Poás Volcano

Poás Volcano Facts

Country:Costa Rica
Province: Alajuela
Coordinates: 10°12'00"N 84°13'58"W
Elevation: 2,708 m / 8,884 ft
Volcano type: complex stratovolcano
Typical eruption type: Moderately explosive phreatic eruptions and geyser-like ejections of water from the crater lake
Recent eruptions: Feb 2011
Activity status: active

Poás Volcano is situated just 30 km (19 mi) northwest of Costa Rica's capital city San Jose in the province of Alajuela. Poás volcano is very popular with visitors to Costa Rica because of its stunning beauty as well as proximity to the capital city and easy access to the summit. This complex stratovolcano has an irregular shape and a broad, relatively level summit area at an altitude reaching 2,708 m (8,884 ft) which can be easily accessed by car.

Poás has three craters, two of them have crater lakes. The Frantizius Crater, considered extinct, is located at the northwestern side of the volcano. The most famous active crater is located in the middle. The lake that fills this crater is very picturesque - almost perfectly circular, placid and bright turquoise blue look. Although this lake looks so beautiful, it's one of the least hospitable places for any living organisms. The reason is that the bottom of the lake is covered with a layer of liquid sulphur and, as a consequence, the water has an extremely high content of sulfuric acid (definitely not the place you'd like to swim in...). The third, inactive carter, Botos, is filled with cold water and appears dark blue.

Poás National Park

Poás Volcano National Park was established 1971 and it covers an area of 5,600 ha (13,838 acres). The park is conveniently located just 65 km (40 mi) north of Costa Rica's capital city, San Jose, which makes and hour and a half drive. The road goes through scenic mountainous landscapes with many coffee plantations than passes  through a cloud forest and ends right on the summit of Poás at a parking lot.

The main, active crater is impressive - it's nearly circular, with a diameter of 1,320 m (4,330 ft) and about 300 m (1,000 ft) deep (to the surface of the lake). The Overlook Trail (0.75 km / 0.5 mi long) takes you from the entrance to a viewing platform at the rim of the crater. The trail is on a paved road and easy to walk. It is not possible to descent to the bottom of the main crater.

The size and depth of the lake in the crater varies depending on the rainfall and volcano's activity level, but it can be approximately 35 m / 115 ft deep and 250 m / 820 m across. The area west of the crater is exposed to the acidic gases emitted by the fumaroles located in the crater and it's almost barren. You can see the effects of the acid rain on the vegetation which turns yellow-brown in color around the caldera and several km/mi downwind.

Summit Crater of Poas Volcano, Poas National Park, Costa Rica
Summit Crater of Poás Volcano. Photograph by gurdonark

The very picturesque Botos Crater (or Laguna Botos) is a cinder cone topped by a cold water crater lake. It has about 365 m (1,2000) in diameter, covered with lush vegetation and has not been active for over 7,000 years. You can reach this crater by the Botos trail, 1.4 km (0.9 mi) long and quite easy, that starts near the viewing platform branching off the overlook trail. Laguna Botos is also home to many cloud forest birds including hummingbirds, tanagers, flycatchers, toucanets, robins, or the resplendent quetzal.

The Visitor Center, open from 8:00am to 4:00pm is located near the entrance to the park. There is a small museum there that explains geological and ecological attractions of the Poás National Park and an auditorium, where you can watch presentations every Sunday. The center also has a cafeteria and a souvenir shop.

The park is open daily from 8:00am to 3:30pm. The entrance fee is $7.

When to go and weather

The best time to visit Poás Volcano is early in the morning before the clouds cover the crater and the lake. If you arrive there when clouds cover the crater, sometimes it's worth waiting - winds may blow the clouds away. Because of high elevation and nearly constant winds, temperatures below freezing are common at the summit, but they may also reach 20°C / 70°F on a sunny day.

Poás Volcano Tours

Tour operators in San Jose offer day trips to Poás for about $30-$70 per person. Price depends mostly on other attractions that are typically also included as part of the tour. More flexible options include renting a car or hiring a private driver who will take you to the park (prices, similar to volcano tours to Irazú, in a $150-$200 range per day trip). There are no lodgings in the park and no camping is permitted - most visitors stay in San Jose or Alajuela. You can also spend a night in one of three mountain lodges near Poás: Juanbo Mountain Resort, Poás Volcano Lodge or La Providencia Ecological Reserve.

Nearby attractions

La Paz Waterfall and La Paz Waterfall Gardens

La Paz Waterfall (Catarata la Paz - Peace Waterfall) is likely the most visited, most photographed and the best know waterfall in Costa Rica. It is located on the Poás Volcano flanks, only about 20 min drive from the Poás National Park, and is often visited as a side trip while on the Poás Volcano tour.

To visit the waterfall you need to stop at the Peace Lodge from where there is a short trail to the waterfall viewing platforms (the trail has many stairs down, climbing it back may be somewhat strenuous). The trail starts in the large park area, definitely worth exploring. The La Paz Waterfall Gardens include many attractions of rain and cloud forest wildlife, like large butterfly observatory, aviary, hummingbird garden, frog pond, serpentarium, trout lake, orchid terrace or other animal exhibits with exotic birds, cats, monkeys and others. The Peace Lodge also has two restaurants - makes a nice stop for lunch after the volcano tour. The gardens are open daily from 8:00am to 5:00 pm and the regular admission is $35.

Other Costa Rican Volcanoes: Arenal  •  Irazú  •  Rincón de la Vieja  •  Turrialba