To behold the captivating beauty of a male Resplendent Quetzal is a spectacular moment. Your psyche becomes entranced by dazzling feathers of metallic teal, emerald, and crimson perched on moss-covered branches.
Twin plumages cascade down like a mesmerizing waterfall glistening in the sun. Distinctive calls with powerful slurred notes vibrate through the cloud forest canopy as males and females flutter around aguacatillo trees to feed.
Sacred to the ancient Maya and Aztecs, the bird was a symbol of freedom, virtue, and light. Killing a quetzal was punishable by death since it represented the god Quetzalcoatl. Tail feathers were carefully plucked from momentarily captured birds to adorn ceremonial headdresses worn by the royal court.
During a battle in 1524, Maya warrior Tecún Umán suffered a mortal wound by Spanish conquistador Pedro de Alvarado. According to legend, a solid green quetzal flew down and landed on his chest to honor his valiant sacrifice. As the male bird ascended towards the sky, its feathers were forever stained with the blood of the Maya hero.
The Resplendent Quetzal's cultural importance hasn't wavered over the centuries. As the national bird of Guatemala, it's featured on the flag and coat of arms. The currency is also known as the quetzal, tying back to the Maya belief that quetzal feathers were worth as much as gold.
Birdwatchers also regard the bird as the most prestigious of trogon species. A Resplendent Quetzal sighting will bring kudos to any amateur or expert birder's repertoire; it's the crown jewel of Central America!
A prime place to witness one of Mother Earth's masterpieces is in the Savegre Valley of San Gerardo de Dota near the Parque Nacional Los Quetzales in Costa Rica. The national park protects vital cloud forest habitat the quetzals need to thrive.
Ecotourism in the region skyrocketed in the late 1990s. The influx of tourists, biologists, and researchers eager to catch a glimpse of the illustrious Resplendent Quetzal resulted in the establishment of several lodges and sustainable hotels.
Brad and I caught quetzal fever after finding our first male at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve. The breathtaking encounter motivated us to discover more! After a bit of research, we booked four nights at Trogón Lodge in San Gerardo de Dota. Below I review our stay and Quetzal Quest tour with guide Greivin Gonzalez.
Trogón Lodge is tucked within a mountainous ravine covered with lush trees, colorful flowers, and thick fog. The Savegre River flows through the property and generates a relaxing trickle to transport your mind back to the essence of nature.
The area is ideal for couples and individuals looking for an off-the-beaten-path escape. Buildings and cabins harmoniously integrate with the surrounding gardens and hillside. Large windows, wood accents, and rustic details add to the cozy aesthetic.
Disconnect from the digital world by reading a book or meditating as you share the impeccable grounds with playful sparrows and hummingbirds. Listen to the magical pulse of paradise as you hike private trails and sit on decks overlooking trout ponds.
Location & Arrival
Trogón Lodge is located 85 km (53 mi) southeast from the capital city of San José and 113 km (70 mi) north from the Pacific coastal town of Uvita. Either route takes approximately 2.5 hours by vehicle.
Reach out via email at [email protected] if you have any questions. Staff can arrange private transportation and taxis with adequate notice if you don't have a vehicle or want to catch a bus.
Brad and I hired a taxi to drive us directly from Uvita for $200 USD. Brad suffered a painful foot injury at the Nauyaca Waterfalls the day before our departure, so we opted for a more comfortable journey instead of public transit.
A 4x4 vehicle is the best way to reach Trogón Lodge, but a sedan will due. There is a tricky and steep 7 km (4 mi) road with an elevation descent of 1,000 m (3,281 ft) once you leave the main highway towards the property. Proceed with caution.
Buses leave between 6:00 AM-5:00 PM from the MUSOC bus terminal in San José to San Isidro de El General. If you are coming from Uvita, you may need to take two buses depending on the route. Board the first at the Tracopa LTDA bus terminal heading to San Isidro de El General and find a connection at either the GAFESO bus terminal, Blanco bus terminal, or MUSOC bus terminal towards San José.
