Costa Rica’s Other Cloud Forest: Los Quetzales National Park

If you’re visiting one of Costa Rica’s many beach towns on the Central Pacific Coast, like Manuel Antonio, Uvita, or Dominical, check out Los Quetzales National Park for a chance to see the cloud forest. Even though it’s only a short distance from the Central Pacific, Los Quetzales offers travelers a whole different kind of experience. The climate is cool and fresh, and due to its location high atop the Talamanca mountains, the park is typically entrenched in a haze of thick clouds. Moss-covered hardwoods, alpine plants, highland birds, and other flora and fauna that live only at such extreme elevations frequent the park; though the main draw is the chance to spot the park’s namesake Resplendent Quetzal, an exotic crimson and iridescent green bird with flowing tail feathers. Los Quetzales National Park isn’t well covered in the guidebooks so we wanted to share our experiences to help you plan your visit.


Los Quetzales Cloud Forest San Gerardo de Dota Costa Rica Picture

Getting There

Though Los Quetzales National Park encompasses a massive 5,000 hectare (12,000 acre) swath of land in south central Costa Rica, most visitors access the park via the ranger station near the town of San Gerardo de Dota. This small ranger station is located at mile marker 76 near Cerro de la Muerta on the Interamericana highway. It’s about an hour and a half from San José, one hour from San Isidro del General, and two hours from Dominical. Four-wheel drive is not necessary to reach the ranger station, as the highway (though very windy and steep) is smooth and nicely paved. An important consideration if you’re visiting the park on a day trip is to arrive early. Visibility at the top of the mountain can be difficult in the afternoon when the rain and clouds roll in. You don’t want to be navigating the curvy highway at night in the fog so be sure to plan your trip accordingly.


The park contains eight trails of varying length and difficulty. For a day trip, you can easily walk the loop near the ranger station (Sendero Ojo de Agua & Camino Público) in five or six hours and still have plenty of time to stop and search for Quetzals. Tip: Don’t spend too much time stopping during the beginning of your trek. Most of the birds and wildlife we saw were in the lower cloud forest towards the end of the Ojo de Agua trail, and we wished we had more time to spend there before heading back to the ranger station. If you are staying locally, there is also a much longer, nine kilometer (5.6 mile) long trail that runs from the ranger station to San Gerardo de Dota.

Here is a trail map with more detail.

What You’ll See

Since the park is 2,000-3,000 meters (6,500-9,800 feet) above sea level, the flora and fauna are a lot different from what you’ll see at lower altitudes. In the montane and premontane forest lives a multitude of birds and animals, many of which don’t exist anywhere else in Costa Rica.


Hummingbird High Altitude Costa Rica Picture



More than 200 species of birds have been spotted in the park. On our visit, we weren’t lucky enough to spot a Respledent Quetzal but did see beautiful trogans, hummingbirds, redstarts, wrens, and woodpeckers. Tip: If you really want to see a Resplendent Quetzal, hire a guide in San Gerardo de Dota. Quetzals are shy birds so it’s best to go with someone who knows where to find them.


The park is home to Baird’s Tapir, collared peccaries, tayras, coyotes, deer, monkeys, pumas, jaguars, and other big cats. A highlight of our visit was a near-sighting of a Baird’s Tapir. We heard this giant creature clumsily tromping through the dense forest along the trail just meters from where we were walking. We also found some puma (mountain lion) tracks which we confirmed when we showed the ranger this photo.


Puma Print Costa Rica Picture

What to Wear

Temps in this mountainous region average 65-70° F (18-21° C) during the day and cooler at night. With the mist, it can feel downright cold so be sure to wear light pants and dress in layers. Most importantly, don’t forget a rain jacket. Even if it looks bright and sunny in the morning, rain and mist can move in quickly. Tip: There is a large cafeteria-style restaurant across the highway from the ranger station where you can warm up with a cup of coffee if you do get the chills. The ranger station also has a changing room.

Park Admission: $10

Hours: 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.


Mountains Los Quetzales National Park San Gerardo de Dota Costa Rica Picture


Los Quetzales National Park is a great addition to your Costa Rica travel itinerary. The cloud forest is unlike any other climate in Costa Rica and definitely worth a stop. Due to its location in south central Costa Rica, Los Quetzales is easy to get to from the popular beach towns on the Central Pacific Coast. And unlike Monteverde to the north, the Los Quetzales cloud forest is off-the-tourist trail for those seeking a more authentic travel experience.

For other activities and hotel recommendations in the San Gerardo de Dota area, check out our post, San Gerardo: A Hideaway in the Cloud Forest.

Post by: Jennifer Turnbull-Houde & Matthew Houde