Northeast of San Jose and northwest of Turrialba, the Parque Nacional Volcán Turrialba is the countrys toughest climb to over 10,000. The park is rarely visited. Turrialba is Irazus twin. Starting from the lodge, it s only a three hour mountain bike ride up 7.5km one-way over 2,000 feet. Keep in mind, the park is only open from 8am to 3:30pm. Ideally, you would like to summit before 10am for the best clear views. The trails in the crater appear to be open to mountain bike riding.
To reach the trailhead from San Jose, head east on Avenue 10 (unsigned) to the east side of town. Just past Calle 43 (unsigned), turn right heading south on RUTA 39 for about 1km. At the Rotonda Garantias Sociales traffic circle, head east on RUTA 215 towards Cartago. This route follows city streets to the beginning of InterAmerican Highway RUTA 2. Closely follow signs to Cartago as the route makes several turns. After about 10km, the route to Cartago abruptly turns right for 4 blocks. When this road ends, turn left for two blocks. Then turn right for one block to the start of RUTA 2 (as of April 2007, there was no signs for Cartago or RUTA 2 at the start of the highway). At the start of the Highway, turn left on to the major divided highway and proceed through the toll booth. Continue east on RUTA 2 for another 12km towards Cartago following the signs and generally staying in the left lane. The highway ends about 3km before Cartago onto a city street, Avenue 2 (unsigned). Continue east on Avenue 2 (unsigned) towards downtown Cartago. The route passes several plazas. On the east side of downtown Cartago, just before the end of Avenue 2 at Calle 14 (unsigned), there is the most scenic plaza, Plaza de la Bassilica. Behind the church is Calle 18 (unsigned). Turn left on Calle 18 for one block. At the intersection, veer right on a 45 degree angle heading northeast on RUTA 8 (unsigned). For the next 6km, generally follow the biggest road at intersections or veer right when in doubt. At 6km from the plaza, you will reach the intersection of RUTA 219 and RUTA 230 (signed).
At this intersection, veer right on RUTA 230 for about 15km towards Pacayas. In Pacayas, follow the signs towards Capellades, which is about 4km away. Along the way, you may follow signs for Volcan Turrialba or Volcan Turrialba Lodge. Continue northeast through Capellades towards Pastora, which is roughly 10km away. In Pastora, turn left climbing to the north for 10km. It is a semi-paved road with occasional red spots. At 10km from Pastoria, the pavement ends so continue on the red gravel road for 2km. In the small village with old barns, this road ends. There are two options. You can turn left (continue left at all next turns) for 1.5km to reach the Volcan Turrialba Lodge. Or, you can turn right climbing northeast for 6km to the volcano summit. Both roads are very rough and require 4WD vehicles. On the road climbing 2,000 feet to the summit, the last 2km past the ranger station is extremely steep with many sharp, loose gravel switchbacks. Overall, this route takes about 3 hours from San Jose or about 2 hours from Cartago.
To reach Turrialba National Park from Turrialba at RUTA 10, head north through town towards Santa Rosa on RUTA 230 (unsigned). Santa Rosa is about 3km from Turrialba. Just past Santa Rosa, turn right towards Santa Cruz, which is 11km away. Continue past Santa Cruz for another 2.4km to Pastora. In Pastora, turn right climbing to the north for 10km. It is a semi-paved road with occasional red spots. At 10km from Pastoria, the pavement ends so continue on the red gravel road for 2km. In the small village with old barns, this road ends. Turn right climbing northeast for 6km to the volcano summit. Both roads are very rough and require 4WD vehicles. On the road climbing 2,000 feet to the summit, the last 2km past the ranger station is extremely steep with many sharp, loose gravel switchbacks. This route takes about an hour to reach the summit from Turrialba.
To reach the trailhead from Irazu Volcano, about 2km south of the ranger station on RUTA 8, there is a marked 4WD shortcut road. Using this road, its about 16km to the trailhead. Generally, stay left at all intersections. Pass through the small town of Esperanza.
Here are some basic notes on driving in Costa Rica for the tourist. There is a myth about the quality of the roads and of VW bus sized pot-holes. This may have been true years ago, but on the main routes, this is no longer true. With that said, there are still numerous challenges for first time drivers in Costa Rica. First, do not expect much out of so-call “highways”, like the InterAmerican Highway. The fancy name makes the uninitiated think this is a major 4 lane divided, restricted access road. Well, yes, about 1% is. The rest is two lane (marginally), undivided, rural roads with tons of traffic constantly stopping, turning, passing or driving slowly. Like every other road in the country, you can expect to see on the road numerous unexpected cows, cyclists, pedestrians, bus stops, school crossing zones, dogs, mud slides, police check points, unannounced one-lane bridges, missing manhole covers, and, of course, a never ending stream of semi-trucks driving erratically fast. What you do not find on any roads is much signage. There are infrequent signs indicating the distance to the next town, and even more infrequent are road names or numbers (if at all), including even within major towns. To make matters worse, signs that used to exist are disappearing due to deterioration or theft. Also, do not expect drivers to use their head lights, even in a heavy rain shower, unless it is really dark. This makes passing in rain a game of roulette since you can't see the oncoming traffic. Speaking of dark, do not drive at night since the roads in some areas can be ruled by those under the influence of alcohol.
If you have to drive through San Jose, make sure to do it at dawn to avoid the horrendous traffic all day long, including weekends. Keep in mind several maps show highways passing through San Jose. This is not true. They end abruptly on the outskirts of town and you have to slug it out in a crazy stop-and-go traffic and many unmarked turns to get to the other side all day long. There are unsigned so-called by-pass routes around San Jose, but finding them can be a challenging game of trial-and-error, and they are only marginally better.
If you have to drive on the Nicoya Peninsula, you can expect to find generally better roads with better signage. However, there are numerous unmarked eroded road sides, especially over stream culverts. Do not drive at night. Watch out for the iguanas sprinting across the road.
A GPS unit can be helpful when navigating roads, however, the maps in Costa Rica were created using a special map datum. This datum is not usually available on GPS units but the road base maps were created with it. Therefore if you use the default WGS84 datum with a base road map on the GPS unit, you will always show a position being about 0.5 miles to the north of the road base map.
When picking up a rental car, make sure to check all the tires for wear, check the spare tire pressure, check the tire jack, and make sure to test the lock on the spare tire. It would be wise to quickly purchase a can of Fix-A-Flat.
Overall, Turrialba Volcano National Park is the 10th most popular mountain bike trail of all 16 mountain biking rides in Costa Rica.