Advise the bus driver you will need to get off at road marker KM 80 for San Gerardo de Dota. Be sure to coordinate with Trogón Lodge staff ahead of time so a taxi is waiting to transport you the rest of the way.
We arranged a taxi for $20 USD via Trogón Lodge to drive us to the bus stop heading to San José after checkout. We flagged down a bus after waiting roughly 30 minutes. The bus fare was 4,300 CRC ($7 USD) per person.
Be prepared to stand if the bus is full and keep in mind direct express buses won’t stop to pick you up, but regular commuter buses will. A steady amount of buses pass through daily so don't get discouraged.
Check-in & Room
As soon as I set foot on the property and breathed in the crisp air, I knew Trogón Lodge was special. I felt a wave of inner peace as I took a moment to appreciate the magical environment around me.
My excitement grew as I noticed framed photographs of beautiful birds hanging on the walls at reception as we waited to check in. After our reservation was confirmed, staff explained Trogón Lodge's amenities, tours, and trails before escorting us to our room.
Brad and I booked a standard room with two queen beds and a private bathroom. The wood paneling, large windows with flower boxes, and rocking chair on the shared porch complemented the charming cabin.
Each bed was extremely comfortable with plenty of pillows and soft sheets. Around 6:00 PM every night, staff came by with heated reusable water bottles to warm the beds. A space heater was provided to regulate the temperature.
The tiled bathroom included shampoo, soap, nice towels, facial tissues, and a hair dryer. The hot water was wonderful, but shared with the adjacent room. One evening, Brad and I heard our frustrated neighbor through the wall complaining of a freezing shower. We figured our previous showers had an impact. Oops!
Trogón Lodge is an eco-friendly hotel. Try to use hot water sparingly and turn off the space heater and lights when you leave the room. We also opted to forgo housekeeping and reused our towels to do our part. Recycling bins were outside our cabin.
There was no television, Wi-Fi, or phone inside of the room. Brad and I enjoyed peace and quiet while unplugging from our fast-paced society. Overall the room was spacious, cozy, and clean.
Trails & Amenities
One of the deciding factors for us to stay at Trogón Lodge was the private trails. I loved walking in the cloud forest while hearing leaves rustle in the cool breeze. The trails took a few hours to complete at a leisurely pace.
Squirrels and birds kept me company since Brad's foot injury prevented him from joining me. To be alone with my thoughts and daydream in this fairytale landscape was a true getaway. Exploring the trails was building my excitement to see a Resplendent Quetzal!
If you need a touch of modernity, head to the clubhouse next to reception. Grab a cocktail, tea, or coffee at the bar and play a round of pool. Park yourself on the leather couch and revel in the ambience. The clubhouse has Wi-Fi, baked goods, and a veranda overlooking the Savegre River.
The clubhouse is a popular hangout before dinner. Mingle with other guests and share wildlife stories. The gorgeous decor is inviting and warm. Antique radios, plants, and ceramic accents add a dash of historic luxury.
El Quetzal Restaurant
Trogón Lodge has one restaurant for meals. Reservations are expected for breakfast (7:00-9:00 AM), lunch (12:30-2:00 PM), and dinner (6:30-8:30 PM). The restaurant features unique wooden tables with wicker chairs beneath Tiffany style stained glass lamps. The wood burning stove is adorable!
A generous breakfast is included with the room. Coffee, tea, and fresh fruit is served first followed by authentic Costa Rican or American cuisine. My go-to menu selection was the fluffy pancakes. Staff is very accommodating if you are vegan, vegetarian, or gluten intolerant.
The somewhat expensive menu is the same for lunch and dinner. We found a more affordable lunch option down the road at Doña Marlen restaurant. I recommend trying the mouthwatering trout sandwich or fried fish basket. The lime pie with homemade chutney was divine!
