It is quite a surreal feeling to find yourself standing on the edge of an active volcano and watch the steam from that volcano rise towards the crater rim on which you are standing, bringing with it the obnoxious odor of sulfur. That is just the experience you may enounter if you make a visit to Parque Nacional Volcán Poás (Poás Volcano National Park) in the Alajuela Province of Costa Rica.
Established on January 25, 1971, Poás Volcano’s main crater is 950 feet deep and frequently has small geyser and lava eruptions. My mom and I visited Poás Volcanao twice during our week exploring Costa Rica, the first time was early in the morning with our cousin before we split off from the people we were travelling with and the second was with a tour group operated by Grey Line Bus Tours that was part of a day tour to the Doka Coffee Plantation, Poás Volcano, and the La Paz Waterfall Gardens (more on the coffee plantation and the waterfalls in another post).
I was glad that we had the opportunity to visit the first time early in the morning as the second time we were there (with the tour group) the clouds and mist had moved in and you couldn’t see down into the crater at all (unfortunately, as much as we would like it to be so, nobody has control of the weather). Our first visit was under a gloriously blue sky and you could observe the steam seeping from the lake in the active crater.
There are two other inactive craters in the park as well, Von Frantzuis crater and the Botos crater; which, has a cold, deep lake in it surrounded by the vegetation of the cloud forest. I didn’t get a chance to see the other two craters on either trip to the volcano as we were short on time and I didn’t want to get left behind. Oh well, something to look forward to seeing if I ever get the opportunity to go back again.
The park is among the most develped in Costa Rica, with a paved road leading right up to the visitor’s center (which houses a cafe, restroom, gift shop, and a small informative museum). Even people with mobility issues can make it out to the crater rim as the walkway is wide and is wheelchair accessible. From the visitor’s center, it is a short 15-minute walk to the crater and the rain-fed sulfuric lake below. There are warning signs near the crater rim advising visitors to spend no more than 20 minutes at a time near the edge of the crater due to the sulfur gas emissions in the air.
As far as volcanic activity goes, there were moderate eruptions in the early 1950s and some brief periods of activity in 1989. when the access road into the park was closed. The park was temporarily closed in May 1994, when the volcano showed some signs of activity and in July and August 1994 when it rumbled to life once more.
If you are planning a trip to Poás, and aren’t taking your own vehicle, it is worth it to know that the majority of tour operators don’t arrive at the volcano until fairly late in the morning, making it difficult to see anything before the clouds and mist have had a chance to move in, obliterating your view down into the crater. If you aren’t driving up to the park yourself, try and find a tour groupd that arrives before 10am for the best chance of being able to stand on the rim of an active volcano and peer down into the active crater.
Until the next adventure….