Location : San Gerardo de Dota, between Cartago and San Isidro de El General in Talamanca Mountains, 6 miles (10 km) from the turnoff on the Inter-American.
Information / Reservations : telephone/fax (506)771-1732; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; web site www.ecotourism.co.cr.
At Savegre Mountain Lodge, they don’t talk about “if” you see a quetzal, they say “when”. The red, white and green bird, so elusive in some places, seemed to appear as if on cue. Best months to see them are February through May, but they are here year-round.
The Chacón’s place is famous for quetzals and for hospitality. Efraín, who has lived here for more than 40 years, began a dairy farm. People started coming to fish for trout in the Savegre River that flows through his property. At first, Efraín and his wife took overnight visitors into their home. Eventually, they built a cabin for them; in 1980, ecotourists began to arrive in search of the quetzal.
The lodge, also known as Cabinas Chacón, now has 20 comfortable, simply furnished rooms, some with sitting rooms. A spacious restaurant / bar is popular not only with overnight but also day visitors and local folks. Bring your appetite : food is good and plentiful; fresh trout is on the menu. A bright lounge next to the dining room has lots of glass looking out to the river and a dazzling display of hummingbirds at feeders. Most nights a fire blazes in the fireplace. Look at the guestbook in the lounge – entries since 1973. A small gift shop sells T-shirts, sweatshirts, photos of quetzals, and the farm’s coffee, canned trout and trout pâté.
There is a small dairy, and guests can visit the extensive apple, peach, and plum orchards and packing plant on the farm. All up and down the valley, fruit trees are replacing pastures on steep slopes.
About three-fourths of the 740-acre (300-ha) Chacón farm is in primary forest. There is a 5-mile (8-km) trail that takes two to three hours to hike (fabulous views of forest canopy), a 2.5-mile (4-km) trail, and a half-mile (1-km) trail. For real hikers, a trail goes from the farm to Cerro de la Muerte. Local bilingual guides well-versed in natural history lead lodge bird-watching tours and a waterfall tour. Horseback riding and fishing in the Savegre River are options.
A walk along the country road in front affords a look at flowering trees, the rushing river that flows alongside, and a variety of birds. I watched a woodpecker gathering nuts, and I once happened upon a pair of quetzals right by the roadside. Many of the more than 160 species of birds here can be seen from the cabin area. The quetzal is not the only flashy bird in the Dota Valley; trogons, emerald toucanets, and iridescent hummingbirds lend color. Animals you might see include rabbits, porcupines, white-faced monkeys, white-tailed deer, frogs, squirrels, and foxes.
Trout fishermen and ecotourists have been joined by scientists and students in this special place. The Quetzal Education Research Complex is Southern Nazarene University’s tropical campus.
The lodge is at 6,890 feet (2,100 m). Rainiest months are October and November – generally little rain December to June. Precipitation is 120 to 150 inches (3,046 to 3,807 mm) per year; temperatures rarely exceed 76°F (24°C). Bring insect repellent for hiking on higher trails and a jacket.
By bus : get off the San José – San Isidro bus at km 80; the Chacóns can pick you up, $17 round trip.
By car : heading west off the Inter-American, continue 5.5 miles (9 km) on an attention-getting road with hairpin curves and beautiful views.
Source: Costa Rica Adventures in Nature by Ree Strange Sheck, John Muir Publications, Santa Fee, New Mexico.