Last Updated: August 26, 2019
San Gerardo de Dota is a little known destination in the remote mountains south of Costa Rica’s capital city, San Jose. The village is set deep in a valley, but is surrounded by the towering Talamanca mountains. Among the quiet forests of San Gerardo de Dota live a variety of animals and a wide selection of birds, including the famous Resplendent Quetzal and dozens of hummingbird species. Though San Gerardo de Dota is slowly becoming known for its superb bird watching, it remains home to just a handful of quaint eco-lodges and restaurants, making it the perfect escape. Below we share tips for planning your visit to San Gerardo de Dota, including hotel and activity recommendations.
San Gerardo de Dota is situated in a rural area of Costa Rica about halfway between Dominical on the southern Pacific coast and San Jose. Since it’s only 2-3 hours from the beaches of Dominical and Manuel Antonio, it’s a great place to visit before heading back to the airport and will show you a completely different life zone: the cloud forest. Because San Gerardo de Dota is at a high altitude, the climate is much cooler and wetter and the wildlife varies from what you will find at the lowland beaches.
For driving directions and packing info, see our tips below.
Activities in San Gerardo de Dota
If you’re into birding, be sure to bring your binoculars. Because of its elevation, the San Gerardo de Dota area attracts a multitude of species (over 150 in the Dota valley alone). On our visits, we have seen a long list of birds, including the Sooty Robin, Acorn Woodpecker, Spot-crowned Woodcreeper, Emerald Toucanet, Flame-colored Tanager, Wilson’s Warbler, Volcano Hummingbird (pictured in cover photo, above), and even a Resplendent Quetzal—the stunning green and red bird that put San Gerardo on the map. What makes San Gerardo de Dota different from other forests where the quetzal can be found, like Monteverde, is that in San Gerardo de Dota, quetzals can be spotted any time of year.
Keep in mind that, while it is possible to see a quetzal year round, there are no guarantees. We had been trying to spot one off and on for over a year before finally getting lucky on one of our visits. This is why we highly recommend hiring a local birding guide to take you on an early morning tour. They know exactly what to look for when trying to spot a quetzal and where they have been spotted recently.
San Gerardo de Dota is undeveloped and there’s lots of great hiking around. Even just walking around town is a hike in itself because it’s so hilly and heavily forested. But if you’re looking for trails, head to the higher elevation Los Quetzales National Park. Los Quetzales has a network of trails of varying lengths. See our post all about the park for more details. Note that on our last visit in November 2018, some of the trails were closed for maintenance.
Another option is the trail right in town that follows the Rio Savegre through the forest to a lovely waterfall. Although this a shorter hike along fairly flat terrain, it’s a bit of an adventure as there are some bridges to cross that could really use some maintenance. For more information about visiting the San Gerardo Waterfall, see our separate post.
One of the most interesting things about San Gerardo de Dota is the trout that inhabit its cool rivers and streams. You’re sure to see locals fishing along the riverbanks, and later, you’ll find their catch on restaurant menus. Trout are not native to Costa Rica but were said to be introduced in Panama by the US military and somehow made their way north. No matter how they got there, today they’re a big part of the local economy, which now farms and sells trout around the country.
Local Artisans Gallery
Perusing the Latin American Artisans Gallery at Dantica Lodge is always one of the highlights when we are in San Gerardo de Dota. This place isn’t your normal tourist-trap souvenir shop. The gallery is elegantly designed with welcoming glass walls and carries locally made art and handicrafts. Though modest in size, it has a wide assortment of items, including Boruca masks from Costa Rica, Carnival masks from Colombia, ceramics from Peru, and lots of beautiful jewelry.
Hotels in San Gerardo de Dota
San Gerardo de Dota has only a few lodges and B&Bs but there’s still plenty of great choices. We’ve stayed at Suria Lodge in the past, a cute family-run place with cabin-style rooms and beautiful gardens. The draw for us, other than the affordable price, was that it’s located at the end of the road in San Gerardo. That made it close to the river, for the best birding, and walking distance to the waterfall trail. Rooms are simple, but comfortable, with space heaters for those crisp cloud-forest nights. $70-$140/night. Check Prices and Availability Here.
Another popular option is the Trogon Lodge just up the road from Suria. This is a larger property with clean, comfortable cabins. The grounds abut the river and are gorgeous, with trout ponds and gardens filled with hummingbirds. Trogon Lodge is also good for families and larger groups. $120-$215/night. Check Prices and Availability Here.
If you’re looking for a little more comfort, check out Dantica Lodge. Dantica Lodge is located farther up the hill and has ten bungalows set into the steep hillside. The rooms have modern flair, with clean lines and floor-to-ceiling windows to take advantage of the sweeping mountain and cloud-forest views. An on-site restaurant serves upscale fare. $115-$300/night. Check Prices and Availability Here.
More Details for Planning Your Visit to San Gerardo de Dota
San Gerardo de Dota is located off Highway 2, about 2-3 hours from San Jose and 2 hours from Dominical. Like everywhere in Costa Rica, signage is not the best; however, there is a small sign at the turnoff. It helps to keep a lookout for kilometer markers. San Gerardo de Dota is located at kilometer 80.
Once you turn off Highway 2, you’ll descend into the valley for about 15 minutes, maneuvering down several steep switchbacks before arriving at the village. The road is paved, but on our last visit at the end of 2018, it had a lot of deep potholes and uneven terrain so we recommend a vehicle with higher clearance.
Leave early in the day: Driving after dark on Highway 2 is not recommended. The road is windy and steep and visibility can be very limited when it rains or the cloud cover increases.
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Bring layers, especially for the cooler nights. Temps can get into the 60s (16°C) at night but remain a pleasant 75° (24°C) during the day. On our first visit a couple of years back, we arrived from the beach wearing shorts and T-shirts, not realizing how different the temperature would be a mere two hours away. Lightweight pants and layers for day time is recommended and jeans and T-shirts/lightweight sweaters for night time.
Bring a raincoat: It’s the cloud forest, so it rains a lot, especially in the afternoon.
For more info about packing in general, see our post all about Packing Essentials for Costa Rica.
Supplies and Gas
Fill up your tank and stock up on supplies before you arrive as there’s just one pulperia (small grocery store) in town and no gas station for miles.
Resplendent Quetzal Watching
Visit in late March or April if you can, as this is when the Quetzals are breeding and most active. You may be able to spot one on your own, but because these birds are often hiding behind thick, moss-covered foliage, it’s easiest to hire a guide in town. A guided tour is around $25 per person for 2 hours.
San Gerardo de Dota is unlike any other destination in Costa Rica and we’ve always loved our visits there. Maybe it’s something about the fresh mountain air, but we leave feeling rested and rejuvenated, ready to plan our next visit.
Last Updated: August 26, 2019
Have you ever visited a cloud forest? What did you think?