Santa Maria de Dota
Last Updated: Jan 23, 2012
Santa Maria de Dota Snapshot
Summary: Small mountain town best known for shade-grown coffee and birdwatching; coffee mill tours and excellent resplendent quetzal watching.
Landscape: Cloud Forest, Mountains, River
Attractions: Highland Rivers, Los Quetzales National Park, Waterfalls
Activities: Bird & Wildlife Watching, Coffee Tours, Hiking
Caters to: Families, Independent Travelers, Nature Lovers
In the cool, mountainous highlands of south-central Costa Rica, a picturesque valley gives way to Santa Maria de Dota. This peaceful town once witnessed political unrest, when Jose "Pepe" Figueres headquartered his troops – and their prisoners – here in 1948. Today, the only sign of Santa Maria's partisan history are several memorials in the central park.
Location: 40 miles south of San Jose
Average Temperature: 65-75°F
Altitude: 5,100 feet above sea level
Santa Maria is best known for the shade-grown Tarrazu coffee that flourishes in the region's volcanic soils. Coopedota, the local coffee cooperative, offers tours to coffee plantations and a working coffee mill. Guests will learn about the processes of coffee cultivation, picking, drying and roasting, and have a chance to sample each roast.
Temperatures in Santa Maria de Dota hover around 75º F during the day, providing the perfect weather for hiking and wildlife watching. The Savegre and Naranjo Waterfalls are excellent half-day hikes, while excursions to Los Quetzales National Park offer the chance to spot tapirs, woodpeckers, coyotes and the elusive resplendent quetzal.
Santa Maria is home to about 4,000 residents. There is an ATM and bank downtown, in addition to several restaurants, convenience stores and other basic amenities. A small selection of villas, modest hotels and bed and breakfasts serve travelers to the area.
With over 200 bird species, Santa Maria de Dota is known for excellent birding. The town's high elevations attract woodpeckers, hummingbirds, falcons, warblers, owls and trogons, including the spectacular resplendent quetzal. Quetzal watching tours are available year-round, though the birds are most often spotted in April and May.
The cool mountain slopes of Santa Maria are ideal for coffee growing, and this region produces some of Costa Rica's most delicious java. Coopedota, the world's first carbon neutral coffee producer, offers daily tours outlining the history of coffee in Costa Rica, proceeding through the life cycle of the coffee plant – from tiny seedling to rich, roasted bean. Taste testing required! Coopedota Tel. 2541-2828
The 12,000-acre Los Quetzales National Park is a hotspot for resplendent quetzals, especially from December through May. Home to glacial lakes, mountain paramo, and rugged mountains, the park houses tapirs, coyotes, jaguars and other wildlife. For a tamer excursion, head to nearby San Gerardo de Dota, home to lovely trails that meander through wildflower meadows. The stunning Savegre Waterall is just a few miles from Santa Maria de Dota..
In nearby Copey de Dota, stocked ponds are brimming with delicious rainbow trout. Cast a line for an easy meal, or head to the Savegre River for a more serious challenge hooking trout on the fly. Most hotels in Santa Maria will cook the day's catch upon request.
By Car: Driving time is an hour and a half from San Jose, depending on road conditions and traffic. Take the Interamerican Highway south toward San Isidro del General along the Cerro de la Muerte. About 31 miles south of San Jose, after passing signs for Cartago, you'll come to the Empalme crossroads; you'll also see a gas station and restaurant. Take the road on the right, following the signs 7.5 miles down into Santa Maria de Dota.
By Bus: Public buses depart from Avenida 16, Calles 19/21 in San Jose at 6 a.m., 9 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m., 3 p.m., 5 p.m., and 7:30 p.m. daily ($3.50). Return buses depart Santa Maria de Dota at 5:15 a.m., 7:15 a.m., 9:15 a.m., 12:40 p.m., 3 p.m., and 6:15 p.m. daily. Empresa Los Santos buses (Tel. 2546-7248)