LARGEST ACTIVE VOLCANO CRATER (in the world?): There are very few places in the world where you can drive up close to the edge of an active volcanic crater. Gasses puff from vents below the observation platform. Surrounding the huge crater is a dense forested area with a unique volcanic flora and fauna. Poas is a stratovolcano in a state of nearly continuous mild activity. Most of the eruptions are phreatic. Phreatic eruptions are steam-driven explosions that occur when water beneath the ground or on the surface is heated by magma, lava, hot rocks, or new volcanic deposits.
YOUR VISIT TO POAS VOLCANO
Poas Volcano is a short drive "up the hill" (about an hour) from Pura Vida hotel - we are 31km from the summit at 2708 meters or 8,884 feet. There are only a few places in the world where you can drive up close to the edge of an active volcanic crater, and Poas Volcano National Park is one of them.
There are two craters you can visit (under normal circumstances) - the largest (Poas) is nearly 1.5 km wide.
The smaller is a lake with surprisingly clear water called Botos. Poas itself has been described as sometimes resembling "a scene from Dante's Inferno". When the park is open, sulfuric gasses puff from vents 300 meters below the observation platform. Surrounding the smaller cone is a dense forested area that is one of the few remaining habitats of the scarlet macaw (though we have not seen macaws on our trips up there). During heightened volcanic activity the park may be closed (though that hasn't happened often).
Poas has several eroded calderas, cones, and two crater lakes near its summit. Poas has erupted at least 39 times since 1828 and is in state of nearly continuous mild activity. Explosions vary in strength. Some explosions eject material about 1,500 feet (500 m) above the lake. The lake (and steam) is very acidic, with a pH of close to zero.
We have had phreatic eruptions over a dozen times since Feb 2014. The largest ejecting about 1000 feet.
The news items below were culled from local news reports each day including Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica (OVSICORI-UNA), La Nacion and AM Costa Rica (a local electronic news sheet).
THE ROAD TO POAS VOLCANO FROM THE PURA VIDA:
Drive 31 KM up passing a beautiful coffee growing area until you reach higher elevations known for their flower growing and beautiful mountain strawberries. You will pass into a beautiful area on the slopes of Poas resembling alpine scenery with tropical vegetation. As you drive past rustic villages and mountain lanes shaded by trees you will move through different climate zones until you reach the summit - sometimes chilly so long pants and a jacket (rain gear in the wet season) are usually recommended.
Poas needs to be visited first thing when the gates open at 8am if possible as clouds invariably will come in later in the day making viewing impossible.
Some guests ask me "well how bad is it" and I say "impossible" and then "who can predict" and stuff like "well it is weather and I have watched this volcano now for many years and most afternoons you can't see a thing and the silly tour buses STILL go up" um well not our guides :-)).
But make sure you stop and "smell the roses" at Gustavo's Colibri Cafe. There's a free tasting of his special coffee blend if you remember to ask.
On the way down we recommend the Fresas Restaurant for lunch in the same area - just delightful. And the strawberries are from the slopes of Poas.
THE STORY SO FAR - POAS IS HEATING UP:
Since 2014 Poas has been heating up with increased phreatic eruptions (rocks being shot through the lake). Check out youtube and others for guests videos.
This article is from AM Costa Rica (a local rag):
"After years of relative calm, the dome of the Volcán Poás crater is registering high temperatures and emitting gas plumes that may go a kilometer in the air.
That's the report from the Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica. The agency, which is affiliated with Universidad Nacional in Heredia, said that staffers observed that the dome, a lump of volcanic material on the edge of the crater, was incandescent. This is similar to what has been observed in 1981 .The glow is caused by the high temperatures under the materials.
Lately the temperature has soared to more than 850 C., about 1560 F. Researchers don't really know because the high temperature broke the device they were using to measure the heat.
The vents in the dome are liberating quantities of sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, hydrogen chloride and also vast amounts of water vapor, they said.
Staffers went into the crater near the dome Aug. 9 and noticed that gas emissions below are agitating the highly acidic lake in the crater. However, in the four hours they were there, there was no eruptions, they reported. The lake continues to be about 51 degrees C., about 124 F. Staffer María Martínez did manage to capture a kilometer-high plume of gas jetting from the dome last May 18. The researchers also used a thermal imaging camera to photograph the hot spots in the dome. The camera is able to cut through the haze and clouds that usually are found in the crater.The crater and dome have not yet reached the temperatures registered in 1981 to 1983. The dome is easily viewed from the visitor's observation area."
The PDF report used to be available from OVSICORI (but has now gone offline - grrrrr) - the images labeled OVSICORI are from that report, other images from the Pura Vida Hotel, Alajuela.
The following is the Pura Vida Hotel log of events surrounding a series of previous eruptions
March 24th - Volcan Poas Awoke
After 12 years of relative inaction surprised scientists, local residents and tourists with two eruptions. The first eruption was at 12:05 pm when a column of water and sediment was blown some 40 meters into the air.
The second eruption occurred at 7:53 pm and contained ash and solid material that rose some 200 meters (600 feet) in height, as reported by the Comisión Nacional de Atención de Emergencias (CNE)." The volcano which overlooks the city of Alajuela and can be seen from most of Pura Vida is being evaluated by scientists. Poas summit was closed that day but all other areas are open.
March 25th - Five New Eruptions
Bad weather complicated scientists investigating just what is currently occurring inside the volcano as the colossus launched rocks from the crater. The new eruptions began at 6:50 am, but no material has been ejected outside the current crater.
