San Gerardo de Dota is the perfect Costa Rica mountain destination for families looking for excellent typical food, access to Quetzales National Park and some of the best coffee in the world. sleepy town high in the mountains south of San Jose, Costa Rica
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About San Gerardo de Dota
San Gerardo de Dota Costa Rica is a wonderful place to experience the colder tropics and Costa Rican cloud forests. Close enough to San Jose to be visited on a day trip, (INTERNAL LINK SAN JOSE DAY TRIPS) this small town in the Talamanca mountain range offers access to the Quetzales national park, local food, and good locally grown coffee.
Dota is located in the San Jose province. There is also a town called San Gerardo de Rivas, which is about two hours away and a bit closer to the Chirripo mountain- the tallest peak in Central America.
The coffee from the Dota region is generally renowned as the best in the country. The main attraction in and around San Gerardo de Dota might very well be the famous Resplendent Quetzal, a small, but impressive shiny green bird with an impressive tailfeather. My favorite part about Dota? The food of course, as there are plenty of local sodas for you to try all kinds of traditional Costa Rican food. (More on that below).
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Location – Getting There And Away
San Gerardo de Dota is about a 2 hour drive into the mountains south of San José.
It’s located in the Talamanca Mountains close to the Los Quetzales National Park and the Cerro de la Muerte on the Pan American highway,
Although you can reach San Gerardo with a small car, in the rainy season, many diary roads for exploring require a four-wheel drive. It’s best to inquire at your accommodations what type of vehicle they recommend for the time you are planning to visit.
There is very little public transport in and around Dota- it’s primarily an agricultural town. One of the advantages of San Gerardo’s location relatively close to the capital is that a visit to this special area can often be included in vacation packages.
Weather in San Gerardo de Dota
The average temperature in San Gerardo de Dota is 56.3 °F with an average precipitation of about 143.4 inches per year. The cool weather and consistent rain all year around create a very special climate, the cloud forest.
Here, you can see many orchids and beautiful, old moss-covered oak trees, and many mushrooms. This cold tropical climate and the constant humidity due to the clouds that form every day in these mountains give the cloud forest up here the feel of a fairyland and for biologists and other plant enthusiasts, it is a unique opportunity to see the fusion of northern temperate species with southern tropical plants.
Culturally, this region of Costa Rica is very traditional, people are friendly and well educated, they live in beautiful small towns and stuff their gardens with colorful flowers they tend to religiously.
Life is dominated by agriculture and tourism has only recently developed. In the Dota region, many people still grow their own corn which they grind down to make delicious tortillas, empanadas, and the local specialty, bizcochos.
The Dota region produces not only one of the best coffees in the country but also strawberries, blackberries, and apples along with temperate vegetables.
Since this is a rural region, cash is king- make sure to have enough when you travel to the area.
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10 Things To Do Around San Gerardo de Dota
Bird Watching- See the Resplendent Quetzal
This bird that was revered by Mexico’s Aztecs as a god and can be found from southern Mexico to northern Panama, belongs to the trogon family. While the female is more discrete, the male Quetzal with its back tail that can be up to three feet long is an incredible sight. These birds will choose a constant mate and are mostly found in couples, love wild avocados and will migrate according to their fruiting. It is easiest to spot the elusive birds during their breeding season from April to June. The best time to see a Quetzal are usually the early morning hours.
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Río Savegre and its beautiful waterfall
The Rio Savegre, which starts in the Quetzales National Park and flows into the sea around Quepos is an important river in Costa Rica. Besides its natural beauty and crystal clear water, it attracts tourism with its waterfall. This little-known waterfall, also referred to as the San Gerardo Waterfall is a beautiful cascade just an hour’s walk from town.
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Stay at the Trogon Lodge
Located close to the Savegre river at 7,000 feet altitude, the Trogon Lodge is a rather elegant accommodation. It is perfect for those who enjoy the quiet and nature, delicious food, and evenings next to the fireplace.
As is common in the Dota region, they have trout ponds at the lodge and serve delightful farm-to-table meals at their own restaurant. The lodge offers trails in the oak forest on the property.
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Eat Traditional Food
One of the most revered traditional dishes in Costa Rica is the picadillo de arracache, and thanks to one of the members of my Costa Rican Food Lovers Facebook group. I know about the absolute best place to get it.
Don’t miss La Cocina de Dorita just off the main highway- their Facebook page is here.
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The cooler climate and local abundance of oak trees make the Dota area not only the most abundant in highly prized edible mushrooms such as chanterelles and black trumpets but has also led to some locals starting their own mushroom farms.
In this area, they grow mainly shiitake mushrooms in logs, which are made from fallen oaks or big branches. Some of these farms will offer guided visits. And if you keep your eyes open and your mushroom ID book at hand, you may very well find Costa Rica’s endemic Shiitake species.
Visit the Paramo
One of the most unique ecosystems is the Paramo, an area with such extreme climate that it allows only shrubs to grow. The Páramo hosts an ecosystem that can be compared to alpine highlands. It is so different from nature in other parts of the country, that you should not miss it.
Try the locally grown coffee
San Gerardo has a fair amount of coffee shops that offer you a taste of the locally grown beans. A nice, relaxing place is Café Kahawa, which also offers food including locally bred trout. If you enjoy a more modern setting, visit the Alma de Arbol cafe, which offers corn snacks and avocado sandwiches.
Visit Quetzales National Park
Open from 7 am to 4 pm, this 12,000 acre ark was just created in 2006 and is one of the less-visited ones in the country. Due to its massive size, the park has various entrances and its ecosystems can vary and plants and wildlife are incredibly diverse. The park is 6,500-9,800 feet above sea level and home to many quetzal couples, Baird’s tapirs, collared peccaries, tayras, coyotes, deer, monkeys, pumas, jaguars, and other big cats.
In the park, there are a total of eight trails that differ in length and difficulty. The deeper you enter into the park and the further you get away from roads and towns, the more amazing wildlife you will encounter.
If you are staying in or around San Gerardo, you can go on a longer 5.6 mile trail, which runs from the ranger station close to the Pan American highway to San Gerardo de Dota.
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Birdwatching in Batsu Garden
If you like it more quiet and enjoy the excitement of birdwatching, you should visit Batsu Garden. This place has intentionally been created for birdwatchers and photographers to have an enjoyable space.
The name Batsu is derived from the word for ‘small bird’ in Bribri, the language of the indigenous people of the Talamanca mountains. Natural feeders attract the birds to the small reserve of primary oak forest and amenities such as a bird photography deck and a hummingbird deck allow for a comfortable experience while observing or waiting for the perfect shot.
If you are curious to learn more about the wide variety of birds that can be seen in San Gerardo, you can join a guided visit to the Garden.
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