Saint's Zone: Santa Maria de Dota
A region of southern Costa Rica where the villages are named after saints,
travelers will discover coffee plantations and cool cloud forests. This is a
birding destination that attracts birders from around the world. Los
Quetzales National Park is a key attraction, as the elusive
quetzal lives here.
Travel activities in Santa Maria
- Touring a coffee plantation for a half day at Coopedota in Santa Maria de
Dota is an opportunity for visitors to learn about organic coffee farms
- Walking the treetops at La Cabanas, a farm near Santa Maraa, offers
platforms and suspension bridges through a cloud forest canopy.
Accommodations & food in Santa Maria
There is a small offering of accommodation in Santa Maria and some terrific
lodges nearby, but little reason to stay here unless you are a bird lover.
San Gerardo de Dota
This area was not settled until 1952, as it is steep and difficult to farm.
During a drought, the Chacon family settled in the area and began subsistence
farming of cubano beans but eventually abandoned this for dairy farming. Needing
to supplement their dairy farm income, they stocked the streams with trout and
planted apple orchards. This, in turn attracted anglers and birders. Today, this
little farming village is famous for highland
birding and trout fishing.
Services for exploring Los Quetzales National Park are best provided out of
Travel activities in Los Quetzales National Park
- Birding in Los Quetzales National Park where flora in the higher altitudes
is very different from the lowland forests.
- Fly fishing on the Rio Savegre is good in May and June.
- Lure fishing season is from December to March.
Sleeping & food in San Gerardo
The Chacon family operates a hotel on the grounds of their farm but there are
other facilities along the road and in town. There is a range of budget to
Located in the heart of the Cordillera de Talamanca mountain range, Los
Quetzales is the newest national park in Costa Rica. It was made a park in 2005
and covers 5,000-hectares (12,300-acres) of rain and cloud forest. The
elevations are between 2000-3000m (6,600-10,000 ft) where there are streams,
lakes and considerable biodiversity because of the Savegre watershed.
The park was named for the ruby red quetzal and is one of the many birds that
call this park home. This park is a bird watching paradise and some of the birds
that are sited include sooty robins, great tinamous robins, trogons, and
The park does not have any visitor facilities. There is a waterfall in the
park that can be reach via San Gerardo by going to the end of the trail. But,
it's worth inquiring about the directions before heading in.
San Isidro de El General
San Isidro de El General is located in the Valle de el General in southern
Costa Rica's largest town. It's located on the foothills of the Cordillera
Talamanca where the peaks of Cerro Chirripo are visible.
Services in this town include banking, Internet, park office, and medical
Travel activities in San Isidro de El General
- Birding with a tour company or own one's own.
- Rafting on the Rios Savegre and Division with an adventure tour company.
- Learning Spanish where longer-term options are available.
- Touring a coffee plantation.
Accommodations & food in San Isidro de El General
A good selection of accommodation and food from budget to midrange are
available. There are also lodges and hotels nearby.
A 142-hectare (350-acre) bird sanctuary, this reserve is located on the lower
slopes of Chirripo near the community of Santa Elena which is 15-km (9 mi)
southeast of San Isidro. Run by the Tropical Science Center, this sanctuary was
the home of the late Dr. Alexander Skutch who was a co-author of Birds of
The Valle del Rio Chirripo runs deeply into the Talmancas northeast of San
Isidro and is fed by waters from Chirripo. Costa Rica's highest mountain,
Chirripo, stands at 3,819m (12,600 ft) and offers spectacular scenery, great
fishing and hiking.
Scenic Drive: Rio Chirripo Valley
- Rivas is a little village about 6-km (3.5 mi) east of
San Isidro and has a famous giant rock called Rock of the Indian.
- Rancho La Botija is a coffee and fruit plantation that is
150 years old and offers trails and a cafe.
- Asociacion Montana Verde is a local environmental
organization that welcomes visitors to tour their demonstration farm which has a
tree nursery and organic coffee processing plant.
- Cannan is located 18-km north of San Isidro and brings
visitors to San Gerardo de Rivas.
