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.
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.
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.
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!
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?