March 26th - Experts Analyzing Poas Eruptions
Three more eruptions were registered yesterday in Poas volcano, located 35 kilometers to the northwest of San Jose, in the province of Alajuela. Poas entered this current period of activity on Friday after remaining calm for 12 years.
According to Lidier Esquivel, jefe de Prevencion de la Comision Nacional de Emergencias (CNE), the eruptions occurred yesterday at 12:00 noon, 4:38 and 5:00 pm. Two of them were of medium intensity, but the second one at 4:38 pm blew a column of gas, water and sediments to a height of at least 150 meters. None of the eruptions has sent material beyond the main crater of the volcano, which is 1,000 meters in diameter and 350 meters in depth. "It worries us that with the eruptions the level of the water in the Crater Lake has diminished and there is an increase in the temperature of that water," said Juan Dobles, head of the Poas Volcano National Park.
(And from: http://www.una.ac.cr/ovsi/) Staff from OVSICORI-UNA visited the east side of the volcano to confirm material charged with water, blocks and sediments from the bottom of the lake. Impact craters were documented in one area ranging from 300 to 700m beyond the source point. Crater size range from some cm to 70cm while, blocks associated ranged from few cm to 50cms and they were scattered randomly in the visited area.
Although they did not reached the extracrater area. Fine and superfine sediments were also documented and collected for later analysis. The area visited showed a gray appearance although the rainy conditions accumulated small ponds of such sediments in crevices and lower drainage.
Material collected is composed of preexistent solid material from the bottom of the lake heavily altered by the action of acid and hot conditions during the last 12 years. Some of the more friable samples consist of compacted sediments that have aggregated miscellaneous granulometries. Up to Monday 27 the tremor disappeared to resume normal seismic activity.
March 27th - May Reopen With Limited Access
Volcán Poás will be under close watch for three more days as scientists try to figure out if activity since Friday is an indication of a much larger eruption yet to come. Officials also said they wanted to plan ways of protecting visitors to the Parque Nacional Volcán Poás when it is finally opened. They are talking about letting spectators enter in small, closely controlled groups and restricting access to some areas.
The volcano crater gave out two more eruptions Monday, bringing the total near 15 since midday Friday. So far all of the eruptions have been confined inside the volcano crater. The crater gives off hot gases. Nearly 300,000 tourists visit the volcano and its crater overlook each year.
March 28th - May Reopen?
Volcán Poás blew what we believe to be a cloud of steam and ash around 6pm as dusk settled. We got a couple of good photos from the Pura Vida Hotel of what looked like the ejection.
March 31st - Still Closed
Park officials are trying to open the park for small groups of 50 starting April 1st. Park access will be limited but plans are to allow access to the main rim. Botos lake and some of the walkways will remain closed.
April 1st - Restricted Access at the "bubbling cauldron"
We took a ride to the park April 1st. 31km up the hill from the Pura Vida Hotel. Arrived at 8am along with a few early arrivals. Park is open - park guards handed out special instructions for viewing. 1 hour in the park, restricted access, 20 minutes at the rim, evacuation vehicles, ambulance and breathing equipment available.
We parked and walked up after chatting with a government official who was interested in our steam plume photos from a couple of days ago as such events can't be seen from the summit.
A brisk 10 minutes walk gets you to the rim passing the results of recent acid rain from the crater. The results are obvious on the fragile umbrella plants common to high elevations here along the easy path to the viewing area at the rim of the crater.
The sight is nothing short of "awsome" however much that word has been abused of late. A constant shifting of steam from the hot acid lake, constant shifts and changes from the many fumaroles including some with interesting martian green surroundings. The formerly sky blue lake is now a steaming white and everyone is advised to be cautious. We stayed transfixed by the constantly changing vista and the inspiring forces of nature bubbling in and around the crater lake.
Later That Year:
Continued hot spot on left side of crater, fumaroles around lake, lake at normal height perhaps a little low, periodic huge steam clouds through the lake covering the entire crater for some minutes.
Feb/March/April/May/June 2014 Update:
Each month small phreatic eruptions have been recorded by observers as well as at least one lucky guest. The largest was over 1000 feet shown in the photos above. The Volcano has remained open all of this year and as always we advise getting there as early as possible - 8am is gates open and we can have a guide for you here at 7am if you like with a breakfast to go so you are the first in.
October 2014 - Update:
A big phreatic eruption was captured by the Ovsicori camera at the crater - I just wish OVSICORI could afford a higher definition camera :-). Also the light was poor - this one went off around 5:45pm. Another big one went off October 13th - remarkable fast and explosive burying the camera in dust.
TAKE YOUR OWN GUIDE ON YOUR FIRST DAY
A day trip to Poas Volcano and La Paz Waterfall Gardens is a great way to start your trip to Costa Rica. We can bring up a driver to your breakfast table who can either be just a driver or be a guide. They will be English speaking. Have an early breakfast around 7:30am and depart for the volcano (if you want to leave earlier we'd be happy to make a breakfast to go - just ask us the night before).
If Poas is clouded over you can check with the gate and come back later (for example after La Paz). After Poas you can drive another 30 minutes around the crater to La Paz - recommended though slightly "disneyesque". We do like the hummingbirds, the walk through the different waterfalls and the butterfly garden is second to none.
If you have Type A tendencies you may be able to fit in the last tour of Doka Coffee at 3 or 3:30pm - interesting and very informative coffee tour.