca Mountain range that crosses from Costa Rica to Panama. Some of the flora we observed only grows at high elevations. The flowers of some plants have red leaves in order to protect the plant from the more intense UV rays at over 3000 meters (don't worry we put on sunscreen). The land is extremely fertile because of the mineral-rich soil from the volcano, and we watched farmers in their fields of potatoes, radishes, and other vegetation. This climate is great for people's health, which is why there used to be a tuberculosis hospital at the base of the volcano. Patients from all over were sent to this hospital to be treated.
Thankfully it was clear enough for us to get a good look at the crater of Irazu. We could smell the sulfur in the air as we hiked to the peak of the volcano from there. The air thinned out as we hiked to higher elevations, making it more difficult to breathe, but once we arrived at the top it was worth it. We took really great pictures at the top, but once the clouds began to roll in we headed back down to where the bus was waiting.
A bit tired from our volcano exploration, we stopped at the Basilica de los Angeles. The church was also located in the first capital of Costa Rica, Cartago. The city was first established by the Spaniards who arrived in Costa Rica. When they climbed up Volcano Irazu and saw the valley they decided to build their city there. This church was first built in 1637. Since then, because of the volcanic eruptions, it has been rebuilt twice. The impressive Catholic church boasted pretty stained glass imported from France and architecture that was inspired by a mosque in Istanbul. Thousands of people visit this church each year.
After a very long day, we dropped by the artisan market in San Jose to spend our leftover colones on gifts and souvenirs. Satisfied and exhausted, we drove back to the hotel to enjoy dinner and a night by the pool.
--Amy and Brooke