Costa RicaCosta Rica

Day 8: Cloud Forests and Lagoons of Poas Volcano

Destination: Alajuela

My journey home from Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui conveniently passed the cloud forest town of Poasito, home to Poas Volcano National Park. Looming 23 miles north of Alajuela, Poas Volcano is one of Costa Rica's five active volcanoes and boasts one of the largest craters on earth.

As I approached the lower slopes of Poas, climbing from 4,500 to over 9,000 feet above sea level, a noticeable chill filled the air. I drove through rolling hills sprinkled with dairy farms and waved at local growers touting their beautiful, fresh strawberries.

The crowds were surprisingly small considering this is one of the most visited national parks in Costa Rica. Its proximity to San Jose and spectacular view of the second-widest crater (9/10th of a mile) in the world draw more than 250,000 visitors each year.

Gazing at the emerald green Botos lagoon, I had to remind myself that Poas was indeed an active volcano. In fact, Poas has erupted several times over the past century, sending massive ash clouds into the air. The park is blanketed in giant ferns and poor man's umbrella plants, their leaves nearly three feet in diameter. The acid rains generated by the volcano allow few other species to flourish in the area.

From the lookout to the crater, I could smell the sulphuric gas that gurgled from the volcanic fumaroles. The crater was only partially obstructed by clouds, which quickly rolled in and out throughout the morning.

I hiked a couple of the park's cloud forest trails to other dormant lagoons, and later visited an onsite museum that chronicles the history of the volcano. Without a doubt, the best time to visit Poas is during the dry season (December through April), when crater visibility is most consistent. Although I was visiting in July, during peak rainy season, I still managed to get a glimpse of the crater.

Following the scenic road towards Vara Blanca, I stopped for the evening at Poas Volcano Lodge, a delightful inn that I had always wanted to visit. Nestled between Poas and Barva volcanoes, the lodge sits on a high-altitude ridge which divides the country's Pacific and Atlantic zones.

Built in 1970 by Briton Michael Cannon and his wife, the lodge's architecture conjures up images of an English cottage with its exposed beam ceilings, sweeping arches and rough-hewn walls made of stone. What began as a family homestead transformed over the years into an intimate lodge with twelve well-appointed rooms.

My junior suite came equipped with a large bathtub, in-room heater, wireless internet and a French Press for morning coffee or tea. Rates at the lodge also include their famous farmhouse breakfast, complete with home-baked bread and fresh milk from the dairy.

I couldn't help but feel like I was in the English countryside. Docile dairy cows mingled on the property's working dairy farm which encompasses miles of green pastures along the foothills of Poas Volcano. That afternoon I took a stroll on one of the lodge's trails, where guests can often spot black-chested hawks, bush tanagers, scintillant hummingbirds, mountain robins and the emerald toucanet.

Later on, I joined other guests in the lodge's living room where folks relaxed around a large sunken fireplace. Kids occupied themselves in the games room which had a billiard table, ping-pong, darts and plenty of board games. After a warming glass of wine by the fire, I sat down with our gregarious host Michael for a gourmet feast served family-style.

At our table of six, stories were swapped and emails exchanged as we shared fellow travel experiences. Warmed by the wine and good conversation, I thought this a perfect ending to an already remarkable trip.

Day 8: Cloud Forests and Lagoons of Poas Volcano in Pictures

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