On our second day in beautiful San Gerardo de Dota, we showed our new friends Chris and Allie the spot where we saw the quetzals the previous morning. We met them the night before over dinner. Chris had just landed in San Jose that day and Allie, who had just finished traveling for two weeks with her sister, whisked him down to this little town. They are not bird nerds but were ready to see quetzals, and we were happy to help. Sure enough, by 7am we saw three more were feeding in the wild avocado trees along the road.
We had planned to hike the trails close to our cabin but given the sunny weather and gorgeous blue sky, we made a last minute decision to head another 5km down the valley to the waterfalls of the Rio Savegre.
We birded along the road and stopped for breakfast at a small restaurant where we were the only patrons. Over gallo pinto and eggs, we watched Magnificent hummingbirds (the largest in the valley) and Volcano hummingbirds (the smallest in the valley) as well as yellow-thighed finches feeding in the vegetation surrounding the deck just outside the restaurant.
Properly fueled for a big day ahead (14 kilometers and 2,000 feet elevation loss-then-gain), we headed down the road to the trailhead. The trail to the waterfalls starts off as a wide gravel road, crossing over the Rio Savegre.
The road allows vehicles to access the trout farm that lies along the river and supplies about 1,000kg (over 2,000 pounds) of fish to the Pali grocery chain (owned by Wal-Mart) every week. Just past the fish farm the forest opens up, providing views of the river and the giant rocks that tumbled down the steep valley eons before.
Back in the primary (old growth) forest again, dozens of birds flew back and forth across the trail, some stopping to feed in the shrubs adjacent to the trail. Black-cheeked warblers and Collared redstarts flitted in and out of the dense vegetation just a few feet (and sometimes inches) from us. We stopped to watch two redstarts bathe in a small stream that crossed over the trail.
After about 1km, the trail crosses the river on a small bridge over the first waterfall.
We hiked through more primary cloud forest with squat palms and towering oaks lining the trail.
At one point, we looked down and noticed some familiar fungus on the side of the trail. Here at 6,000 feet was a small patch of golden chanterelles! We resisted the urge to pick them and continued on.
Then things got interesting. The trail becomes a series of elevated metal boardwalks, ropes, stairs, suspension bridges and tree roots, that help you to navigate the last kilometer to the second waterfall.
After climbing down the last three steep stairways, none of which had all their steps intact, you reach a few large boulders and the final rope assisted descent to the viewpoint.
And it is truly a breathtaking view.
The waterfall is a classic 60-foot cascade over a cliff and into a large pool below, but there’s a twist. A large boulder wedged between the cliff and the channel creates a cave of sorts, where you can see water dropping into the darkness behind it. Large vines descend from the forest canopy covered in dainty ferns. A refreshing mist off the falls coated the rocks, leaves, trees and our skin.
The hike back was arduous as we made our way up the road to our cabin. But along the way we were treated to a final quetzal sighting, a vibrant male just 20 or so feet off the road, preening.
Our final day we stayed close to home, hiking the trails in the primary oak forest around Miriam’s and the nearby trails at Las Cataratas. Unfortunately we also spent much of day looking and feeling like drowned rats after the sky opened up not once, but twice, unexpectedly in the midst of our hikes. We abandoned our second hike after walking across a huge slippery log to a small waterfall dodging the new rain fed stream channels that crisscrossed the trail.
But our frustration with the weather was nothing a hot shower couldn’t fix and the rain dampened neither our spirits nor our love for San Gerardo de Dota.
New San Gerardo de Dota birds: sooty capped bush tanager, large footed finch, acorn woodpecker, black billed nightengale thrush, white throated mountain gem, volcano hummingbird, violet green ear, collared trogan, fiery throated hummingbird, long-tailed silky flycatcher, slaty flower piercer, spotted crested woodcreeper, flame-colored tanager, ruddy capped nightengale thrush, collared redstart, dark peewee, yellow bellied siskin, yellow thighed finch, blue hooded euphonia, flame throated warbler, band tailed pigeon, striped tailed hummingbird, silver throated tanager, yellow winged vireo, mountain eleania, torrent tyrranulet, magnificent hummingbird, green crowned brilliant, black thighed grosbeak, black cheeked warbler, ruddy pigeon, black capped flycatcher, ruddy treerunner, grey breasted wood wren, hairy woodpecker, spotted wood quail