An approximately 1 ½-hour drive from San José is the country’s most heavily trafficked national park, home to one of the largest and most accessible active volcanoes in the world. Regarded by many to be one of the country’s most breathtaking sites, lying below the 8,858-foot stratovolcano is the 25 square miles of various habitats and life zones which make up Poás Volcano National Park, a striking, almost otherworldly landscape littered with smoking steam vents; dense stands of virgin forest and vegetation; and the 3 calderas the volcano has produced in its lifetime. Few large animals live inside the park, but smaller wildlife including coyotes, rabbits, frogs, countless insects, and 79 species of birds such as the quetzal and emerald toucanet have been recorded. For those wanting to visit a volcano minus the pain of making the arduous trek, Poás Volcano National Park couldn’t be a more perfect trip.
The volcano’s history of activity dates back about 11 million years, its last big blowout in 1910 – which launched a water geyser some 13,123 feet into the air. Every once in a while, the volcano is closed off due to sulphurous gas emissions and other seismic activities, but in the recent years, it has not posed an imminent threat.
About a 15-minute walk from the park’s visitor’s center by paved road brings you to the main caldera found on the northern side, which contains the active and highly acidic Laguna Caliente. Measuring almost a mile in diameter and 984 feet deep, it is the largest active crater in the world and the most acidic lake on Earth – its murky emerald depths able to turn yellow within hours due to its extreme temperatures and high sulfuric content. The smoking and bubbling pool sometimes spews muck as high as 820 feet – though chances of getting wet are slim. As it doesn’t take much time to view the crater, you can explore the short, marked hiking trails that lead off the main route to the crater and through the cloud forest that rings it.
North of the main caldera, at the top of the massif, is the Von Frantzius cone – Poás Volcano’s oldest eruptive center.
At the southern leg, an approximately 30-minute hike along the Botos Trail (about ½ mile long) through beautiful cloud forest ends at an eerily remote and inactive crater (1,312 feet in diameter) filled with rainwater and encircled by lush tropical forest – serene Botos Lake. It is a favorite spot for many of the park’s birds.
You can learn more about the volcano at the park’s visitor’s center. Other available services include a café, a souvenir shop and an informative museum. There are also restaurants nearby.
As Poás very often sees dense clouds, it is important to plan wisely for your visit – as their unexpected arrival (though they typically arrive around mid-afternoon) makes enjoying the park’s scenery difficult. It is ideal to visit in the morning during dry season (Dec-Apr). Weekends find the park crowded. You can also expect the park to be cool, so it is important to dress appropriately.