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How to Visit Poas Volcano from San Jose (3 Best Ways!)

How to Visit Poas Volcano from San Jose (3 Best Ways!)

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Would you pass up the chance to visit an active volcano with a bubbling crater lake? No, neither would we, and that’s why we consider Poas Volcano a true must-visit from the Costa Rican capital of San Jose.

Don’t worry, you can safely view the crater from an observation deck, so it’s not like you’re going to be swallowed up by hot lava (and eruptions here are very mild, anyway). But what you might be worrying about is how to actually get yourself to the volcano. 

If that’s the case, we’re here to help! We used to live in Costa Rica (and come back often), so we’ve visited Poas Volcano many times from San Jose. We’ve done this using several different transport options, so stay tuned to find out which one suits you best.

Our Favorite Way to Get to Poas Volcano

Daniel drives our rental car in Costa Rica
Driving to Poas Volcano

The freedom of driving ourselves is why we like renting a car and making the trip to Poas Volcano. It’s pretty simple to plug Poas Volcano National Park (or Poas Volcano Parking Lot) into a GPS and head straight there! The drive from San Jose to Poas is about 1.5 hours and it’s super scenic – although the road is narrow and winding. That said we’ve lived and traveled across the country, so we are very comfortable driving here. The disadvantage is that you must pre-book tickets and arrive for a certain time slot.

If you need a vehicle, we recommend Discover Cars for the best rental car deals. And if you’re new to driving here, check out our tips on driving in Costa Rica!

If you don’t feel confident making the drive and would rather not worry about pre-booking your own tickets, we’ll go through the best tours from San Jose below. But if you want to book now, this full-day adventure tour includes time at Poas along with a coffee plantation and the stunning La Paz Waterfall. This 3-in-1 tour is an excellent choice if you want to check out Poas without worrying about transportation or booking tickets separately.

How to Get to Poas Volcano from San Jose

Views on the drive up to Poas Volcano
The views along the way are amazing!
A car drives along the beautiful country road to Poas Volcano, Costa Rica
The drive is beautiful!

There are three options to get to Poas from San Jose – drive yourself, join a tour, or take the bus. Each has its pros and cons, so we will go through them all here!

1. Drive yourself (rental car)

Three people take a selfie with a rental car in Costa Rica
Renting a car is a great option!

Getting around Costa Rica can require some creative thinking at times, but one thing we like about visiting Poas Volcano National is how easy it is to get here. The National Park is about 50 kilometers (31 miles) south of San José, and the drive takes around 1.5 hours, although it depends on the traffic and the weather, as these factors can add on an extra hour.

One of the biggest drawbacks that we’ve experienced to renting a car in Costa Rica is that road conditions aren’t always great. However, the road to Poas Volcano is paved and you can do it with a 2WD, so you don’t have to worry about the extra cost of renting an SUV or truck. 

Besides, the drive itself is absolutely beautiful. The Poas region is famous for agriculture – and strawberries in particular – so you’ll pass through lots of scenic countryside, and you can even stop along the way to buy some fresh fruit to snack on. Even if you’re not hungry, we always end up stopping just to appreciate the views! 

Views along the highway between San Jose and La Fortuna via the Poas Volcano route
Views as you travel up to Poas Volcano!

Renting a car can also work out cheaper than taking a tour – we typically find the best deals when booking on Discover Cars. There’s also plenty of parking at Poas Volcano and we didn’t struggle to find a spot. In fact, it’s only 2,000 colones to park here, and you can pay in local currency or USD, as long as you use cash – it works out at around $4 USD. 

Probably the biggest downside I can think of to driving yourself to Poas Volcano is that it requires some advance planning. They don’t sell tickets at the park gates, so you have to book them online beforehand. We always do this at least a few days in advance, or even further ahead between December and April. 

You only get a 20-minute entry slot, and making sure you arrive on time can be a little bit stressful, whereas you don’t have to worry about this with a tour. We just make sure to leave extra time in case there’s traffic, and then if the conditions are good we stop more often on the drive! 

Related Read: If you do have a rental car, another drive we love is going from San Jose to La Fortuna!

2. Take a tour from San Jose to Poas Volcano

Day Tour to Poás Volcano, Café Doka, and La Paz Waterfalls

Sunny Poas Volcano crater
Poas Volcano is such a cool experience
Bailey sits at a freee waterfall just outside the La Paz Waterfall Gardens
La Paz Waterfall Gardens!

Our top choice is this full-day adventure tour! We loved kicking off the day with a coffee plantation visit because there’s really no better way to fuel up. This guided visit is super hands-on, with plenty of opportunities to try roasting and grinding coffee. 

After breakfast and a strong coffee at the plantation, it’s onto Poas Volcano National Park. There’s an initial talk to give you a little background on the volcano, which we found super interesting, and then it’s time to walk to the viewpoint for stunning views of the crater and the milky-blue water in the lake. The hike is short and we found it super easy, so it’s suitable for travelers of all ages and abilities.

We like the fact that this tour stops at La Paz Waterfall Gardens on the way back to San José. The waterfall is beautiful and all, but what was most exciting for us was seeing sloths, hummingbirds, and monkeys along the walking trails! 