- Cloudbridge Nature Reserve
is a private reserve and reforestation project with 12-km (7.5 mi) of trails and
boasts more than a dozen waterfalls.
- Aguas Termales is reached by following a side road upstream
along the Rio Blanco for 3-km (2 mi).
- Herradura is located beyond the Aguas Termales and offers
more hiking including trails to Cerro Chirripo and Cerro Uran.
Chirripo National Park
Chirripo National Park is located about 150km (94 mi) south of San Jose and
covers 43,700- hectares (108,000-acres) of land and is Costa Rica's principal
mountain park. The landscape of this park is diverse and includes flatlands, oak
forests, fern groves, swamps, cloud forests, lakes and peaks that reach 3,500m
(12,500 ft). Mount Chirripo is the highest peak in Costa Rica.
A series of glacial lakes have given the park its name "Chirripo" which means
eternal waters. This area is not unique in vegetation to the rest of Costa Rica
but it has oak trees that tower over the canopy. And, the plants that grow up
the trunks of larger trees do exceptionally well in this climate. Unfortunately,
the cloud forest is being destroyed by clearing for agriculture.
Chirripo National Park is home to several endangered bird species — the
resplendent quetzal and the harpy eagle. The
bird watching in this national park is outstanding. In addition to birding,
there are reptiles and mammals such as the spider monkey,
capuchin, rabbit coyote, green spiny lizard and the alligator lizard.
Hiking in Chirripo National Park
It is possible to ascend Mount Chirripo, as a trail leads to the summit. This
trail is 16-km (10 mi) long and easy to follow. It does not require technical
climbing ability but requires reasonable fitness. Visitors need advanced
reservations to book the hostel.
The hike takes at least two days. The park entrance is at San Gerardo de
Rivas. It is open from 4 a.m. to 10 p.m. It is recommended to leave early to
make it to the hostel, as it will take seven or more hours to get to the hostel.
Please note that the estimated times are dependent on fitness and there are
reports of hikers who took more than ten hours. The most difficult part of the
trail is the hike to the hostel.
Temperatures can drop below 0°C
(30°F) at night. It is recommended to bring
appropriate adventure travel gear for these conditions.
The weather ranges and is dependent upon elevation. Near the summit winds of
nearly 165 kph (100 mph) have been recorded.
Heat stroke can also be a problem especially with the rapid rates of
dehydration in the humidity, the exertion of climbing and the incredible
intensity of the sun.
This is a farming village and there isn't much here. There are accommodations
along the road for those visiting Cerro Chirripo. Near the village is the
Cloudbridge Nature Preserve where visitors can stroll through the cloud forest.
Travel activities in San Gerard de Rivas
- Walking at the Cloudbridge Nature Preserve on a network of trails where
visitors will see vibrant bird species including the emerald toucanet.
- Visiting the Catarata Pacifica waterfalls which are located near the
entrance of the Cloudbridge Nature Preserve.
- Soaking in the thermal hot springs just 2-km (1.25 mi) north of San Gerardo.
- Hiking to Cerro Chirripo which is a 2-day hike and requires a permit
obtainable at the ranger station. To arrange permits in advance call 200-5348.
There are tour outfitters who offer this excursion.
Accommodations & food in San Gerard de Rivas
Accommodations are located on the road which runs parallel to the river. They
run uphill from south to north and offer a considerable amount of diversity in
price and quality.
This is a 7,500-hectare (18,500-acre) biological reserve and a working farm
where a group lives an independent, sustainable community. Visitors can stay and
work on the farm where there's an opportunity to explore the remote wilderness
and communities around the reserve. Foreigners and locals, together, run this
community and offer tours to visitors.
Travel activities in Durika Biological Reserve
- Touring an indigenous village of Ujarras can be arranged through the
- Discovering the local culture on a week-long journey can also be arranged;
this is called the Shaman tour.
- Hiking on the grounds is also a possibility and there are waterfalls to
- Working on the farm and experiencing the lifestyle directly is the ultimate
activity at this reserve.
Boruca Indigenous Reserve
A celebrated craftspeople, the Brunka continue to produce crafts to survive.
