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As volcanoes go, Poás is quite a good one !!

The laws of nature are written deep in the folds and faults of the earth. By encouraging men to learn those laws, one can lead them further to a knowledge of the author of all laws. ~ John Joseph Lynch, President, NY Academy of Sciences, 1963

As volcanoes go, Poás is quite a good one – and a definite must-see on your trip. This broad, tall, semi-conical mountain is a part of the Continental Divide – its eastern slope drains to the Atlantic, and the western slope goes to the Pacific.

Poás is only 60 km / 37 miles from San José, but a world apart in atmosphere. Like Irazú, it has a fine paved road to the top. As you climb its broad slopes, plantations with rows of coffee give way to strawberry and onion farms and finally to green dairy pasture before the 5,319-hectare/13,138-acre park covered by moss, bromeliads, epiphytes and wild gorse.

It gets much colder as you approach the 2,708-meter (8,883-foot) summit. A new welcome center greets visitors at the path to the 1,320 meter-wide (that’s 4,342 feet) active crater (reportedly the widest in the world) that surrounds a deep, turquoise-blue lake. A wooden viewing platform lets you look down at the surreal landscape in the crater – great for photos – and the windswept lake.

Poás is semi-active, with several vents that send steam and gas rising from the edge of its crater lake. We once watched a volcanologist in his “spacesuit” taking samples deep in the crater where a vent steams almost continuously. Its last serious eruptions were in 1989, when a sulfur blow caused acid rain that destroyed 75% of Grecia’s coffee crop. In 1994 fear of an eruption caused the evacuation of tourists.

The crater that holds the lake is the fifth vent created during Poás’ active life. Hiking trials fork off from the paved road, leading to Lake Botos, a quiet lake formed in the third crater and surrounded by thick vegetation. Clouds sweep across your path suddenly, enveloping you in thick fog and blowing away just as quickly with the breeze. Dress for the cold, but use layers, as it can also get warm in the bright sun.

Poás is a sleeping giant that offers visitors an educational and fascinating day-trip with a truly beautiful ride to its summit and lots to do in the area. The fast way to the top from San José is straight through Alajuela from the highway near the airport. Follow the road through Pilas to Poasito and up you go. There are signs, so you won’t get lost (if you’re going downhill, you’re going the wrong way).

Since you probably rushed up to arrive before clouds socked in the mountaintop, consider a more scenic route down by turning left at Poasito through Vara Blanca, then down to Birrí, Barva to Heredia. This route passes close to La Paz Waterfalls

If you’d like to stay longer, stop at the Lagunillas Lodge ( 506/389-5842, $$), a rustic but enchanting set of bungalows 2.5 km/1.5 miles before the park entrance. Drive down the rutted dirt road through their dairy farm until you come to the main lodge. The family that owns it is trying to encourage eco-tourism to supplement or replace the dairy farm that their parents ran.

The women folks cook authentic Tico family food over a wood fire and the brothers act as guides. Horseback ride, hike, birdwatch or relax in the warm and friendly dining area and admire the views down the mountain slope. This is a very special place for very special times.

Near La Paz is the stunning Poás Volcano Lodge (on the road from Poas to Vara Blancas, . 506 / 482-2194, fax 482-2513, www.poasvolcanolodge.com, $$), built by an English family as the principal house for their dairy farm on the cloud-shrouded slopes. Stone walls, reading areas and a sunken fireplace in this large but intimate home make it feel as if it’s your own comfortable house. The simple, immaculately clean and appealing rooms are decorated with souvenirs from travels around the world.


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