This highly-rated tour costs $155 USD, which we think is good value since it includes all entry fees, breakfast, and lunch. It’s so well-priced for an all-inclusive tour!

Poas Volcano National Park Half-day Tour from San Jose

Daniel and Bailey at the Poas Volcano viewpoint, Costa Rica
It’s hard to look away!

This half-day tour is definitely the best option for those who are short on time! As much as we love La Paz Waterfall Gardens and visiting coffee farms, if you don’t have long in San José then a half-day tour will be much easier to fit into your itinerary. 

The Poas Volcano tops our list of the best volcanoes to visit in Costa Rica. If you’re only going to see one, make it this one! So we like the fact that this tour gets to the point and means that you don’t have to miss out on seeing its epic craters and puffs of steam, even if you don’t have much time in the Costa Rican capital. And to be honest, a lot of travelers only spend a day or two here, so we’re glad that there’s a shorter tour available. 

Edgar, the guide, is so knowledgeable about Poas Volcano, and has so many stories and anecdotes to share. Honestly, for $119 USD, we think that this tour is not only great for those short on time, but also those traveling on a budget, because this is a small group tour that includes all admission fees and breakfast!

Póas Volcano and Alsacia Coffee Farm from San José

The big tanks at Hacienda Alsacia - Starbucks Coffee Farm
Hacienda Alsacia – Starbucks Coffee Farm!

We think that this volcano and Starbucks coffee farm tour is ideal for anyone trying to do Costa Rica on a budget. It’s also a good choice if you’re a coffee lover like us!

One thing that we like about this tour is how much time you get at Poas Volcano. There’s plenty of time to explore the National Park and take in the beautiful scenery, which is nice because we hate feeling rushed on tours. We also love that you stop for lunch at Freddo Fresas, a super popular local spot that does some of the best chorreadas we’ve ever had!

In the afternoon, the tour visits the first commercial coffee farm that Starbucks ever purchased, Hacienda Alsacia. In fact, it remains their only one! Of course, this is exciting for Starbucks fans but we also like that it’s a bit different. We usually opt for coffee tours at small, family-run farms, so it’s nice to shake it up a bit!

The tour costs $120 USD per person, which includes transport from San Jose, and all admission fees.

Related Read: For more wow-worthy experiences, have a peek at our list of the 15 best tours from San Jose!

Why We Book Tours with Viator

Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! We almost always book our tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:

  • Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
  • Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
  • Lowest price guarantee – If you happen to find the same tour at a lower price elsewhere, Viator will refund you the price difference.
  • Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
  • Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.

Check out the Viator website here! Or, for more info, read our detailed review about Viator here.

3. Bus

If you’re looking to travel to Poas Volcano via public transportation, the good news is that there is a bus route. The bad news – it’s not offered every day and it’s actually two buses, not just one. Although some blogs mention catching a direct bus from San Jose, this doesn’t exist. Instead, your first step is to get the bus from San Jose to Alajuela and then catch the Poas Volcano bus from Alajuela.

San Jose to Alajuela

This journey costs around $1 USD and takes 45 minutes. The bus departs from the San Jose City Center bus station at Avenida 2, right across from La Merced Park, and takes you to Alajuela with TUASA. 

From Alajuela to Poas Volcano 

Once you arrive in Alajuela, make your way to the FECOSA Terminal, between Central and 2nd Avenue and 6th and 10th Street, only 150 meters (490 feet) south of TUASA Terminal, Alajuela Downtown.

The bus from Alajuela to Poas Volcano only departs on weekends and holidays at 9 am for a cost of about $2 USD. If you decide to take this bus, we recommend booking tickets at Poas for 10:40 am or 11 am. You NEED to book those tickets in advance as they won’t let you on the bus without a ticket. The bus then returns from Poas Volcano back to Alajuela at 2 pm.

About Poas Volcano

Bailey at Poas Volcano in Costa Rica
You can see why Poas Volcano is so popular!!
People at the edge of Poas Volcano taking photos
People come from around the world to see it

Poas Volcano National Park is one of the most visited national parks in the country. It’s an easy day trip from San Jose at only a 1.5-hour drive.

If you want to get a nice view of the crater, pick a sunny day to go and get there as early as possible to avoid clouds that typically cover the volcano by late afternoon. This is very important because the clouds can completely obstruct your view of the volcano – believe me on this, I once went and saw nothing but clouds!

Since the mid-1800s, Poas has erupted 39 times with explosions of varying intensity. Some more significant eruptions have ejected steam and debris over 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) above the lake!

The last strong blast happened on September 30, 2019. Experts consider the volcano to be in a constantly active state. However, most eruptions are incredibly mild and are caused by the interaction of the hot lava with the water in the crater lake. This lake, known as Laguna Caliente (or “Hot Lake”) is considered the world’s largest geyser and is a spectacular shade of greenish-blue.

Lucky visitors (like you!) will get the rare opportunity to get up close and personal with an active volcano – there are not many places in the world you can do that!

