Poas Volcano National Park, just over an hour from the capital San José, is said to be the most visited national park in Costa Rica. At nearly 9,000 feet (2,700 meters) the weather in the park is cool and fresh and many Ticos come here to escape the heat and relax, especially on weekends even though clear views are not guarantee.
Visitors are also drawn here because of the massive size of this volcano. Some claim that Poas Volcano is the second biggest crater in the world. At 1 mile (1.5km) across and 950 feet (290 meters) deep, this active volcano is impressive no matter where it ranks on the list. Add in a spectacularly green lake that has formed inside the very active crater and you’ve got one hell of a view. Sometimes.
At Poas Volcano National Park your biggest concern is not plumes of noxious fumes (though the park does close occasionally when volcanic gas levels get dangerously high) or the weekend crowds. Your biggest concern is the weather which is capricious and regularly covers the whole mighty spectacle in a dense blanket of clouds and fog. That’s why we had to visit Poas Volcano National Park twice.
Playing peekaboo in Poas Volcano National Park
During our first visit to the park in December the crater lake was completely clouded in. We stood in the cold, damp air in the observation area near the rim for nearly half an hour and caught only fleeting glimpses of it in the rare breaks between swirling clouds, steam and fog.
Our second visit to Poas Volcano National Park in September was a different story with clear blue skies and a fully visible lake–impressively green and troubled looking.
After getting our fill of the main attraction we quickly ascended a well-groomed and well-maintained fairly gently trail to the dormant Botos crater where a lake has also formed. Sure enough, that one was cloud-free as well.
Two ways to stay near Poas Volcano National Park
Though San Jose is close by you really want to be at the park entrance when it opens at 8 am to increase your chances of clear skies. With that in mind, it’s a good idea to stay near the park and we can suggest two very different options.
Poas Volcano Lodge is stylish, homey and surprisingly sophisticated thanks to the care and creativity of owner Michael Connor’s post-earthquake reinvention of the place a couple of years ago. For more very good reasons to stay (like fresh strawberries and awesome hiking trails and the evening company of Mr. Connor and his gregarious sidekick Beba).
Oh, and if you work up an appetite during your visit to the park, stop for a meal or a snack at a restaurant called Chubascos–you can’t miss the sign or the crowded parking lot right on the road to/from the park. This place is an institution and is most famous for grilled meat but they also served up the lightest, creamiest fried yucca we’ve ever had.
Another very different place to stay near the park is The Peace Lodge at La Paz Waterfall Gardens Nature Park with massive rooms with fireplace, elaborate stone work and private patios with outdoor Jacuzzis.
The best thing about staying at The Peace Lodge is access to their on site nature park which boast an enormous aviary, one of the best (and most educational) butterfly enclosures we’ve ever been too, an extremely popular outdoor hummingbird haven, a well-populated frog enclosure and a series of large runs for jungle cats that have been abandoned or rescued–everything from margays to pumas to ocelots to jaguars can be seen here.
Even better? Guests of The Peace Lodge can return to the cat enclosures after dark which is when the animals become most active.
Here’s more about travel in Costa Rica