Friday, February 01, 2008

Day trip to Poás Volcano

On a sunny Saturday, we set out to visit Poás Volcano—the silhouette of which we can see from our house (though it looks just like the other mountains around us). Our drive took us through the nearby town of Alajuela and then skirted a few smaller towns, such as San Pedro, Fraijanes, and Poasito. (Click here for photos of our day.)

On our way we were treated to green, lush vegetation, including trees bursting with vibrant orange and deep purple flowers. We saw a waterfall rushing down a mountainside, a large crop of sugar cane, coffee plantations, and field after field of what we’ve been told are ferns, strawberries, and even coffee growing under massive, ventilated tarps.

We stopped for a few photos as we ascended; we could see the Central Valley and all the tarps from higher up the mountain. Our ears were popping and we had to put the windows up on the Rav4, because the temps dropped quite a bit. (You can get cold in sunny Costa Rica!)

After about a 90-minute drive we reached Poás National Park. All visitors are asked to park their cars facing out, in case there is need to evacuate. Thankfully the volcano didn’t blow its top while we were there. (I believe the park was last closed to visitors in the 90s when Poás was spitting out too much gas.)

We hiked a bit until we reached the highlight of the park—the active crater. At a 1.5-kilometer diameter, this active crater is reportedly the widest of any volcano in the world. The crater has a steaming, blue-green lake. (The lake’s color changes frequently; when we left CR on our trip to the US, the pilot flew over Poás and the color of the lake was much more intense than it appeared on this visit.) Though we just saw a few bubbling emissions of sulfuric gas—which we could smell, as well—the volcano is known to have huge, geyser-like eruptions.

As is typical for Poás, there were clouds that rolled in and over the crater. Thankfully they were thin and dissipated quickly so we had great views of the entire crater and surrounding area. We were grateful for the sun’s warmth, because in addition to the cooler mountain temps it was extremely windy at the overlook for the active crater. At one point, Lauren sought refuge under an observation stand just to get a break from the gale. We knew enough to wear pants and bring jackets, but saw some people in shorts, T-shirts, and flip flops. I wondered if they realize the gift shop sells jackets.

We backtracked just a few yards down the trail from the active crater to a 1.5-kilometer trail leading to Botos Lagoon. This hike was uphill most of the way (in high elevations—whew!) but led us through a very cool section of stunted forest. The park actually has great biodiversity and boasts four distinct habitats: areas with little vegetation (such as around the crater), the dwarf forest (made of crazy looking, twisted trees with gnarly roots), a cloud forest (very wet and dark with tall trees—this around the lagoon), and an area of arrayans (flowering, evergreen shrubs).

The dwarf forest and cloud forest were amazing; and yes, we did walk through several areas with plenty of canopy where wispy clouds hung around. Thankfully we all worse sturdy shoes, as the trail was slippery in places due to the humidity.

After about 30 minutes we reached the sparkling Botos Lagoon, a dormant volcanic crater filled with rainwater (yet still acidic). It wasn’t nearly as windy at this overlook, thankfully. Additionally, the lagoon overlook is the park’s highest elevation. Dan wore a GPS that shows feet above sea level, and as we hiked, Erin kept asking how high we were. The highest we remember seeing was 8861 feet, and I think the highest point in the park is 8870 feet.

Once we reached the end of the trail we’d hiked well over two muscle-testing miles of mountain. We stopped in the gift shop for a look around and shared a snack and some hot chocolate in the cafeteria.

Not long after that we began our descent and stopped near Poasito for some lunch. The girls had some sweet aguas naturales—water and ice blended with fresh fruit (Erin had strawberry, Lauren had mango). Lauren had a gallo de queso (fried Tico-type cheese on a fresh, corn tortilla) and the rest of us had typical Costa Rican breakfast (yes at about 2:30 in the afternoon) of scrambled eggs and gallo pinto. We were so hungry, it hit the spot. It was a nice lunch to cap off a fun day trip.

¡Pura Poás!


Shelli said...

Very cool pictures! Lauren looked like she was about to blow away. :-) Thanks for sharing.

Justine said...

Ooh, absolutely loved looking at all these pictures. The crater is so beautiful and that lagoon! I bet the water is cold, but just looking at it, I can imagine it steamy and warm.