As we drive up the winding mountain road, we pass small villages interspersed with verdant fields and forest. Cows munch on the lush, bright green grass—ambling on impossibly steep hillsides next to A-frame farmhouses.
It’s positively alpine.
We’re near the top now when a cloud rushes in, and we’re immersed. Zero visibility. Better slow down and pull over. And that puts us in prime position a few seconds later when the cloud has passed to see the entire valley laid out before us. It’s been just a 45-minute drive from the city below but we’re worlds away.
I’m in Costa Rica’s Central Valley, driving up the Poas Volcano to its summit at nearly 9,000 feet. This isn’t a cone volcano, like the better-known Arenal. If you didn’t know it, you could mistake Poas for any other mountain in the Central Valley. It rises gently upward. And thousands of people make their homes on its slopes.
Thanks to the altitude, the air is crisp and cool, especially in early morning and evening. And all those clouds keep things moist and glistening green. There are even pine trees here—a rarity in tropical Costa Rica.
With the look and feel of the place, it kind of reminds me of the Alps in the late spring, minus the snowy peaks as backdrop, of course.
What you have instead is an active volcano, one of the few in the world to which you can drive to the crater and peer right in (you have to walk the last half-mile or so). It’s a surreal sight, a lunar landscape with a bright blue lake in the middle. Sulfur is in the air. Smoke rises lazily. (It’s completely safe, by the way.)
The crater, set in a national park, is the main attraction of the area, and it’s worth the visit. But the drive up is half the fun.
The rich volcanic soil has made this an ideal spot for agriculture. Coffee plantations blanket the mountainside—gourmet coffee from this area is highly prized. And farmers line the roadsides with strawberries—a kilo for a couple bucks.
If you’re looking to spend a few days up here, try the Poas Volcano Lodge. Set on a working dairy farm, next to a cloud forest, it has striking modernist architecture and plenty of room around the wood fire at night for cozying up with a book.
Poas is just an hour drive or so from the main international airport in Alajuela, a perfect side trip for the beginning or end of your trip to Costa Rica.
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