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Thursday, 19 October 2006

Holy Smoke:€“ Visiting Costa Rica'€™s Volcanoes - Page 3

Written by Thomas Lera & Sandy Fitzgerald
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As a traveler, I find myself schizophrenic. I’m unbearably optimistic in the planning stage, and utterly certain the night before departure I shouldn’t be going and of course have forgotten to plan and/or pack something utterly essential to the success of the trip. My wife is a meticulous and organized packer, who actually uses detailed checklists to ensure we have everything we might possibly need, without over-packing.

Volcán Poás

Towering to the north of Alajuela, the mass of this mighty volcano is covered with a verdant quilt of farms and topped by a dark gray-green shawl of cloud forest. A paved road really does lead all the way from Alajuela to its 8,800-foot summit, winding past coffee fields, patches of forest, pastures, fern farms, and increasingly spectacular views of the Central Valley.


Most of the volcano's southern slope is covered with coffee plantations. (Which, believe me, you can’t get to under your our personal reconnaissance by simply following the tour signs! Take an official tour if you really want to see coffee grown and processed.) The higher altitudes, too cold for that crop, hold massive screened-in fern and flower nurseries, neat rows of strawberries, and the light green pastures of dairy farms. Only the volcano's upper slopes and summit are still covered by cloud forest.

The road forks at Poasito, not far from the summit, where the left route leads to Poás Volcano National Park ($7 admission), the one to the right toward the intersection of Vara Blanca. At Vara Blanca, you can turn left to the Waterfall Gardens or continue ahead winding your way to Heredia.

Within Volcán Poás National Park, a paved path leads from the visitor center to an area directly across from the active crater. The crater is nearly a mile across and 1,000 feet deep, making it one of the largest in the world. Voluminous plumes of yellow-gray sulfurous smoke rise from several points around its inner rim. Visitors are kept from descending into unsafe territory by sturdy steel tubing fences along a series of tiered “patios” from which viewing and picture taking are a delight. With its proximity to San Jose, it is a popular spot, particularly since it has made accommodations for handicapped persons, and gets quite crowded, especially on Sundays. It's not the place to go to commune with nature in solitude, but it is definitely worth seeing. There is a steep half-mile trail from the Poás crater that wends through the jungle another 20 minutes view of the Lake Botos Crater, which is filled with beautiful, but non-hospitable acid-laced, teal blue water. This is a much less populated spot and worth the additional energy required to reach its altitude.

We set off reluctantly after several days of splendor onto our next stop - a volcano located south of San Jose. We thought the worst of the driving had to be behind us, but what we hadn’t counted on was the muffler of our intrepid little car snapping in two. At this point, being quite the adventurers, we didn’t even get upset when the rental car person basically said, “too bad, you’re on your own”. Using what Spanish we could muster between us, we cajoled some locals into helping us, and, after they put us back together with bailing wire scrounged off the side of the road, we were off again…this time a bit more noisily. With good directions from Peace Lodge staff we arrived at our next home base in a friend’s house in Cartago in just over two hours.

(Page 3 of 5)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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