October 2009 Road Trip: Part 3

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Flag of Costa Rica  , Province of Alajuela,
Friday, October 9, 2009

We arrived at Villas Calas after a looooong day of driving.  What started off as a beautiful drive through the mountains of Braulio Carrillo National Park turned into my own personal nightmare as I was unable to navigate myself out of San Jose.  Those who know me, know that I rarely go to the capital city and always hire a taxi to navigate when I am there, even if I have my car.  It is difficult to describe the "system" of roads that make up San Jose, but let's just say that it took me almost 3 hours before finally finding my way out of this maze.  Once on the right road, the drive to the Poas Volcano is completely paved and surprisingly easy.  The air gets cooler and cloudier as you climb and it actually started to rain the afternoon we arrived.  

We checked in around 3:30pm and were pleasantly surprised by the beautiful surroundings and the spacious chalet style cabina which also included a working fireplace.  We explored the property and discovered a large strawberry field and saw many of the cows that roam the finca.  It is so misty in this area that one often feels like they are in a dream.  Tons of great plants and flowers can be found in this region including calla lilies, several varieties of roses & orchids, "poor man's umbrella", ferns & more.  Unfortunately, we were not able to try the restaurant as it closes at 5pm, which was just when we arrived for dinner!  Instead we went back to the room to light a fire and get to bed early so we could get a good start on the morning.

We left the hotel at 7:30am and took the short 15 minute drive to the entrance of the National Park.  We were actually the first group to arrive that day, so we parked in front of the locked gate to wait for the park rangers to open the entrance at 8am.  Poas is a great bargain for locals; the price is less than $2 to enter, less than $2 to park and small children are often free.  The morning we arrived was sunny and clear, a good sign as it tends to be too cloudy at the top of the summit to actually see the crater.  In fact, when I first visited this park two years ago I was only able to see white clouds everywhere I looked.

From the parking area the walk to the top is less than 10 minutes on a slightly inclined paved pathway.  It is probably the most accessible National Park in the country and my 4 year old made the walk easily.  Because of the easy access, this park tends to get crowded quickly with the large tour groups that arrive by the bus load from San Jose.  The crater also clouds over quickly as the morning wears on, so there are two great reasons to arrive early.  This Saturday morning we were able to enjoy the view with only 6 other people.

The main crater, which is one of the world's largest, most active volcanoes at over 1.3 kilometers wide, was partially visible when we arrived at the viewing platform a little past 8am.  Surrounded by fumaroles and a layer of ash, the main crater has a lagoon inside that was bubbling and smoking the morning we visited.  The weather was really warm this trip and we did not need the 4 layers of clothing I insisted we wear, so we quickly discarded the top two layers.  ( The last time we visited it was literally below freezing and we were completely unprepared.  Even though I am from Minnesota, I do not enjoy the cold and since moving to Costa Rica 7 years ago I have found that I am extra sensitive to the cold and completely freak out when I am even a little bit chilly!)

We decided to explore The Botos walking trail, which was a fairly easy walk on a paved walkway with a steady incline and a few stairs along the way.  The walk was very peaceful and the trail is completely surrounded by tons of trees, plants, mosses, birds and other wildlife.  At times the trail was very dark which only added to the sense of being in an enchanted forest.  We we lucky enough not see another person until we neared the exit of the trail.

About 300 meters in the trail leads to another viewing platform overlooking the Botos Lagoon, which is a dormant crater filled with rainwater that has turned a surreal shade of blue green.  It is named for an indigenous tribe that used to live near the lagoon and is 400 meters wide and 14 meters deep.  Because there are still traces of acid, only a few microorganisms and algae can survive in the lagoon, leaving the water eerily still.

We stopped by to see the main crater one more time before leaving and found that the other side was now smoking.  It was starting to cloud over completely and it was only 9am!  I am glad we arrived early.  In fact, I would love to see the crater at 7am, but the park does not open that early.  We stopped in the cafe in the tourist center for some hot chocolate and a snack on the way out and passed a ton of people who were just arriving.

 Next to the cafe there is a really large gift shop and art gallery, but unless you are not going to visit any other part of Costa Rica I wouldn't buy anything here.  They have the same stuff as everyone else at very high prices.  The art gallery was an interesting walk through, but everything was over priced.

This was the end of our 6 day road trip, so we changed into our tank tops and shorts and settled in for the 5 hour drive to Playa Grande.  I will return to Poas again in search of a clear view of this often cloudy crater.  I think next time we will check out the Doka Coffee Estate too...


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Where I stayed
Villas Calas
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