On May 21st Costa Rica’s Turrialba Volcano erupted, spewing smoke, ash and rock up to 3,000m (9,840ft) into the air. Is this going be the next Eyjafjallajökull, the Icelandic volcano which caused chaos in the skies in 2010? We connected with our local expert in Costa Rica, Jane Moore of Papagayo Luxury Villas, to learn about the situation on the ground and why we shouldn’t be panicking, but rather head down to this gorgeous Central American country.
At 3,340m above sea level, Turrialba is located near Cartago, in the center of the country, around 45 km (30 miles) northeast of the capital San José. The National University’s Volcanological and Seismological Observatory of Costa Rica (OVSICORI) recorded two explosions that exceeded 3,000m (9,800 feet) on Friday and several other large ones since.
“Debris from the eruptions has fallen on neighboring communities and some in the northern suburbs of San José,” explains Ms. Moore. “However, the volcano is not spewing lava and is not considered dangerous in that way.”
Precautions are important in the vicinity, however, Costa Rica’s National Emergencies Commission (CNE) cautioned on their Facebook page against “spreading rumors,” as illustrated in this informative article on the danger of misinformation. Instead, the CNE recommends those in the area to “take preventive measures respective according to [one’s] places of residence or work.” They’ve shared their official recommendations on their page, advising people the affected areas to wear masks and tight clothing to protect their lungs and skin.
What does this mean for travelers to the country?
“The volcanic ash has caused some airlines into Juan Santamaría International Airport since this volcano is close to San José,” says Ms. Moore. “Other flights have been rerouted to Daniel Oduber International Airport in Liberia in Guanacaste, which is not affected at all by ash.”
This is actually the airport which serves Papagayo Luxury Villas. The area along the Pacific coast is home to lush forests and miles of beautiful beaches. It’s over 250 km northwest from the volcano. Costa Rica is 51,100 sq km (19,730 sq mi), its rugged landscape includes a dozen volcanoes. Turrialba actually erupted around this time last year (May 4th, 2015) and it has been rumbling ever since.
We obtained this further feedback from our global expert Tim Roney of Villa Concierge who knows the country well.
“Frankly, the Central Valley has often been hazy with volcanic ash in the air during the past week with the smell of sulfur in the air,” says Roney. “Even up here on the slope of Volcan Barva above Heredia and approx 40 miles West of Turrialba, I find grey volcanic dust on the outside furniture and can sometimes smell the sulpher outside.
“Tourists flying into SJO and then going to Monteverde or the Pacific Coast will not notice a thing, this is very important. But anyone going into San Jose or flying into SJO enroute to the Caribbean Coast could notice the conditions I described.”
According to both Jane and Tim, there is no reason to cancel your trip to Costa Rica, especially if you are spending time in the northwest. In fact, now could be an even better time to travel there and if you act quickly you can take advantage of Papagayo Luxury’s Memorial Day Special. Book any of their rentals for stays during the month of June and you will receive a 10% discount. This offer not valid for bookings for stays after June 30th 2016. For more information on this great deal or future trips to Costa Rica, contact the Papagayo Luxury team here.
However, what if a natural disaster does interrupt your plans? Here are some useful tips:
- The most important thing is to be well informed, you may not need to change your travel plans at all.
- Seek advice this information and advice from trusted sources. For example, the past few days many people believed the Turrialba was spewing lava, based on someone’s facebook page and their posting and that some Japanese “specialists” were kicked out of the country for spreading false claims that upcoming eruptions were going to set off a major earthquake.
- Check with your travel agent, accommodation rental company and/or airline company for the latest news. They should have the most up-to-date status on your flights and travel safety to the affected area.
- You might also find the latest news searching hashtags (like #turrialba #volcanocostarica) or visiting local emergency sites’ Facebook pages (again, the pages of trusted sources)
- Check with the US State Department and if you are going to a destination that might be at risk, you can also register with their free “Smart Traveler Enrollment Program” and you will receive a travel alert or travel warning message, plus they will know how to reach you in case of emergency. You can do this online here or by phone at (202) 501-4444, which is the emergency assistance number for Americans in foreign countries.
- Always purchase travel insurance (this is often included with your credit card insurance). This will assure that your mind is at ease and that you will be covered if a natural disaster does occur and you need to change your plans.
- If you’re already in the destination, try to remain calm and patient, the locals will be trying to find the best solutions to the issue and to communicate these, however, it might take a little time.
- If you will be traveling to remote areas of a country, you may want to prepare a list of relevant phone numbers (the closest embassy/consulate, the branch of your airline company, local emergency phone numbers) and carry a paper copy of these with you, so that if you do encounter a problem, you’ll have help faster.
These are of course helpful tips in the case of emergency, however, most trips to Costa Rica or elsewhere around the world go smoothly without incident.
Wishing you all happy–and above all safe–travels!