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Costa Rica Travel >>natural areas>>Poás Volcano

Volcán Poás National Park
The other volcano and cloudforest

Poás Volcano National Park Costa Rica
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The story of conservation at Poás began in Tennessee's Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the 1960's. Mario Boza was a student when he visited the park in the United States and was so impressed that he developed a plan to manage the area around Poás Volcano in a similar way, presented it as his masters thesis, and pursued its implementation. How the plan was adopted as an integral part of the birth and development of the National Park system in Costa Rica is described in David Rains Wallace's book, The Quetzal and the Macaw.

Poás Volcano rising out of the clouds as seen from the north (© R. Krueger-Koplin)
Cacho Negro Volcano rising out of the clouds blocks the view of Poás from the north
(photo © R. Krueger-Koplin)

Attractions and Amenities
Poás volcano is a powerful symbol of the geothermal forces that formed Costa Rica.

When the mist and clouds part you'll see the sulfuric, bubbling, green rain fed lake at the bottom, surrounded by smoke and steam rising from fumaroles. Water from the lake is constantly seeping through cracks in the hot rock, evaporating and building pockets of steam. When the pressure in these pockets exceeds the weight of the water above, the steam breaks through in geysers that rocket up to 820 feet (250 meters) high. Don't worry about getting a shower though, the crater is 1,050 feet (320 meters) deep. At almost a mile (1.6 km) across it's also the largest active crater in the world.

Sulfuric lake at the bottom of Poás Crater from the viewing area (photo © T. Harari)
Sulfuric lake at the bottom of Poás Crater from the viewing area
(photo © T. Harari)

Poás is active, but don't expect to see a full fledged eruption or even any lava flow here, the most recent period of eruptive activity ended in 1954. The last major activity was in 1910 when nearly a million tons of ash was ejected along with an immense column of smoke and steam.

MuseumWheelchair AccessRestroomsCafe
A modern visitors center (wheelchair accessible) and small museum explains and interprets the geothermal and ecological attractions in the park. A cafe serves coffee and hot drinks—as much to wrap your hands around to warm them as anything else—sandwiches, and snacks.

HikingThe volcano provides an excellent if extreme example of the effects of acid rain. Around the caldera, and for several miles downwind, the vegetation is stunted brown and black by the tainted moisture that precipitates from the omnipresent clouds near the peak.

Trails that lead through cloud forest stunted and twisted, not only by volcanic emissions but the rigors of the cold windy high altitude habitat. Lake Botos fills an extinct crater at the end of one trail, and is home to many cloud forest birds including hummingbirds, tanagers, flycatchers, toucanets, Costa Rica's national bird the clay-colored robin, and the area's most famous avian resident, the resplendent quetzal.

In the region
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In the region:
Poás Volcano National Park is an easy day trip from most locations in the central valley, and can easily be combined with a number of other activities.

Coffee TourA tour of a coffee farm is the perfect way to drive the chill out of your bones after an early morning atop Poás.

Botanical GardensThe lower slopes of Poás Volcano are covered with fruit farms and huge ornamental flower farms. Most of the roses, lilies and other flowers grown in this region are driven to Juan Santamaría airport in the central valley then shipped air-express to Miami where they are put on planes headed to all parts of the United States and Canada. You have probably seen some of them at your local florist.
We stopped in at the processing station of one of these farms where they were happy to give us a spontaneous tour. You'll rarely see more flowers in one spot.

BicyclingAlthough we don't know of any organized tours to do this, Poás is a great downhill ride. Hire a taxi or throw your bicycles on the bus to the park. Get an early start, see the park in the morning then spend the afternoon coasting down all or part of the 4,900 feet (1,500 meters) to the central valley.

When to visit Costa Rica
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When to visit:
The best time to see into the crater at Poás Volcano National Park is in the morning, in the dry season—from January to April. Clouds build starting in the late morning and obscure the views into the crater, over the northern lowlands, and into the central valley as you travel to and from the park. Because of its proximity to San José, the park is popular with Ticos, particularly on weekends so if you have a choice, visit midweek.

