Celebrating the Oldest National Park in Costa Rica

Poas Volcano crater on a clear day. Photo credit: Juan K Gamboa

Poas Volcano crater on a clear day. Photo credit: Juan K Gamboa

Today in Costa Rica we celebrate Poás Volcano National Park, which is the oldest national park in the country. It was founded on January 25th, 1971 and is the most visited national park by locals and foreigners alike. The volcano remains active to this day, with clouds of smoke frequently emitting from the main crater. Since 1989 the size of the lake crater has been shrinking and the amount of acid rain increasing, damaging some of the flora in the surrounding areas of the park and farming lands nearby.

Poas Volcano National Park, Lake Botos fills an extinct crater at the end of one trail, and is home to many cloud forest birds including hummingbirds, tanagers, flycatchers, toucanets, Costa Rica’s national bird the clay-colored robin. Photo credit: Juan K. Gamboa

The story behind the name Poás is a curious one. Originally, it was called Volcán de los Botos (Volcano of the Botos) which stood for the indigenous tribe, known as the Botos, who lived in the foothills of the volcano. Its current name, Volcán Poás, evolved in the mid 19th century, but there are several conflicting theories explaining its derivation. The most common one is that Poás derives from the word púas or “thorns,” since there is known to be an uncommon abundance of plants with púas in that area.

A Collared Redstart, a resident warbler species at Poás that’s endemic to Costa Rica and western Panama, perched near some vines covered in púas. Photo by Seth Inman

In the 20th century Poás Volcano started to develop as a local and international tourist attraction due to the volcanic activity of water and hot ash eruptions between 1904 and 1920 that piqued the interest of many. People were seeking new ways to experience fun and adventure, and the relative proximity to the capital, San José, made it a perfect destination. It is likely that this is how the custom to visit the volcano on the 19th of March, the Day of San José, or Saint Joseph, developed.

Poas Volcano on a smokey day! photo credit: juan K. Gamboa

Poas Volcano on a smokey day! photo credit: juan K. Gamboa

It is no mystery why this geological sculpture continues to attract visitors to this day. When you visit the park, you will smell the sulfuric fumes before you reach the border of the vivid aqua-greyish crater. The sight is captivating, especially on a rare, clear day (some people only see the crater in full on the second or third visit). You feel the power of the earth beneath you and witness one of the sources of geological creation of Central America. Weekends are a very popular time for Costa Ricans to visit Poás and then have lunch with family and friends at one of the many restaurants in the foothills of the volcano, so tomorrow will likely be quite a celebration of San José and Poás together!

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