Poas Volcano National Park
San Jose is flanked by mountain ranges whose green peaks invite escape from the crowded Central Valley. Silent and peaceful from a distance, some of the peaks reveal their true character upon closer inspection. The 2,700 meter high mountain to the northeast of San Jose, the one that looms closest to the airport, has a flattened appearance to the right-hand side of its peak. If you go up to that part of the mountain, you might feel the ground tremble and you will certainly smell sulphur as you approach the crater of Poas; an active volcano and one of Costa Ricas most visited national parks.
Location and how to get there
Almost directly north of the airport, Poas Volcano National Park is one of the closest active volcanoes to San Jose. From San Jose, drive past Juan Santamaria airport, and take the exit to Grecia. Drive on through this pleasant town and follow the signs north up a curvy mountain road to the national park entrance. Leave the car at the parking lot that follows shortly thereafter and continue on foot for one kilometer to the edge of the crater. The drive takes around one and half hours from San Jose.
Poas Volcano National Park protects elfin forest and temperate rain forest. Elfin forest is found at mountain tops and mountain passes where strong winds inhibit trees from growing very tall. In Costa Rica, many rare plants are found in this vegetation type. Hummingbirds are very common, the beautiful Fiery-throated Hummingbird especially so in the elfin forests. The temperate rain forest on Poas harbors many local bird species including the famed Resplendent Quetzal, Emerald Toucanet, Large-footed and Yellow-thighed Finches and Wrenthrush. Although mammals are scarce in these high altitude forests, the aptly named Poas Squirrel occurs; a species only known from two other sites.
Visiting the crater of Poas Volcano National Park is straightforward; walk the flat, one kilometer road right up to the edge. Take your time because the air is thinner at 2,700 meters (8,800 ft). Most importantly, make sure to get there before 10 in the morning or clouds will probably obscure a full view of the crater.
Walk a trail through the forest on the way back and you might see some high elevation birds and other animals. The Botos trail leads to the beautiful, jade green Botos Crater Lake.
If you arrive and find the park closed during normal hours (8 to 4), it’s best to turn around and drive back down the mountain because this means that the volcano has become too active for your personal safety. If the park is open, aside from seeing the crater and walking a trail or two, don’t forget to visit the informative visitor center and café for excellent, homegrown coffee.
Laguna de Fraijanes
Just down the road from Poas along the road to Grecia, this is a family-friendly park with its own crater lake (this one extinct), forest with trails and a picnic area, playground and soccer field. A perennial favorite among locals, it can get busy on weekends.
Several higher end hotels are found near the volcano. Some were damaged by the January 8, 2009 Cinchona earthquake but are expected to be open for business by November 2009. A wide variety of hotels are also found near the airport and around Alajuela (one hour drive to Poas).