If it is clear, use sunscreen. At this elevation, this near the equator, the sun's rays are intense and you can get a sever burn in an hour or less. If it's not clear, don't forget your sweater and windbreaker. Even at midday it can be nearly freezing at this elevation, and the wind whips around the crater.

Books and other resources
Attractions | The Region | When to Visit
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Toucan Ratings Explained | Lowest Available Price
Why Buy from Us?

by Mauro Rosi (Editor), Paolo Papale, Luca Lupi, Marco Stoppato, Franco Barberi (Editor), Jay Hyams (Editor), Paperback, 335 pages, Publisher: Firefly Books, (March 2003), ISBN: 1552976831

not yet reviewed
Written by experts in the field and beautifully illustrated. The first section covers the science and the second the details of over 100 active volcanoes around the world.
Buy from Amazon $US 17.47 -or-
Barnes&Nobel member price $US 24.95


Encyclopedia of VolcanoesEncyclopedia of Volcanoes
by Haraldur Sigurdsson, Bruce Houghton, Hazel Rymer, John Stix, and Steve McNutt, Hardcover, 1456 pages, Publisher: Academic Press, (October 1999), ISBN: 012643140X

not yet reviewed
Complete coverage of every aspect of volcanoes in a beautiful and accessible form.
Buy from Amazon $US 99.95 -or-
Barnes&Nobel $US 99.95


Why Do Volcanoes Blow Their Tops?: Questions and Answers About Volcanoes and Earthquakes
by Melvin Berger, Gilda Berger, Higgins Bond (Illustrator), Barbara H. Bond (Illustrator), Paperback, 48 pages, Publisher: Scholastic Reference, (November 2000), ISBN: 0439148782

Kids 9-12 years, beautifully illustrated and scientifically accurate.
Buy from Amazon $US 5.95 -or-
Barnes&Nobel $US 5.95

Toucan Ratings Explained | Lowest Available Price
Why Buy from Us?

Information on the web
Attractions | The Region | When to Visit
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Volcano information on the Web
Scientific site in Spanish tracking the activity of the volcanoes of Costa Rica

USGS volcanoes of the world

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History volcanoes of the world



Map showing the location of Poás Volcano National Park in Costa Rica
Location: 19 miles (30 km) northwest of San José (~25 miles, 41 km, 70-90 minutes, depending on the route by road).
10° 11' 0" N, 84° 12' 30" W

Getting There—
most tour operators in San José offer day trips to Poás for $US 30-70 depending on what other attractions are included. Click to open driving directions and bus information in a new window.

Entrance fees—$US 7 (half price for students with Identification)

Hours—Open from 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The road is gated at the entry station.

Contact—Poás National Park office, telephone 442-7041, or fax 441-0308

Hiking trails
The paved, level, 0.3 mile (0.5 km) crater overlook trail starts at the visitors center and takes about 15 minutes each way. There is a viewing platform surrounded by a short wall.
The Botos trail, 0.9 miles (1.4 km) branches off the overlook trail just before the viewing platform and climbs gently to the lake.
The 0.6 miles (1km) Escalonia cloud forest trail is an excellent route to see all of the birds that live in the park, and two of the endemic species—Poás squirrels, and escalonia trees easily identified by their unique pagoda shape.

Camping—No Camping allowed

Tours and lodging—most tour operators in San José offer day trips to Poás for $US 30-70 depending on what other attractions are included. There are no accommodations in the Park.

Quick Facts
Poás is above the frost line, and temperatures below freezing are common. Nearly constant winds and saturating humidity contribute to biting cold at the rim.

The average high and low temperatures for each month are shown above left. The average rainfall (more blue=more rain) can be more than 10" per month May through December.

Size—13,800 acres (5,600 hectares, 22 square miles, 16 times the size of central park NYC, 1/20th the size of Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado)

Elevations—The high point in the park is near lake Botos at nearly 8,900 feet (2,708 meters). The main crater rim is 160 feet (50 meters) lower.

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