It took me about five years of trying to finally get a glimpse of Poas Volcano’s crater on a crystal clear day. By the time I saw it unobstructed, I had resigned myself to what I thought was the fact that it was always going to be cloudy. Even seeing the crater on a partially cloudy day is super lucky because most of the time, Poas is completely covered in clouds. I mean, it’s in a cloud forest, so it makes sense.


Acidic crater lake at poas volcano on a clear day, no clouds!

On this clear day, it was eerily quiet up top, even surrounded by all those people. It’s like everyone was in awe and they were all quiet or spoke in very hushed voices like they would disturb Poas if they made too much noise.

me standing in front of the chalky turquoise crater lake at poas volcano

Also, it gets chilly, even on a sunny day. Always dress warm and bring a poncho in case it’s cloudy.

Clouds and gases mixing together to the left of the active volcanic crater.

Clouds and gases mixing together to the left of the active crater. It’s wild standing so close to an active volcano and knowing that the park has had to close several times in the last decade due to high volumes of sporadic gas emissions. Remember that time I saw the volcanic lightning show?!!!

The first time I hiked the small path to the second largest active volcano crater in the world, the clouds parted briefly, and for a moment I caught a glimpse of the acidic light turquoise lake which erupted fumaroles, further obscuring the view. I was impressed, but at the time only a tourist and completely unaware of how lucky I actually was that I got to see the crater lake, even if only for a brief moment.

Over the next five years, I eagerly took friends and family to the top of Poas Volcano, so that they too could peer down the 300-meter deep crater and see the acid lake. Despite leaving at the crack of dawn to beat the cloud cover, most of these attempts failed and our trip turned into a cloud forest hike near an invisible crater lake.

a wild dog at poas volcano national park

A volcano dog!!! This dog seemed to be on a mission, maybe hunting, running up and down the volcano, oblivious of barriers and posted warning signs.

There is a definite disappointment in not seeing the crater lake, but hiking in Poas Volcano National Park is not a waste of time. It’s super cool, walking through the well-maintained paths through the dense, eerie vegetation. Everything is wet, bringing out the deep reds and greens of the surrounding plants, and you are literally walking through clouds. One of the trails leads to another crater lake, Laguna Botos (Lake Botos), which is a dark green dormant lake. This lake, too, is elusive, often completely covered in clouds.

model of poas volcano

The National Park has a small museum, so you can learn about the history of eruptions and the park, and the different types of ecosystems in the park. You can even look at various models of the volcano, like this one… which can be horribly depressing if you never actually saw the crater lakes.

The drive up to Poas is one of my favorite drives in Costa Rica. There are several paved roads that lead up, all winding through coffee farms, tropical plant farms, and changing vegetation. Costa Rica is the land of microclimates and on the drive up to Poas, you can see the colors of the land change slightly as well as the addition of cooler weather plants and trees. And cows. There are cows everywhere and one of my favorite things to do is drive up through the mountains in or near the rainy season to see the light brown cows highlighted golden in sun against the emerald green grass on the mountains. Breathtakingly gorgeous. The only problem is driving through the mountains in or near the rainy season pretty much guarantees clouds above Poas. doh!

green rolling hills in costa rica in december

Green hills in Costa Rica in December: pretty, but might not bode well for seeing the crater!

cows on the hills in costa rica in february

Cows on yellow hills in February: not as pretty as lush green, but a much better omen for a clear crater.

So how did I finally see the crater lake on a clear day? I went super early one day in February. I’m pretty sure the best bet is to go during one of the dry months, and obviously go early before the clouds roll in. I can’t stress that enough. It pains me to see tourists arriving to Poas as I’m leaving – they are too late. You have to get there at 8am, when the park opens. So this is my new strategy: to see Poas, go bright and early in January or February (maybe December or March, maybe). Any other time of year and I’m taking my guests to see Irazú instead. Irazú is equally amazing, but in a different way, usually clear, and totally like what I imagine walking on another planet would be like.

Have you been to Poas Volcano? What was your experience? Do you think my theory about January and February is correct or is it hit or miss no matter what time of year you go?