Above Alajuela , the scenic drive up Poás Volcano takes you through quintessential coffee country, with rows of shiny dark-green bushes creating artistic patterns on the slopes. Further up, coffee gives way to fern gardens and fields of strawberries grown under black shade netting, then dairy pastures separated by forests of cedar and pine.
There are three routes to Poás Volcano National Park , via Carrizal, San Isidro, or San Pedro. All lead via Poasito, the uppermost village on the mountain and a popular way station for hungry sightseers.
Alajuela to Vara Blanca via Carrizal: From Alajuela, Avenida 7 exits town and turns uphill via Carrizal and Cinco Esquinas to Vara Blanca, a village nestled just beyond the saddle between Barva and Poás Volcanoes on the edge of the Continental Divide about 25 kilometers north of Alajuela. At Vara Blanca, turn west for Poás Volcano National Park.
Previously, you could descend northward via Cinchona and the valley of the Río Sarapiquí to the Northern Zone . However, Cinchona was the epicenter for a 6.1 earthquake that struck on January 8, 2009, devastating this area with landslides that claimed as many as 40 lives. The village of Cinchona was completely destroyed, as were large sections of the road to Sarapiquí, which is unstable and requires extreme caution due to potential landslides.
Alajuela to Poasito via San Isidro: From downtown Alajuela, Calle 2 leads north through the heart of coffee country. At San Isidro de Alajuela, about seven kilometers above Alajuela, a turn leads four kilometers west to Doka Estate (tel. 506/2449-5152, www.dokaestate.com , 8 a.m.–5 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 8 a.m.–4 p.m. Sat.–Sun.), at Sabanilla de Alajuela, a great place to learn about coffee production and processing. This privately owned coffee plantation and century-old mill that still operates entirely by hydraulic power offers the Doka Coffee Tour ($18; an optional breakfast costs $4, and lunch costs $7), where visitors are taught the age-old techniques of coffee growing, milling, and roasting.
There’s a coffee-tasting room and gift store, an open-air restaurant with magnificent views, and a traditional trapiche (sugarcane mill), with vats for boiling and evaporating. Eighteen species of butterflies flap around inside a walk-through netted garden. Also here: a bonsairetum, or bonsai farm. The same family, which sells its coffee under the Café Tres Generaciones label, also runs La Casa del Café La Luisa (tel. 506/2482-1535, 7 a.m.–5 p.m. Mon.–Thurs., 7 a.m.–7 p.m. Fri.–Sun.), a lovely café perched above the coffee fields three kilometers north of San Isidro de Alajuela.
You owe it to yourself to dine at Xandari (tel. 506/2443-2020, www.xandari.com , 7–10 a.m., 11:30 a.m.–4 p.m., and 6–9 p.m. daily, $5–25) for its superb health-oriented dishes, such as Greek Island sea bass with feta cheese, olives, and tomato.
Colinas del Poás (at Fraijanes, tel. 506/2430-4113, www.colinasdelpoas.com ) offers trout fishing plus a two-hour canopy tour (9 a.m., 11 a.m., and 2 p.m., $50) that ends with an astonishing two-kilometer-long zip-line run.
Alajuela to Poasita via San Pedro: A more common route to Poás is via San José de Alajuela, San Pedro, and Sabana Redondo. San José de Alajuela, about three kilometers west of Alajuela, is a village at a major junction: west (Hwy. 3) for La Garita and northwest to Grecia, Sarchí, and San Ramón. The road to Poás begins at Cruce de Grecia y Poás, one kilometer along the Alajuela–Grecia road. From here it’s uphill all the way via the pretty hamlet of San Pedro. The road merges with the road via San Isidro at Fraijanes and continues two kilometers uphill to Poasito.
La Casa del Café La Hilda (tel. 506/2448-6632, 7 a.m.–5 p.m. daily), a coffee shop overlooking the coffee fields, makes for a pleasant stop.
Buses (tel. 506/2449-5141) for Poasito depart Alajuela  from Avenida Central, Calle 10, hourly 9 a.m.–5 p.m. weekends. Monday–Friday, buses depart at 9 a.m., 1 p.m., 4:15 p.m., and 6:15 p.m. Return buses depart at 6 a.m., 10 a.m., 2 p.m., and 5 p.m.