Friday, March 25, 2011

Exploring the Poás Volcano in Costa Rica

(photo by Mario Ortiz)
Located approximately 35 miles northwest of San José is an 8,884-foot stratovolcano that contains one of the largest craters in Central America. Known as the Poás Volcano, or the Volcán Poás, its crater is measured at just about one mile across and it consists of not one but two crater lakes: the active and highly acidic Laguna Caliente on its northern side and the eerily quiet Laguna Botos in its southern portion.

When I mention active and acidic, it is true. According to the Smithsonian's Global Volcanism Program, the Laguna Caliente is actually one of the most acidic lakes in the world with a pH level of almost zero. This low level can highly irritate the skin and eyes if exposed. It has also erupted more than 40 times since 1828 alone (with the latest in October 2010) and considering that the volcano dates back 10 million years, I would say it is more than active. The current eruptions usually occur in the form of geysers that release sprays of acid gas and rain that causes a tremendous amount of damage to the surroundings. In May 1994, the acid fog and the sulphur dust actually impaired the vision of people in the vicinity and damaged crops, portions of forests, and even vehicles.

Today, the volcano is covered by acres of coffee farms that thrive off of the rich volcanic soil and entire area is protected within a 22-square mile national park known as the Parque Nacional Volcán Poás or the Poás Volcano National Park. It is one of many national parks in Costa Rica and much like the others it also includes dense tropical forests and a wide array of wildlife. Entrance to the park is approximately US$7 depending on the varying exchange rate. 

Visitor Center: Before exploring the volcano, make sure to stop by the informative visitor center. It includes a café (Café Botos) and a gift shop on the second floor (Heliconia Nature Store) that offers every possible souvenir available. But most importantly, it includes a small museum and exhibit hall where short presentations about the volcano and its history are presented throughout the day. It really prepares you to take the trek to the crater and witness the popular spectacle that is seen by more than 150,000 visitors a year.

But in addition to the crowds and the beauty, there is the constant threat of danger due to the volcanic activity. This activity is closely watched by geologists and it is announced that the park is immediately closed to visitors at the first sign of extreme danger. The rangers also mention that the main crater itself is off limits to hikers due to the constant spray from the steaming fumaroles.


The hike to the crater’s rim is especially easy since a paved road leads just about up to the crater itself with a short trail that takes you to the rim. Before you go, dress accordingly and in layers because it can become very hot when the sun is out but also bitterly cold when the cloudy mist blows in. Otherwise, bring your sunscreen and water, and enjoy the view. There are three well-marked trails: Crater Trail, Escalonia Trail, and the Lake Botos Trail.  

Crater Trail – This paved trail is approximately 2,500 feet in length and leads directly to the main crater. It is generally  crowded with busloads of tourists who come to view the otherworldly landscape from the lookout point. The crater lake is fascinating due to its diversity of colors that can change from emerald green to a brilliant yellow in a matter of hours. This is all due to the high temperatures and the layer of liquid sulphur located at the bottom of the lake.

Escalonia Trail – This trail takes about 30 minutes to complete and begins at the picnic grounds and takes you through tropical forests. It is the most peaceful of the three main trails. This is also where you can spot a variety of wildlife including the beautiful quetzal and the Poás squirrel, which is reddish-yellow with a tail that is longer than its body. The trail is also named for the Escalonia tree that includes an unusual pagoda shape. 

(photo by Mario Ortiz)
Botos Trail – This trail takes about 30 minutes and travels through a beautiful cloud forest and ends at the deep and isolated Laguna Botos. The lake, compared to its active counterpart, is extremely peaceful and surrounded by lush tropical forest that creates a feeling of an eerie oasis. The trail is about half-a-mile in length.

As with any high-altitude volcano in Central America, the best time to view the summit crater is early in the morning, well before the clouds begin to cover the area with a thick mist. Otherwise, you have to just take your chances and hope that the clouds part for a brief moment. Either way, the overall experience is well worth the trip.


  1. Fantastic - was just there in early march. loved my time in Central America.

  2. Hi Jason!
    Thanks for reading! Yes, the Poas is an unforgettable location.

  3. Thanks to my father who shared with me concerning this
    weblog, this website is in fact amazing.
    Here is my web-site - Specialty Crops Important for