San Gerardo de Dota, Costa Rica is a tiny little mountainside village in the heart of the Savegre cloud forest. It is known for bird watching, trout fishing and hiking. The town is the shape of an uppercase I. There is only one main road with hotels and restaurants on either side. The main road curves back and forth down the mountain then straightens out to meet up with the Savegre River (Rio Savegre). The river runs along the main road and provides a soothing babbling brook sound to blend in with the sounds of birds and winds whipping through the insanely tall trees.
San Gerardo de Dota is in the San José province. If there is no traffic in San José (and that is a big if), it is situated about 2 1/2 hours south of the city of San José, and about 2 1/2 hours inland from Dominical, Puntarenas.
To get to San Gerardo de Dota, you have to drive Highway 2. Highway 2 runs along the top of the Cordillera de Talamanca, or the Talamanca Mountain Range that goes all the way down to Panama. This mountain range is mostly covered with rainforests and includes Mount Chirripó, the tallest mountain in Costa Rica and Cerro de Muerte, the highest mountain pass in Costa Rica.
When you turn off Highway 2 to drive down towards San Gerardo de Dota, you are driving down the mountain towards the valley. The “road” to San Gerardo de Dota is more like a cart path. A cart path that alternates between dirt, gravel and paved with sharp switchback turns. Be prepared to drive slow and don’t do this drive at night. There are a few places where there should be guard rails but there aren’t, because pura vida. You don’t have to have 4WD to get down to the town, I have 4WD, but turned it off going down the mountain, because it made it harder to make the sharp turns. But if it is rainy and muddy, you may need 4WD to get back up the mountain. If you’re not accustomed to mountain driving, it may feel a bit precarious. But despite the road, it is worth the drive if you are looking for some mountain solitude. Luckily, this exciting road is only about a 20 minute drive from Hwy 2 to get to the town.
WHERE TO STAY
Trogon Lodge – The best in this area. While none of the accommodations in the area are 5 star resorts, this is the best bet all-around. They have beautiful gardens, a canopy tour, a restaurant and they can help you schedule tours. Trout from their trout farm and lettuces and herbs from their hydroponic gardens make for fresh dishes.
WHERE TO EAT
Alma de Arbol – This magical modern cafe feels out of place in the remote town. It seems like it would belong in the heart of Carmel, California, not in a tiny dot on the map in a remote Central American cloud forest. Attention to detail with presentation, food and design make this a memorable restaurant. The food is amazing and the staff are very friendly. And you can watch the hummingbirds while you wait for your food.
WHAT TO DO
Batsu Gardens – A short 5 minute hike up the hill from Alma de Arbol takes you to Batsu Gardens. It is a quiet slanted garden with a platform for birdwatching. It has bathrooms and comfy chairs and a view of the valley and mountains. Batsu Gardens is a peaceful spot to sit and gaze at nature, hike around or take a yoga mat and do yoga with a view. Also this area of Costa Rica is home to many species of hummingbirds (colibrí in Spanish), so you can sit and watch all different types of humming birds come here to eat the fruit off the trees. NOTE: This is not a tourist garden with a lot of people, it is a private garden reserved for you and your group.
Los Quetzales National Park – While only 8 miles away from the town of San Gerardo de Dota, it takes about 30 minutes to get there as it is all uphill back to Highway 2. On google maps it says “Los Quetzales National Park” right off Highway 2. Technically this is just a ranger station, the actual national park is large, approx 12,000 acres. Allegedly this park is home to more than 200 species of birds, such as trogans, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, redstarts and wrens. But bird watching enthusiasts go there for the the elusive quetzal. It is possible to see quetzals here year-round, unlike other places in Costa Rica. The key word here is possible. If it is your goal to see a quetzal you should go with a guide. If you just want to hike around and see what you see, no guide is needed. The birds share the park with mountain lions, tapirs, coyotes, deer, monkeys, collared peccaries, tayras, coyotes, pumas and jaguars.
San Gerardo Waterfall – You can also hike to the San Gerardo Waterfall (Cataratas or Cascadas in Spanish). It is approximately an hour hike and best done with a local guide to show you the ropes. (There is literally a rope you need to climb to get to the best view of the waterfall.)
Cafe Kawaha Restaurant is known for it’s smoked trout. And if you’re traveling with children, behind the restaurant there is a bridge over the river that goes to a playground for kids. It is a great place to sit and enjoy the river, tropical flowers and the tall trees above.
Horseback Riding – We did not have a chance to go horseback riding in San Gerardo de Dota, but we did see a sign for it on the main road. I think most hotels here can organize a horseback riding tour for you.
Hiking – While just walking up the main road could be considered a hike, there are hidden hikes all around. You can hike at the Sevegre hotel and then enjoy their 2 for 1 happy hour. Read up on the nearby Los Robles trail, it is a 5 mile trail that goes from intermediate to difficult.
Cerro de la Muerte – Yes, that translates to Death Hill. Cerro de la Muerte is the highest mountain pass in Costa Rica and not far from San Gerardo de Dota (approx 25 minutes south). On a clear day you can, in theory, see both oceans – Pacific and Caribbean.
Talamanca Trout Fishing – Dan Gerardo de Dota is known for it’s trout fishing in the Rio Savegre, which is interesting because these fish are not native to the area. As the story goes, trout taken to Panama from the US somehow made their way through the waters of Central America to make it to the cool clear waters of Rio Savegre to enjoy the good life. Kevin at Cloud Forest Trout is the go to guy for trout fishing in San Gerardo de Dota. Apparently May and June are the best times for fly fishing this river, and December to March is the best time for bait-fishing or lure-fishing. I hear you can catch a rainbow trout “thiiiiiiiiiiiiiissss big!” While I didn’t personally experience fishing in San Gerardo de Dota, I imagine for a fisherman in Costa Rica, it is paradise standing in crisp 70 degree weather under the giant trees in the orchid covered old growth forest keeping a watchful eye for a glimpse of a colorful resplendent quetzal flying overhead and listening to the Savegre River splash it’s way down the mountain as you wait for your catch.
If you find yourself in this neck of the cloud forest, you probably want to consider adding other stops to your trip like Orosi/Cartago on your way back to San José or head down the mountain towards the beaches of Dominical, Ojochal or Uvita. San Gerardo de Dota is also only 2 hours from General Viejo and Kinkara Luxury Retreat, which is a magical vacation destination that I highly recommend.
San Gerardo de Dota is one of the few places in Costa Rica that you will need a jacket at night. It is usually in the 70’s during the day and 60s at night.
Highway 2, the main highway to this region runs along the top of the Talamanca mountains and it is frequently covered in rain or fog. Plan ahead and be prepared to drive slow if necessary. Know that sun sets around 5:30 year-round, and almost every drive takes longer than expected.
There is no gas station nearby, so make sure you have enough gas before heading out to San Gerardo de Dota.
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If you feel like there’s something amazing in San Gerardo de Dota that travelers need to know about that was missed, please add it the comments below and I will check it out next time I am in the San José province. Thanks so much for reading!