BARVA, Heredia – I’ll admit it: I usually cringe when I come across hordes of tourists as I travel through Costa Rica.
As someone who has lived here only 18 months, I understand the absurdity of my position. But, in the same way a New York City resident avoids Central Park like a bad fashion statement, I speed through the tourist traps with my head down and my foot on the gas. And as a hiker, I keep clear of overly populated trails during the high season.
That’s why a day trip to Barva Volcano is a prime option for anyone looking for a somewhat challenging hike in a tranquil setting away from the crowds. Barva, the overlooked middle child that lays between Poás and Irazú in Braulio Carrillo National Park, is almost exclusively trekked by Costa Ricans, not tourists. Park ranger Cristian Pérez said the low rate of foreign visitors is likely due to an absence of advertising or tour information for Barva.
“I think that maybe there’s a little bit of information lacking about this place for the tourist to get to know it because a lot of tourists don’t get to come here to see Barva since they don’t have enough information about it,” he said.
I went this past week and the end of the trail towards Copey Lagoon had clearly seen some of the side effects of heavy rains that flooded Limón and Heredia recently. Near the lagoon, much of the trail had been turned to swamp. I questioned with each step whether I would be standing on solid ground or would be shin-deep in mud.
Despite the not-so-ideal conditions, I was one of maybe seven people on the entire trail system at any given time during my three-hour hike. Pérez said the number of visitors during the week is extremely low in both the high season and rainy season.
“It depends a lot on the climate, on the day,” Pérez said. “But yeah, Saturdays and Sundays are when more people come because they have the day off or are on vacation. But during the week the visitation is very, very low.”
Walking the main trail – with quick detours to the Vara Blanca lookout point and the Barva Lagoon – can be done in three to four hours if you keep a good pace. At 2,906 meters (9,534 feet), the area surrounding the Barva Lagoon reaches the highest point on the volcano.
Indigenous Costa Rican groups like the Cabécar and Huetar considered the volcano, and especially the lagoon, to be sacred because they believed it was where the god Sibú originated. Today, the most sacred part of the volcano may be the views on the road leading up to its gates. Clouds rush down from the volcano side and form over the Central Valley, which is reduced to a far-off silence.
The drive past Heredia takes you through some enchanting hillside towns like the aptly named Barva, San José de la Montaña and Sacramento. As with most volcano and mountain hikes in Costa Rica, you will need a 4×4 to get to the entrance, as the road from Sacramento to Barva’s gate is unpaved.
On a clear day on the trails, you can see Poás, Irazú, and even Turrialba from different miradores. The location is a hotspot for bird watchers, as quetzals are often sighted along the walkways and the park directory says 515 bird species inhabit the area.
Pérez said that since park staff doesn’t have to be worried about any eruptions of the dormant volcano – which is believed to have last erupted thousands of years ago – they spend most of their time working to conserve the area’s wildlife and water sources, namely the lagoons and the Sucio River.
This being a volcano in Costa Rica, zipline tours are of course offered, through Canopy Adventure in San José de la Montaña.
Barva may not be the first volcano that comes to your mind when traveling through Costa Rica, but that’s one of the best reasons to go there.
Contact Michael Krumholtz at [email protected].
IF YOU GO
Getting there: From San José take Highway 3 through Heredia and continue north on Highway 114, which will dead end at the entrance to Barva after taking you through the mountain town of Sacramento. For the road past Sacramento, having a 4×4 is a must.
Cost: It costs $12 for non-residents and $2 for residents to enter Braulio Carrillo National Park.
What to bring: Hiking boots or durable rain boots, raincoat, lunch, binoculars