Paradise for bird watchers and hikers alike, the tranquil cloud forest of San Gerardo de Dota feels a world away from Costa Rica’s busier tourist attractions. At first the 85 kilometre drive south east from San Jose to reach this sleepy hamlet seems fairly straightforward, with much of the journey following the the famous Pan American Highway. However as you reach the edge of the imposing Talamanca mountain range and ominously-named Cerro de la Muerte (‘hill of death’), a dramatic nine kilometre descent down twisting roads brings you to the bottom of the valley and San Gerardo itself, intersected by the roaring Savegre river.
Though the average altitude of San Gerardo is around 2200 metres, the subtle differences in elevation throughout the region’s forests engender a variety of ecosystems and as a result, an impressive proliferation of highland birds (over 170 species recorded in the wider area). San Gerardo’s most famous resident, however, is the resplendent quetzal. A remarkably beautiful bird, one-time revered by the Aztec and Maya civilisations, it is impossible not to be mesmerised by the quetzal’s shimmering turquoise wings, vivid scarlet chest and fluffy emerald crest. San Gerardo is the only place in Costa Rica that boasts year-round sightings of the quetzal.