The spiritual capital of Costa Rica is Cartago. Before going to San Gerardo, you must first hear about a short stop you can make on the road, Cartago.
Costa Rica has a very high proportion of practicing Catholics, and for them, the focus is Cartago, which was the capital until the early nineteenth century ( it is now San José, after a dark history with Mexico ).
The Basilica of Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles dates from 1639. Nothing really impressive for a European, but the interest is not actually in architecture. You should see the faithful arriving on their knees every day at any time, and the thousands of small metal parts offered by patients after their remission thanks to the prayers and pilgrimages. Even without being a believer, you can only be caught by such deep faith.
In August, the annual pilgrimage attracts nearly 2.5 million Catholics (knowing there is 4.6 million inhabitants in Costa Rica) from all over Central America. In the end, the basilica is a place that goes beyond religion: it brings people together around the Negrita, this small statue of the Virgin Mary appeared to a young girl in the seventeenth century.
Whenever the young peasant tried to bring the statue of black stone in her home or to the priest of the city, Negrita reappeared on the rock where she was first found. Since then, they tried to build a church but it was constantly destroyed, they took this as a sign and moved the construction site at the location where appeared the Negrita … which is now prominently in the basilica (well, in truth, it is a reproduction, of course).
You can settle for a few nights at Trogon Lodge, a very nice hotel located in the heart of a valley. Quiet. Normally, the site must be beautiful, unless it rains constantly but it remains a beautiful place whatever the weather!
In all these remote areas, there is this kind of small businesses: the pulperias , which also means in slang, well damn girls because ” there’s just as it should , like a pulperia .” And if I do not comment on the use of such an expression (it seems that it is not bad or degrading to a Costa Rican) , it is clear that our grocer allows local access to everything that can help on very large time slots . Food, medicines, cigarettes…
Costa Rica is a paradise for anyone interested in ornithology, and San Gerardo de Dota is it a very interesting region. You should know that even if the country is small, the multitude of climates ( between mountains, valleys, the Caribbean coast and the Pacific coast, volcanoes, … ) allows a very rich and amazing variety of species, flora and fauna all together. In a few kilometers, you will see a big change in the landscape and biodiversity!
In search of the quetzal
What is the Quetzal? Well this is a very well known and highly sought bird in Central America, and therefore necessarily in Costa Rica. In the breeding season the male has long easily recognizable feathers, even if the green does not help to distinguish it amid the leaves.
To find it, being accompanied by an experienced guide is a good idea (hotels offer excursions in the morning), because he must have good eyes: find the right tree, and watch movements around it. They feed on small animals and they take time to digest.
And if the name “quetzal” tells you something, it is also because it is a form borrowed from time to time from a famous Mesoamerican god Quetzalcoatl (feathered serpent quetzal). This certainly explains the success of the bird. It can take two or three mornings to see one properly and the weather may not help. And what you will remember is that it looks like a green pigeon and some much prefer the hummingbirds!
Hummingbirds of San Gerardo de Dota
In Costa Rica there are forty species of hummingbirds. And nothing to spoil the pleasure, hotels install small feeders (with sugar water) to attract them. Damn that makes it easy to watch! They vary in size (up to threefold) but never exceeds 10 cm long. It is a constant brushes, they dance in all directions and never stop. Their colors change depending on their position and the light and it is just beautiful!
To photograph them, there is no secret, it will take time. But it is rather easy with the feeders installed at the hotel: do some tests and settings (use the highest speed possible, they move very quickly). Check when they eat, and then identify the branches on which they constantly return.
And then just wait … If you do not move, they will act as if you were not there! Inevitably, as well as being in the mountains, go walk a bit to hear the sounds of the forest , monkeys , birds …