© iStock / mihtiander
© iStock / mihtiander

Poás Volcano: Adventure to an active crater’s edge

4 minutes to read

There are about 200 volcanic formations, including dormant volcanoes, in Costa Rica.  At Poás Volcano National Park you can safely adventure right up to the crater’s edge. Sounds exciting, right?  Well, it is! - but the adventure doesn’t stop there! Costa Rica has seven active volcanoesPoás is one of these! These active volcanoes are northeast of San José; aligned diagonally to form the Central Mountain Range that stretches north to Nicaragua.

Costa Rica maintains over 30 national parks. Taken together they represent the conservation of about 25% of Costa Rica’s total landmass. Given its size, this is more than any other country in the world!

Poás Volcano National Park, Costa Rica
Poás Volcano National Park, Costa Rica
Unnamed Road, Provincia de Alajuela, Poás, Costa Rica

Poás Volcano: A short ride from Alajuela City and the airport  

From either San José or Alajuela City, Poás Volcano National Park is easy to visit. Located due north of Alajuela and the international airport, Poás Volcano is 2,708 meters (8,900 feet) above sea level. Temperatures change quickly as you pass through scenic coffee country. The nearly 15,000 acres of national park surrounding the Poás Volcano are thick, dense forest lands; forming at least four different habitats. Cloud and mountain forests slope down converting into rainforests. Rainforests extend downwards into rich volcanic soil farmlands where ornamental plants, mountain strawberries, and world famous Costa Rican coffee are grown. 

Alajuela City, Costa Rica
Alajuela City, Costa Rica
General Tomas Guardia Park, Provincia de Alajuela, Alajuela, Costa Rica
Municipal Arts & Crafts Market (Mercado de Artesania), San José
Municipal Arts & Crafts Market (Mercado de Artesania), San José
San José, Costa Rica, calle 5, avenida 6, costado Sur de la Plaza de las Garantías, San José, Costa Rica

Another testament to Costa Rica’s amazing biodiversity

Poás has one of the world’s largest active craters of its type (stratovolcano). Deep in the Poás Volcano crater, is one of the country’s most amazing attractions: the crater lagoon. The color of the steaming and bubbling lagoon varies from startling aquamarine to green. Cloud vapors created by the mixing of hot and cold air flows over the crater tend to hide it. However, the full view can magically appear in a thrilling split second when clouds suddenly disappear.

© iStock/MBM Designs
© iStock/MBM Designs

The Poás National Park is a combination of cloud forests with low, humid mountain forests. The crater walls are mostly barren rock surfaces. Nonetheless, they form ecological habitats for low growing, windswept shrubs that can survive the harsh environment. Walking up through the park, you’ll notice every shade of green from foliage to frogs. The great trees are magnificent residences for hundreds of plants nestled in tree crevasses, trunks, or dangling from moss-covered branches.  As you walk up to the crater, look for the plant Costa Ricans call “the poor man’s umbrella.” Clue: These plants are known for their gigantic leaves!

© iStock/Leimanieh
© iStock/Leimanieh

Birdwatchers bring binoculars and birding checklists!

Birder watchers will be delighted with the exciting variety of species; as many as 80 different bird species have been spotted around Poás National Park. After your visit to the crater, do a little birding in the parking lot or along the roadway as you leave. Tanagers, toucans, sooty robins, brilliant hummingbirds, and black guans are just some of the birds frequently sighted. Tip: The dazzling quetzal lives in this region. Keep an eye out, you may be lucky to see one!

© iStock/Aldo Grangetto
© iStock/Aldo Grangetto

Important!: Eruptions and safety at Poás

Poás has erupted 40 times since 1828. In April 2017 there was a sudden, surprising burst. All visitors and local communities were evacuated and for the next 17 months the park was closed with a 2.5-kilometer safety perimeter established around the volcano and its erupting crater. That was a tough time for local businesses.

The park re-opened in August 2018, but all visitors are now required to book tickets online through the national conservation offices of SINAC (www.sinac.go.cr).  This procedure balances safety with the high number of visitors wanting to enter.  Groups are limited to 50 visitors at a time for a maximum of 20 minutes. These adjustments are necessary protocols to ensure effective emergency evacuation and response by rangers in the event of an eruption.

Get there early in the morning

Poás is open from 7-2:00 every day including holidays, the last entrance is at 1:20 p.m. There’s a nice Ring-of-Fire museum, clean bathrooms, and a souvenir store.  It’s also a wheelchair friendly park. Climate conditions can’t be guaranteed, but chances of seeing down into the crater tend to be better in the morning. Even so, it can abruptly clear and become visible at any moment! Check the online weather predictions for your Poás adventure dates.

Costa Rica has become a trend-setting vacation spot. Its sunny, tropical weather year-round, heavenly beaches for swimming and surfing, and ecotourism activities like parasailing, zip lining, and waterfall hikes are just the obvious reasons. There’s another important reason.  Traveling in Costa Rica is safe for families, women travelers, and seniors. The water is safe too.

Poás is a thrilling day trip adventure

Plan an adventure to the crater of the Poás Volcano.  Besides Costa Rican coffee, the region produces mountain strawberries.  Treat yourself to a cultural experience at one of the nearby restaurants.  My favorite is Restaurante Freddo Fresas (Freddy’s Strawberries) where you can enjoy not only tasty typical dishes, but also beyond-delicious fresh strawberry drinks (order a pitcher!) and deserts. Across the street, there’s a lovely garden with birds, butterflies and blooms to wander through.

© iStock/Simon Dannhauer
© iStock/Simon Dannhauer
Restaurante Freddo Fresas, Costa Rica
Restaurante Freddo Fresas, Costa Rica
Alajuela Province, Poás, Costa Rica

From either the Poás Volcano National Park or Alajuela, you can continue your day’s adventure at La Paz Waterfall Gardens and Nature Park.  At La Paz, you can hike through the cloud forest at 4-5,000 feet above sea level to see 5 breathtaking waterfalls.

© iStock/Bullsi Photo
© iStock/Bullsi Photo
La Paz Waterfall Gardens, Costa Rica
La Paz Waterfall Gardens, Costa Rica
126, Heredia Province, Costa Rica

The author

Susan Wesley-Vega

Susan Wesley-Vega

My name is Susan and I’m from the U.S., but have been living in Alajuela, Costa Rica for 15 years. I love discovering the specialness in every place I go. By writing about the fun and fabulous ecotourism hotspots in my adopted country, Costa Rica, I hope to inspire you to come and see for yourself!

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