This indigenous group is famous for their ornate masks, which are carved from
balsa or cedar, and sometimes colored with natural dyes and acrylics. It is
believed that this group is descendant of several different indigenous groups,
including the Coto, Quepos, Turrucaca, Burucac and Abubaes. Today, this group
can be found in the villages of Rey Curre.
Travel activities in Boruca Indigenous Reserve
- Traveling to a small cooperative where handicrafts are sold by local artisans.
- Exploring a museum where exhibits are on display.
- Visiting during the festival known as Danza del los Diablitos (dance of the
little devils) which takes place from December 31 to January 1 in Boruca and
from February 5-8 in Curre. This festival symbolizes the struggle between the
Spanish and the indigenous population.
- Touring the area with a local guide arranged through a regional association
and see art displays, handicraft demonstrations, and storytelling.
A convenient base to visit La Amistad International Park and Wilson Botanical
Garden, this is an infrequently visited area. San Vito, however, is culturally
diverse as it was founded by Italian
immigrants in the 1950s and Italian is still spoken.
The Guaymi de Coto Brus Indigenous Reserve is nearby and often the women of
this group are found in town in their traditional dress.
The drive north from Neily is scenic and there are some superb views of the
lowlands from San Vito to San Isidro.
Travel activities in San Vito
- Exploring the garden trails of the Finca Cataros park.
- Touring the 12-hectare (30-acre) Wilson Botanical Garden
internationally known for its collection of plant species including those near
Accommodations & food in San Vito
There's a small choice of budget to mid-range accommodation in town with a
number of local restaurants and sodas.
Located 6-km south of San Vito, this biological research station is a
botanist's dream destination. The center is comprised of a 266-hectare
(650-acre) forest reserve and offers mid-elevation tropical rainforest plants,
including orchids, ferns, aeroids and bromeliads. This forest is a vital reserve
for pacas, anteaters, opossums, kinkajous,
armadillos, tayras, porcupines, monkeys,
cats, sloths and 35 species of
There's a 10-hectares (24-acre) botanical garden established by Robert and
Catherine Wilson in 1963. There are 10-km (6.25mi) of well-maintained trails. As
well, there are greenhouses with large collections of ferns, elhorns and
La Amistad National Park is the largest park in Costa Rica and covers 1,950
sq. km (752 sq. mi) which is about 194,000-hectares (479,000-acres) and covers
about 12% of Costa Rica's protected park area. In 1983, this national park
was given the status of a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. La Amistad is adjacent
to Chirripo and much of the park is not accessible.
Protecting a considerable part of the Cordillera de Talmanca mountain range,
the park continues on the Panamanian side which makes this park valuable to
ecologists This park protects habitats that include tropical
rainforest, cloud forest and the tundra-like paramo ecosystem. Much of Costa
Rica's virgin forests are found in this national park and two-thirds of the
total fauna species are living here. Tropical rainforest has covered most of the
area since the last glaciation which was 25,000 years ago. Of the 12 life zones
in Costa Rica, at least nine occur in Amistad National Park.
The park contains mountain peaks that are higher than 3,000m (9,900 ft),
including the peaks of Chirripo. The slopes of this park lead east and west. In
the east the elevation is as high as 145m (480 ft) while in the west the
elevation tops 3,500m (11,500 ft).
Species found in this park include:
- Neotropical cats: jaguar, margay, ocelot, oncilla and jaguarundi.
- 500 bird species: yellow-green finch, bare-necked umbrella bird, resplendent
quetzal three-wattled bellbird, black guan, harpy eagle, created eagle, solitary
eagle, orange-breasted falcon, toucans and hummingbirds.
- 260 reptile species: large reptiles, lizards and mountain salamanders.
- 115 fish species.
A large park that has a variety of weather, it's difficult to make
generalizations about the weather for the entire park. The lower elevations of
the Caribbean side are wet, hot and humid. The Pacific side has higher
elevations, and the weather is usually cool and damp near the entrance stations,
and is cooler at higher elevations. Average temperatures of around 26 °C (79 °F)
are common on the lower east slopes. It can drop below freezing at night on the
peaks and ridges. The driest months are February and March.