Costa Rica is a country that is blessed with natural wonders. From warm and scenic beaches to lush rainforests to towering volcanoes, there are numerous outstanding landscapes for travelers to explore. One of the more popular and enticing locations is Poas Volcano National Park, home to some of the most fascinating geothermal features this side of Yellowstone. Visitors will discover geysers, hot springs, and fumaroles in abundance in Poas, but its signature feature without a doubt is the volcano crater itself.
Stretching for more than a mile across and plummeting a thousand feet down, the crater is believed to be the largest open volcano in the world. At its heart are two small lakes, formed from the collection of rainwater; one of these is geothermally heated thanks to the volcanic activity just below the surface. The view of the rim of the crater is nothing short of spectacular, giving visitors a unique memory that they'll hold onto for a lifetime.
As with many destinations throughout Costa Rica, Poas Volcano National Park is centrally located, easy to get to, and makes for a great day trip, particularly if you're staying in San José. If you want to add this fantastic place to your itinerary, here's what you need to know before you go.
Know Before You Go
Before you start planning a visit to Poas Volcano National Park, the first thing you'll want to do is check its current status. Because it is subject to frequent geothermal and volcanic activity, certain sections of Poas are closed off from time to time (some for years) in order to keep visitors away from noxious fumes and gases. On occasion, the entire park will shut down in the name of safety. You can check the status of Poas on its official website.
Because of these closures, visitors are now required to buy tickets to Poas Volcano National Park online. The process is simple and easy, plus it helps travelers understand the current status of the park before they drive out to the area. Generally, when you purchase your tickets, you'll be asked to pick a time for your visit. This scheduling system is used to stagger the number of people that are there at any given time, making it easier to move larger crowds during peak season. You can purchase your tickets for a nominal fee on the Costa Rican national park's website.
How to Get There
Poas Volcano National Park is located about 30 miles northwest of San José, making it an easy and straightforward drive. The route, which takes you north out of the city through Alajuela, is well-marked. From Alajuela, stay on Route 712 and follow the signs. While the roads are nicely paved and don't require a 4x4 vehicle, they do get twisty in spots.
Unless you're driving at rush hour, it should take less than an hour to reach the Poas parking lot. As you head to the entrance, be sure that every member of the group has an ID and has purchased their permit ahead of time.
Hiking in Poas Volcano National Park
In years past, an array of hiking trails spiderwebbed throughout Poas Volcano National Park, allowing visitors to explore its expanse on foot. But since 2017, nearly every one of these trails has been closed to visitors due to the danger of exposure to noxious fumes and gases. As of this writing, the only trail that is consistently open is the short 500-meter (about a third of a mile) walking path that leads out to the rim of the crater.
It is recommended that you get to the park about 10 minutes before your scheduled time in order to queue up and be ready to go when the guide calls your turn. From there, you simply follow the guide up the trail to experience the volcano in all of its glory.
Accessible by wheelchair, the trail takes about 10 minutes to walk its entire length. Travelers will find benches along the way for those who want to stop and take a break or just want to sit and enjoy the surroundings for awhile. At peak times, the walkway can get quite crowded, so keep that in mind when planning your visit. The rangers and guides do a good job of keeping people moving along, but considering the location, you can't blame visitors for wanting to soak up all of the details.
At the end of the trail, visitors will find a large observation deck that provides awe-inspiring views of the massive crater. It is difficult to convey the size and scope of the place; suffice to say, there are few other places on the planet that offer such an experience, which includes the distinct smell of sulfur hanging in the air. The place is so unique and special that it is easy to understand why it ranks so high on the list of things to do in Costa Rica.
Note: It is possible that the other hiking trails inside Poas will reopen in the future. The park staff is constantly monitoring the conditions there to ensure that they are safe for visitors. If it is determined that the area is free from danger, access to the other trails could be granted once again. Should that be the case, budget an additional two hours to your schedule to take in the park.
When to Visit Poas Volcano National Park
In terms of seasons, Poas Volcano National Park is open, accessible, and offers great views all year round. However, you may want to plan to go early in the morning. Prior to 9 a.m., the sky is generally clear, with no clouds or mist; as the day goes on, clouds tend to collect around the crater and often end up obscuring the view.
The park is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., with the crowds being much smaller in the afternoon.
Other Things To Do
While the main draw is the crater, there are other things to do in the area, too. For instance, the park is home to a number of interesting bird species, including the fire throated and tan hermit hummingbirds, the quetzal, and the jungle soterrerey. There are also larger mammals in the forest as well, such as coyotes, weasels, and armadillos.
After exploring the national park, consider dropping by the Starbucks Hacienda Alsacia coffee farm. There, you can choose to wander the plantation or take a guided tour of the facilities. Visitors also tend to enjoy La Paz Waterfall Gardens, which offers excellent jungle hiking trails through a private preserve. These routes go past several impressive waterfalls and give travelers a chance to spot wildlife.
On the return trip to San José, you'll find numerous restaurants and bars to check out as well. There are plenty of places to find a bite to eat or relax with a cold beverage after a busy morning.
Tips for Travelers
If you want to visit the national park on your next trip to Costa Rica, here are a few other items to keep in mind:
- Get There Early: Plan on getting to the park early, possibly even before it opens. This can help you to not only beat the crowds, but also enhance your chances of seeing the crater while the skies are still clear.
- Get Your Tickets Early, Too: If you'll be in Costa Rica during the peak season (December-April), be sure to get your tickets to the national park well in advance, as it is not unheard of for tickets to sell out early.
- Bring Drinking Water: There is no potable water available inside Poas Volcano National Park, so bring a bottle or two when you leave your hotel.
- Bring a Jacket: While it may be warm and comfortable in San José, the temperatures can be surprisingly cool at the volcano. Pack an extra layer to help keep you warm. It never hurts to have a rain jacket at your disposal either, as showers can be frequent later in the day.
- Don't Be Late: The last tour of the day departs 40 minutes before the park closes. If you're not there before then, chances are you'll be out of luck.