Street-side Snacks, Costa Rican Cuisine and a Cloudy Volcano
Poás Volcano towers above Costa Rica’s capital city. Look up from any location in greater San Josè and you can’t miss the volcano’s majestic outline. Located only 30km (19 miles) from downtown, this active volcano is a site worth visiting. Poás has two immense craters and its unique draw is that visitors can hike out to the absolute edge of the volcano’s largest crater and witness billowing steam, shooting geysers and the occasional bubbling of lava.
From the city of San José, Poás Volcano looks like this:
When you arrive at the crater’s rim, chances are you’ll actually be seeing this:
After a hairpin ascent to the volcano’s summit at nearly 9000 ft (2700 m) and a temperature drop of nearly 30 degrees F, I stand at the crater’s edge and stare into an opaque fog. A helpful park ranger states that 11 out of every 12 days the volcano is completely covered by clouds. For future reference, the best time to catch a glimpse of Poás is at the crack of dawn – before heavy clouds can form – in Costa Rica’s dry season, from January to April.
- What I didn’t experience: breathtaking vistas of Poás’ 1-mile wide crater, the largest of any active volcano in the world and the vibrant colors of an aqua-blue crater lake and bold rust-colored rim.
- What I did experience: impenetrable fog, whipping winds, sulfuric fumes, icy acid mist.
Though my Poás crater hike was a chilly bust, the best part of the journey (think food!) is yet to come. The slopes of Poás are famous for their rich volcanic soil, supporting numerous coffee plantations and flower farms. The area is also known for dairy production including Costa Rica’s famous white farmer’s cheese, tilapia farming and growing sweet red strawberries. Along the windy descent from the volcano’s summit, we pass street vendors waving their crates of freshly-picked strawberries at passing cars.
A Roadside Tasting
We pull off the road at a purple-painted stand famous for its handmade cheese and fresh cream. I marvel at hanging rows of narrow plastic sacks filled with crispy plantains, nuts, dried fruits and candy. Strawberries are everywhere. I sample tartaras – sticky toasted coconut cookies – a typical Costa Rican treat. Twist-tied baggies of sour cream hang in the cool breeze. We open a refrigerator to reveal the real prize – freshly made farmer’s cheese. The malleable white cheese is shaped like a ball with a consistency of string cheese. The flavor is delicious and distinctly homemade – creamy and salty with a slightly sour edge.
A Costa Rican Foodie Haven
We descend further and discover Chubascos, a traditional Costa Rican restaurant and tiny inn near the village of Laguna de Fraijanes. Adjacent to the popular restaurant, the inn offers four guest rooms in a tranquil setting, surrounded by flowers in a sunlit pine forest. Chubascos prepares classic Costa Rican cuisine in an airy open kitchen. Constructed from wood, the restaurant’s indoor and outdoor seating blends seamlessly into the natural environment.
We sit outside, next to a wood burning stove and two simmering kettles of agua dulce (translation: sweet water) a typical Costa Rican drink made from boiled sugar cane. It is warm, thick and syrupy with a hint of caramel flavor.
We start with a Costa Rican snack, patacones rellenos, smashed fried green plantains stuffed with refried beans, guacamole and pico de gallo. The tiny plantain cups are packed with flavor. We sip Costa Rica’s two most famous local beers: Imperial and Pilsen. A platter of gallos – D.I.Y. soft tacos – arrives at the table piled with shredded beef, country sausage, marinated chicken, refried beans, squash and mixed vegetables.
The best part of this dish are the freshest, charcoal-kissed tortillas I’ve ever tasted. My Costa Rican companion is equally as impressed, holding up a tortilla to exclaim, “now THIS is a real, homemade tortilla!” before stuffing it with tender chunks of beef and taking a giant, dreamy-faced bite.
Chubascos is located on the road from San Josè to Poas, 1km north of Laguna de Fraijanes. The restaurant is open 7 days/week. Telephone: 2482-2280