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miravalles volcano crater
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Miravalles Volcano

Miravalles Volcano

Quick Facts

  • Location : Miravalles Forest Reserve
  • Altitude : 6,654 feet above sea level
  • Telephone : 2671-1290 or 2695-5180

The picturesque, cone-shaped volcano of Miravalles can be found nine miles north of the small town of Bagaces, in the eastern province of Guanacaste. Though made up of six eruption-points, the only volcanic activity to occur in recorded history has been secondary, consisting of thermal fountains and mud pits.

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Towering 6,654 feet high and partially surrounded by an enormous paleo-cauldron 124 miles long, it is the tallest point in the Guanacaste Mountain Range. A crater 1,968 feet in diameter is located at the southeast base of the volcano. Two smaller cones have emerged in the northeast section of the central cone; one has suffered a good deal of erosion damage, but the other stands proudly at 6,561 feet above sea level.

Miravalle’s eastern and northern flanks are green and verdant; the western hills are covered with brushwood; and the southern slopes are marked by canyons and lava trails. The formation intercepts westward-moving rainclouds (and absorbs up to 140 inches of annual rain that they carry) from the Caribbean, keeping the leeside town of Bagaces dry.

The 26,810 acres of surrounding land have been designated the Miravalles Protected Zone, which protects cloud and primary forests inhabited by coyotes, deer, pacas, monkeys, and peccaries. Las Hornillas Volcanic Activity Center in Fortuna allows visitors the opportunity to closely view fumaroles, mud pools, and hot springs. Walking along the boardwalk leading over the crater just east of this center is an unforgettable experience; the smell of sulfur combined with the heat of the volcano creates an almost palpable and all-pervading sense of power.

The first scientific expeditions to explore the summit were conducted in 1851 and 1852, as well as in the 20th century by Ricardo Fernandez Peralta. More recently, the Costa Rican Institute of Electricity (ICE) has been doing seismologic research to harness hydroelectric and geothermal energy, which currently generate over 40 percent of the country’s electrical power. Due to the volcano’s massive geothermal potential, the Arenal-Miravalles Seismological and Volcanological Observatory (OSIVAM) has monitored its activity from a series of 12 seismologic stations since 1994. Miravalles features two wells, with bottom-hole temperatures of 464°F – perfect for harnessing the internal heat of the earth.

Hiking:

As of now there are no well-defined trails. A few reputable tour operators offer round-trip hikes that last about nine hours: five hours up to the summit and four hours to descend. The journey leaves from Finca de la Tesona at 7:00 a.m. and returns at 4:00 p.m., and includes lunch.  The first half of the trek is done on horseback and the second half on foot. There are currently no facilities at Miravalles.

Flora and Fauna:

In addition to hiking, wildlife and bird watching are top-notch at Miravalles and the surrounding Miravalles Protected Zone. Frequently sighted species of animal include spider monkeys, pumas, tapirs, howler monkeys, collared peccaries, ocelots, white-faced monkeys, hawks, and turkey vultures. Fauna includes palms, ferns, bromeliads, avocado trees, oak trees, and custard apple trees.

Getting There:

Car: From San Jose, drive three and a half hours northwest to Bagaces, then turn right. Drive 20 miles toward Guayabo until you see the signs for Miravalles.

Bus: Public buses leave daily at 5:30 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. from Antigua Parada de Puntarenas in San Jose (located one block north of La Iglesia de Merced) to Bagaces. The fare is $5.25. From there, buses depart hourly to Fortuna (not to be confused with La Fortuna and Arenal) and Guayabo, both of which have access to Miravalles. Buses leave Bagaces for San Jose at 6:00 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. The fare is $5.25.

Miravalles Volcano in Pictures