A Volcano Near Costa Rica’s Capital

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It’s not every day that you get to visit an active volcano. About an hour’s drive northwest of San Jose, Costa Rica, Poas Volcano National Park is a spectacular sight. Established in 1971, this is Costa Rica´s first national park, receiving nearly 300,000 visitors annually. Even though the park may be busy, admission is well worth the price at $10 for non-residents.

Poas is the second largest crater in the world and depending on the weather, the water in the crater will be a bright blue or green. The roads to Poas are fairly good and visitors can drive practically to the crater rim at 8,882 feet above sea level.

It is not known how Poas got its name but there are several theories. The name Poas may be based on a village name, San Pedro Poas; the name could derive from thorny plants that grow near the volcano (which are pricked like barbed wire); or, this may be an Indian name.

The trail to the volcano rim is an easy hike, with the biggest dangers being heavy cloud cover (or rain) and the strong smell of sulfur fumes. I also noticed the change in altitude as I’m used to living in an elevation of about 15 feet. Be sure to carry rain gear, bug spray and a jacket, as temperature changes can be sudden and dramatic. Sunscreen is a must as it is easy to burn at high elevations near the equator even if it’s cloudy, which I soon found out.

Besides the trail to the main crater, there are some side trails to two other craters, including a laguna (Laguna Botos). Be sure to get to the park early (before 10 a.m.) or clouds will hide the view of the craters themselves. Unfortunately, I could not see into Poas, but was lucky enough to see into the laguna.

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The trails are filled with dense cloud forest vegetation and the cover can easily make it seem like it’s almost dark. I hiked the trails at 9 a.m. and it felt like night. Sometimes it was hard to see ahead with the trees, clouds and volcanic steam.

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Along the trails, there is not a lot of wildlife, but I did see a black robin and a squirrel. According to the visitors’ center, owls, high-altitude hummingbirds, coyotes and armadillos may also be spotted.

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The visitor center is bilingual and has good displays on Costa Rica´s volcanic activity. Along with the visitor center is a cafeteria (with a large selection of homemade cakes which are very popular) and the usual pricey/touristy gift shop.

The drive up to the volcano offers some fantastic views of the country’s central highlands, but the villages just outside the park offer some stark reminders of Costa Rica´s earthquake activity. In 2009, a 6.1 earthquake struck near Poas, killing roughly 50 people and destroying many homes. Sadly, I could see where homes slid off their foundations and off the mountain. Costa Rica, however, takes care of its people as the nation took up a national collection to rebuild these dwellings.

This park is popular with both locals and tourists alike. I recommend visiting this park but with a caveat. Be sure to go very early and really watch the weather forecast. I went at the start of the rainy season and while I did get a good view of the laguna, the main crater was completely fogged in. Still, how often do you get to gaze into the crater of an active volcano? For visitors to the San Jose area, Poas Volcano National Park is worth the drive.

Poas Volcano National Park
Poasito, Costa Rica
(From San Jose, take the highway to Alajuela and follow the signs from Alajuela to the park)

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