Thursday, 2 January 2014

Costa Rica Volcanic Highlands

Poas Volcano, Costa Rica ©Solange Hando

At 2700 metres, Poas claims the world's largest active crater, 1.6km across and 320 metres deep, with a small crater lake puffing out thick volutes of acid fumes. Just an hour's drive from the capital San Jose, the national park is laced with walking trails rich in bird life, including toucanets and brightly-coloured quetzals.

Costa Rica, Volcano in the Mist ©Solange Hando

Costa Rica's mighty volcanoes are often covered in cloud and mist but this can clear in minutes and it's always worth waiting for the view, now a glimpse of the crater lake, now the new rust-coloured cone or the vast ash plain at the top of Irazu.

At 3432 metres, Irazu has claimed  23 eruptions in modern times, the most notorious in 1963, coinciding with J.F. Kennedy's visit. Like Poas and Arenal, Irazu is protected by a National Park.

Arenal Hot Springs ©Solange Hando

But Costa Rica's most famous volcano remains Arenal where hot springs and streams gush down the lower slopes, attracting scores of locals and visitors. The surrounding rainforest is a jumble of ferns, bromeliads, orchids and palms where white-faced monkeys and exotic birds can be spotted around the waterfalls. 

In 1968, a massive eruption had sparked decades of activity, spewing out ash, lava and molten rock on a daily basis. Arenal became the country's top attraction as people gathered after dark to witness the spine-chilling spectacle.

Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica ©Solange Hando

Having entered a dormant phase in 2010, Arenal now rises like a harmless giant  above luxuriant slopes and a lake where sails flutter on silvery waters and Indians sell masks and beads at the roadside. But in this small dramatic land set on the Pacific Ring of Fire, dotted, they say, with 100 volcanoes, no one can tell when things will change.

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