San Gerardo de Dota Costa Rica is a hidden gem in the woods about 1.5 hours away from the city of San Jose.
If you are looking for a quiet cloud forest getaway, this place is a must-visit. It’s a great place for birding, hiking, fishing and relaxing.
If you are interested in bird watching and the words “Resplendent Quetzals” actually mean something to you, this is the place you should visit.
We love this spot as an alternative cloud forest to Monteverde because it just feels so cozy and it is so close to San Jose.
Tamarindo is located on Northern Pacific coast of Costa Rica in the Guanacaste Province.
The nearest big city is Liberia, which is about one and a half hours away.
Juan Santamaria International Airport in San Jose
birdwatching, hiking, relaxing
Rental car, walking in the downtown area
Dry season is from late December until mid-April but even then you might experience rain
The best way to get to San Gerardo is from San Jose. If flying into the San Jose airport it will take you less than two hours to drive to San Gerardo de Dota. There is no easy way to get here by public bus, so you will need to rent a car.
You can rent a car from close to the airport (but free transportation to the rental car office is provided from the airport).
We suggest using Adobe for car rentals because they are the most trustworthy company in this country and we have a 10% discount for you! You can read more about renting a car here.
The start of the drive involves driving through some of the San Jose city traffic. This can be very overwhelming if it is your first time driving in Costa Rica. People drive like maniacs in San Jose.
After getting through San Jose you will be on a well-maintained road up into the mountains (it’s about a 7,500 feet elevation). It is pretty curvy in spots, but absolutely beautiful. Once you turn off onto the road to San Gerardo, you will hit an unpaved road which is super steep in some parts.
We definitely recommend renting a 4×4 if going to San Gerardo de Dota.
You will have to drive on the highway next to the Talamanca Mountain range and Cerro de la Muerta mountain. It is steep and curvy in parts, but it is typically fine with a 4×4 in dry season.
Tip: If you don’t feel comfortable driving, a private shuttle is always a great option. Find out more here.
San Gerardo is really small. A car is definitely helpful to get to various restaurants and hiking trails. It is not a very walkable town due to the narrow steep roads. But, if you don’t have a car I’m sure you will be able to make do.
Just note, the main national park is on the main road and not in the tiny town portion of San Gerardo de Dota. If you would like to visit the national park you will need a rental car or another transportation option.
It can get really cold here. We visited once in September, during the rainy season, and it was only about 55°F during the day and got down to about 50°F at night. Once you live in Costa Rica that is like winter jacket weather.
Although it’s much colder than other parts of Costa Rica, I think that just adds to the charm of this place. A lot of hotels have fireplaces that are always going, heavy quilts on the beds, and hot tubs.
There is also a lot of rain in this area. It is a cloud forest after all!
However, in our experience, it is usually not torrential downpours. It is usually just an ongoing mist.
Dantica Cloud Forest Lodge– This place is cozy and cute. All bungalows have a hot tub and breakfast included.
Hotel Savegre– This hotel is super nice. There is a restaurant, cozy bar, spa, and hiking trails on the property.
Hotel de Montana Suria: Really nice rustic rooms with great scenery at a reasonable price. Breakfast is included in your stay and there is an on-site restaurant.
Lauraceas Lodge– This hotel has simple but modern rooms. There is a restaurant on the property and breakfast is included in your stay.
Las Cataratas Lodge– Very simple accommodations. You can also fish your own trout in the small pond here and they will cook it up for you in the restaurant.
If you don’t want to stay at a hotel you could always rent a house. There aren’t that many options here (because it so small).
Our number one choice (and place we have stayed in the past) is:
Hike to a nice waterfall: We absolutely loved the hike to Rio Savegre Waterfall. It is definitely intense in spots (there are random stairs missing and stuff) but it was so fun! Plus the waterfall is pretty cool.
Visit Los Quetzals National Park– The national park is located out of the downtown area on the main road. This is a great day trip spot for hiking, bird watching, and enjoying the pure natural beauty.
Hike at Hotel Savegre: We hiked the trails behind Hotel Savegre Lodge and saw a lot of bird species. If you are not staying at that hotel you can pay $10 for entry or they will allow you free entry if you eat a meal there (and their food is tasty).
Go fishing: Last time we were here Thomas was on a serious mission to fly fish some trout. We talked to some locals and they told us that it is technically illegal to fish the trout in the Savegre River.
However, you can visit Los Cataratas Lodge and fish in their small stocked pond. They will then cook up the trout for you with some side dishes.
Go to the spa: Sometimes you just need a massage. The whole atmosphere in San Gerardo is so relaxing and cozy that I feel like a massage here just fits in perfectly with the overall feeling of the area. There is a nice spa called Del Rio Spa on the Hotel Savegre property.
You have to eat some trout while here! I don’t know who trained everyone in San Gerardo in service, but every place we ate was exceptionally tasty and the staff was better than any place we’ve ever seen in Costa Rica.
Cafe Kahawa – This place is amazing. You can sit outside on their nice wooden deck and enjoy tasty food while looking for birds in the trees. They make trout in a million great ways, but I recommend trying one of their dishes with smoked trout.
Lauraceas Restaurante Cafeteria– Our go-to choice for a nice dinner. The food is great! Try their avocado ice cream.
Comidas Tipicas Miriam – Tasty typical Costa Rican food with the area’s specialty, trout!
Pizzeria & Restaurante los Calibries – If you are tired of trout, head here for delicious pizza! Actually, even if you aren’t tired of trout, we suggest going here. The pizza is really good.
Bug Spray – The mosquitos can be bad here. Don’t forget, aerosol cans are not allowed in luggage, so bring spray in a normal spray bottle.
Lots of Layers – This is the kind of place where you might be freezing and the sun will come out and you’ll be so warm. Layers will be your best friend here.
A Rain Jacket – If traveling during rainy season you might have some rainy afternoons. We like to bring a lightweight jacket because even when it rains it stays hot!
– I have never felt safer in Costa Rica than in San Gerardo de Dota. Of course, use caution as always, but you will likely feel completely at ease here.
– This is one of my (Sarah) absolute favorite places in Costa Rica.
That being said, if you are only coming to the country for a very short time I don’t know if I would suggest visiting here. You probably want sunnier/ warmer destinations.
If you are traveling for three weeks or more, definitely visit!
I think that the cold weather is part of the appeal to me. Sometimes I need a break from the constant hot days (I know…you have zero sympathy for me).