A 3 means that there is minor activity or an eruption warning. Volcán Rincon de la Vieja is a 3; we had visited it a couple of weeks ago and were able to see some of that activity.
The other volcano that is a 3 is Parque Nacional Volcán Poás. We went there today. It erupted in 2017 and again in Aug of 2018. It opened to visitors again recently, but is still fairly volatile. How can you pass that up?
The volcano is staffed with Red Cross personnel and many Red Cross vehicles to help in case of emergency. You are required to back into parking spots in case of a quick emergency evacuation. Hard hats must be worn near the volcano. There are reinforced concrete bunkers to take shelter in when escape is not possible. You are also limited to < 20 minutes near the volcano to reduce exposure to the toxic fumes it emits.
Doesn't that sound like a family friendly experience? I guess not, but it did sound exciting and educational to us.
We were able to go to the summit and look down into the fuming crater. That was pretty amazing. Clouds of fumes were continuously emanating from various fumaroles in the crater. We saw pictures of the crater before and after each of the eruptions over the last couple of years. Tons of rock and debris have been thrown from it, increasing its size dramatically. It is now the deepest active volcano crater in the world, about 900 feet deep, and it is about 1 mile wide.
They have highlighted damage caused by the recent eruptions. Chunks of the concrete were crushed or missing and even thick steel railings were significantly dented.
The volcano is very high, about 8900' elevation, giving you incredible views of San Jose on the drive and allowing you to look down on the clouds from the summit.
Several notes for those that plan on going:
Reservations are required -- no exceptions, but you can make reservations from some hotels or restaurants down the mountain from the volcano.
In addition to your entry tickets, you must pay for parking (2000 Colones).
The information about visiting the volcano online is strict and uninviting. You are required to create an account on a website to reserve a time to view the volcano. The website is flakey and randomly will give you incomprehensible errors. If you are fortunate enough to get to the checkout screen, it shows an 8 minute timer and presents you with a large page that you have to complete before the time runs out. It requires each visitors name and passport number, credit card information and billing info. Going as quickly as I could, I finished it with 50 seconds to spare.
Myth: you must arrive 10 minutes before your reservation and if you are more than 5 minutes late, you will forfeit your tickets (which are not cheap -- it was $55 USD for our family).
Actual: they were pretty flexible with timing. we arrived about 30 minutes early and we allowed to join the earlier tour. Some other people had arrived about 40 minutes late and it wasn't an issue.
Myth: it will be very cold since you are at such high elevation (approx 8900').
Actual: it was slightly chilly, but we took off our jackets and many people were comfortable in shorts.
Carson was looking at this stair that had been damaged in the last eruption:
This railing was also damaged by rock shooting out of the crater:
On the drive up, we saw this really ornate, traditional Costa Rican cart: