Poas Volcano National Park: The Complete Guide

A view of a massive volcanic crater with clouds moving over it.

Matteo Colombo / Getty

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Parque Nacional Volcán Poás

5QX6+6JW Parque Nacional Volcán Poas, Provincia de Alajuela, Valverde Vega, Costa Rica
Phone +506 2482 2165

Costa Rica is a country blessed with many 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 in the world—not to mention an enormous active volcano. Visitors will discover geysers, hot springs, and fumaroles in abundance in Poas, but its signature feature without a doubt is the volcano crater itself.

Things to Do

The volcano crater at Poas is the largest open volcano in the world, stretching for more than a mile in diameter and plummeting a thousand feet down. At its heart are two small lakes formed from the collection of rainwater, and 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.

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 grey-breasted wood wren. There are also larger mammals in the forest as well, such as coyotes, weasels, and armadillos.

Entrance to the park is limited and advance tickets are necessary. You must purchase your tickets online where you'll be able to choose the date and exact time for your entry.

After exploring the national park, consider dropping by the nearby Starbucks Hacienda Alsacia coffee farm. There, you can choose to wander the plantation or take a guided tour of the facilities. Even if you have a Starbucks back home, enjoying a cup of coffee right from the farm is a one-of-a-kind experience.


In years past, an array of hiking trails spiderwebbed throughout Poas Volcano National Park, allowing visitors to explore its expanse on foot. In 2017, many trails closed to visitors due to the danger of exposure to noxious fumes and gases. The only trail that is consistently open is the short 500-meter (about a third of a mile) walking path that leads out to a vista point on the rim of the crater. Gas levels are monitored daily and, based on the readings, other trails around the park may be open as well.

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.

The trail only 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. 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.

Where to Stay Nearby

Because Poas Volcano is so close to Costa Rica's capital city, many visitors sleep in San Jose and just make a day trip to the national park. But there are also closer options with unique accommodations for those who want to get out of the city.

  • La Paz Waterfall Gardens and Peace Lodge: This exciting resort is a favorite for families. It's located in the rain forest and includes a wildlife refuge, butterfly garden, snake house, jungle hikes, and natural waterfalls. Plus, it's one of the closest options to the national park and just 30 minutes away from the entrance.
  • Casa Orquídeas: This no-frills boutique hotel in San Jose only has seven rooms, so you can rest assured that you'll be taken care of by the family who runs it. There are also common rooms to mingle and socialize with other guests, which is a plus for solo travelers who don't want to sleep in a hostel. It's about 90 minutes by car from the national park entrance.
  • Apartotel La Sabana: This centrally-located accommodation gets its name because it offers apartment-style rooms with full kitchens but the amenities of a hotel like room service and concierge. It's just over an hour away from the national park but within walking distance of many of San Jose's best spots.

For even more options of where to sleep, check out the best hotels in San Jose.

How to Get There

Poas Volcano National Park is located about 30 miles northwest of San Jose, 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 four-wheel drive vehicle, they do get twisty in spots.

Unless you're driving at rush hour, it should take about an hour to reach the Poas parking lot from San Jose. 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.

If you don't have a vehicle, there's also a public bus that leaves from the station in the center of Alajuela and goes to the national park entrance. The Alajuela city center is close to the San Jose International Airport.


The main trail that leads to the rim of the volcano with the sweeping views of the crater is paved and wheelchair accessible. There is also a visitor's center with some information about the geology of the park and how it was created, and it is also fully accessible.

Tips for Your Visit

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • There is no potable water available inside Poas Volcano National Park, so bring a bottle or two when you leave your hotel.
  • While it may be warm and comfortable in San Jose, 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.
  • 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.
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Poas Volcano National Park: The Complete Guide