Where to Stay in San Jose, Costa Rica

San Jose city
People out and about in San Jose, Costa Rica

San Jose is definitely not lacking when it comes to accommodation options! There are actually hundreds of hotels to choose from in San Jose, and most of them are extremely affordable! Below you’ll find our favorite options for each budget.

Grano de Oro Hotel – $$$

Want a more luxurious experience? Grano de Oro Hotel is right in the heart of San Jose and features an on-site gourmet restaurant, massage services, and a rooftop garden! The entire place is absolutely gorgeous, with vaulted ceilings and a beautiful interior design. You can walk to many of San Jose’s attractions, and you’re just a 15-minute drive to the airport.

Room rates start at $174 USD/night. For luxury in a great location, book the Grano de Oro Hotel right here!

Terrazas de Golf Boutique Hotel – $$

For a great mid-range option, Terrazas de Golf Boutique Hotel is absolutely stunning. The whole place is quiet, cozy, and clean. Each room provides garden or golf course views with a furnished balcony. They offer laundry, room service, and an airport shuttle for a fee – and they’re just a 10-minute drive to the airport. The staff are super accommodating and happy to answer any of your questions.

Prices here start at around $90 USD per night. For a relaxed and reliable choice, reserve a room at Terrazas de Golf Boutique Hotel online.

Costa Rica Backpackers – $

If you’re looking for a budget option in San Jose, I recommend Costa Rica Backpackers. This hostel has excellent ratings, is in a great location, and even includes an airport shuttle and swimming pool! They also have free coffee, a great on-site restaurant, and super helpful staff. The best part? Shared rooms start at $10 USD/person per night and a private room is only $30 USD a night. You can book your stay on Booking.com or through Hostelworld.com.

If you want to stay closer to the airport as opposed to in the city center, consider staying in Alajuela. This city is where the airport is actually located (connected with San Jose), and believe it or not, there are actually lots of fun things to do in Alajuela too!

Getting Around Costa Rica

Bailey with our rental car near Rio Celeste Costa Rica
Our rental car!

How you choose to get around Costa Rica is one of the biggest decisions you’ll make when planning your holiday here! How you do it depends on your budget, travel style, and comfort level. 

Renting a Car

Without a doubt, the number one way to explore Costa Rica is in a rental car. We book rental cars on the Discover Cars website as we have had good experiences with them in the past.

One of the things you need to watch for when renting a car in Costa Rica is the mandatory insurance that the government requires you to have. There are a lot of very cheap rentals that don’t include this mandatory insurance (TPL) in the original booking price, but there are also ones that do. To avoid additional surprise charges when you pick up your rental car, be sure to rent a car that includes the mandatory insurance when you book.

Thankfully, on Discover Cars it’s easy to tell apart the companies that include the mandatory insurance and those that don’t. The trick is you can’t pick any car on their website. In the picture below, you can see this rental car, with pick up in Jaco, includes the TPL. That means the mandatory insurance is included in the price. Any cover you get above that is extra.

Of course, I still suggest getting the full coverage offered by Discover Cars, which covers you even more.

You can browse cars on Discover Cars here.

TPL Cover Costa Rica
TPL Cover Costa Rica

Book Shuttles

If renting a car isn’t in your budget, you don’t feel comfortable driving in Costa Rica, or you just don’t like driving, shuttles are the next best option. There are hundreds of shuttle routes available all over the country, and they are very affordable.

Shuttles in Costa Rica are specifically for tourists and often include pick up and drop off at your selected hotels and airports. The drivers also speak some English, and the vehicles have air conditioning. You’ll also be guaranteed a seat when you book a shuttle (which isn’t the case with the public bus system.)

To get the best price, use the website Bookaway. They compare all the offers and prices of shuttle companies in Costa Rica so you get the best price! Honestly, we have saved so much money using Bookaway! 

You can search for shuttles online on Bookaway here.

Public Bus

Lastly, you can use the public bus system. On short journeys, such as from San Jose to La Fortuna or Uvita to Manuel Antonio, this system is great. However, the longer the journey the more hassle and time spent on a bus. It’s undoubtedly best to save the public bus in Costa Rica for short and straightforward trips!  

The public buses are definitely the cheapest way to get around Costa Rica, but they are not always very reliable and schedules often change without notice and delays are to be expected. The buses can also be very crowded and hot – so just be prepared!

It’s also good to speak some Spanish if you plan on riding the public bus since most drivers and ticket booth operators don’t speak English.

Pura Vida!

Daniel and Bailey at Poas Volcano
Thanks for reading!

With Poas Volcano so close to San Jose, it’s absolutely worth a trip while you’re in the Costa Rican capital. By far the easiest way to get here is with a tour, but we also enjoy the freedom of driving ourselves. The bus is a good backup option, but honestly, with its limited schedule and multiple transfers, we don’t recommend the hassle.

Before your vacation, check out our blog all about Costa Rica. We have blogs about everything from location guides to the best tours in town. Here are a few blogs I think you might find helpful:

Best Activities for One Day in San Jose, Costa Rica

5 BEST Arenal Volcano Tours from San Jose, Costa Rica

11 BEST Restaurants in San Jose, Costa Rica

10 BEST Hotels near Juan Santamaria Intl Airport (SJO) for all Budgets