Location 15: Irazu (Costa Rica)
Volcano with tough wildlife able to survive high elevation.
Be a Mountain Explorer.
My favourite spots are the viewpoint overlooking the crater and the edge of the woodland to your left as you walk towards the crater.
Irazu is a volcano in the Central Valley between San Jose and Turrialba. Because it is a spectacular place and easy to access it is popular with both Costa Rican and foreign visitors. A regular bus route runs from San Jose or you can drive relatively easily if you have a hire car. The wildlife is limited due to the elevation but for keen wildlife watchers it is a place to see unique wildlife only found at high elevations.
- Site 1: Parque Nacional Irazu The main volcano path and viewpoint. It can be cold. (GPS coords 09.9783N 83.8453W)
Main Volcano Path Description
Irazu is a volcano with a visitor centre and a popular tourist destination. It is also a good destination for birdwatchers. This is a high-elevation site. Birds are more scarce at higher elevations, so I only saw 9 species of bird during a day's exploring. However, they were nearly all specialist-height birds and so made for a good visit.
Buses to Irazu are really easy, probably because of its popularity. If you have a car you could try arriving early in the morning to look for Timberline Wren and/or stay later in the afternoon to enjoy the barbecue facilities.
When you arrive there is a booth on the entry road where everyone has to buy a ticket. If you arrive in a bus everyone will get out to get a ticket (and then get back on). Unlike with Volcan Poas I do not recommend walking the rest of the way if you came by bus: the time between arrival of the first bus and the last bus leaving is very short (about two and a half hours) so you need to get to the top and start exploring straight away! A good time-saving tip is that there is a second booth at the top and you do not need to stop there as well. You can just walk straight on (it is just selling snacks and offering information). I saw a queue form at this second booth but you can ignore it.
There is a "dual carriageway" that heads towards the summit. If the weather is good (and if crumbs have already started falling around the picnic benches) you may be distracted by Volcano Junco (a small bird) and White-nosed Coati (a medium-sized mammal). Once you do start heading up the path I would offer the same advice as for Volcan Poas which is to go and look at the amazing crater first in case the weather changes!
After walking up the path to the viewpoint for the twin craters you can now explore to your left. There is a large area of sandy ground with grass which runs a couple of hundred metres and then reaches a steep, forested ridge. I recommend walking across the sandy area and then exploring the foot of the ridge for most of your time. Lots of good birds are in the trees and, as usual, the edge of the trees offers good visibility. Leave some time when you get back to the car park to watch the tame Volcano Juncos feeding again!
I visited when there was really bad weather. You can still do the route described above and see lots of birds. The edge of the ridge has plenty of trees in order to shelter from the rain and although the birding got easier when the sun came out the difference was not that big. But do be ready for the clouds to drop and visibilty to get bad very quickly. It is obviously up to you what you feel safe doing.
The majority of the bird sounds I heard were from Sooty Robins.
This site is at the correct elevation for Timberline Wren. One of the rangers at this site told me that if you arrive early in the morning you have a chance of seeing them. If you have a car it would seem a good idea to try and arrive early for a chance of seeing this special species of bird.
The entry fee (when I visited in 2013) was $10. A bus from San Jose cost $5 there and $5 back.
Birds seen in 1 day in winter:-
- Volcano Hummingbird (Selasphorus flammula) 7x2 (m3)
- Sooty Robin (Turdus nigrescens) 5x2 (m3)
- Flame-throated Warbler (Oreothlypis gutturalis) 2x1 (m1)
- Wilson's Warbler (Wilsonia pusilla) 1x2 (m2)
- Sooty-capped Bush-Tanager (Chlorospingus pileatus) 3x4 (m5)
- Slaty Flowerpiercer (Diglossa plumbea) 2x1 (m1)
- Large-footed Finch (Pezopetes capitalis) 1x1 (m1)
- Rufous-collared Sparrow (Zonotrichia capensis) 4x2 (m2)
- Volcano Junco (Junco vulcani) 2x1 (m1)
Volcano Junco is a specialist, high-elevation species of bird which feeds on the crumbs by the picnic tables.
This article is part of the Nature Travel Guide and was published on June 2017.
Even more articles including detailed site descriptions, illustrated wildlife-watching activities, self-guided walks, itinerary recommendations, birdwatching overviews and mammal-watching overviews are available in the premium eBooks.