Trogón Lodge knows how to deliver a farm-to-table dining experience. Hydroponic vegetables and herbs are grown on the property and used alongside locally sourced ingredients. Even though all of the meals we tried were satisfying, the trout entrées were the most flavorful. Fish are raised in multiple ponds onsite making it super fresh!
Trogón Lodge has four outdoor activities with round-trip transportation available during your stay. Join a birdwatching tour or adventure hike to really immerse yourself in the wondrous ecosystem. San Gerardo de Dota has approximately 175 bird species!
The most popular tour, Quetzal Quest, is led by Greivin Gonzalez every day at 5:10 AM. Meet for coffee at the restaurant before riding in a van to a nearby fruit farm. The cost is $25 USD per person with an additional $6 USD per person paid directly to the farm owner. After about two hours, you'll return for breakfast.
As dawn breaks over the misty forest-covered hills, you'll notice plentiful fruit trees flanking your position. Patiently waiting for Resplendent Quetzals is beyond exciting! Fortunately, their behaviors are predictable in the morning since they like to eat tiny avocados from aguacatillo trees.
Our group gasped in unison as we saw our first male swoop down from the dense canopy to grab a morsel with its beak. Greivin explained quetzals have a symbiotic relationship with aguacatillo trees. Birds swallow one seed at a time, perch on a branch, and wait approximately 20 minutes to digest the outer flesh before regurgitating the seed. The cycle not only helps propagate new trees, but also creates more food for the birds!
Brad and I couldn't believe our glistening eyes! Our amazement was enhanced by Greivin's enthusiasm. He made sure everyone had an opportunity to see the quetzals through the spotting scope and took pictures. We observed five males and two females!
An added bonus was the appearance of a Northern Emerald Toucanet. It was as if the toucanet was jealous of us all swooning over the quetzals so he loudly called to grab our attention from behind! I couldn't believe I finally saw my most sought after bird of the trip; what a memorable day!
Greivin must've sensed our love for nature and gave us permission to return to the farm in the afternoon. Brad and I spent another two hours marveling at Resplendent Quetzals all by ourselves. It was one of the best days of my life!
Luckily quetzals inhabit the region all year long, but prime season is between November-May. These months are also the dry season in Costa Rica with pleasant weather and infrequent rain showers. Our visit in late December was fantastic.
The hardworking men and women of Trogón Lodge were friendly and accommodating. Service at the restaurant was efficient and polite. Most servers speak Spanish and English. I can't attest to housekeeping since we declined cleaning, but it was available every day. Overall we felt comfortable asking questions and safe exploring the property on our own.
Greivin was a highlight of our stay. His passion for nature, Resplendent Quetzals, and life was inspiring! We enjoyed showing him our bird photographs and hearing about his daily sightings. He is a kind, spirited, and knowledgeable guide. I highly recommend booking a tour with him.
Trogón Lodge sits at an elevation of 2,200 m (7,218 ft) along the Talamanca Mountain Range. Even with beautiful sunshine, the weather can fluctuate in a matter of minutes. Bursts of rain are common in the chilly cloud forests, so prepare with adequate layers and a rain jacket. Brad and I were comfortable with our hiking shoes, pants, and sweatshirts.
Although we didn't have any issues with pesky bugs, bring insect repellent just in case. Protect yourself from the sun with a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen.
Consider packing some snacks and drinks especially if you want to save money. We brought peanut butter, granola, and trail mix. Next to Doña Marlen restaurant is a small tienda (convenience store) with soda, alcohol, chips, and sweets. You may have to track down the owner for service since customers are far and few between!
Brad and I had a blast capturing birds with our Canon EOS R5 camera. We pushed our 24-105 mm lens to the limit by shooting in manual focus with high magnification to ensure the distant birds were as sharp as possible. Since our lens is short, we couldn't effectively use the built-in autofocus or animal tracking systems.
A telephoto lens would definitely make shooting easier. Consider bringing a tripod if you want to record video.
No fancy camera? No problem! Greivin took pictures and video for people on their phones through the spotting scope. He captured this amazing clip of a Northern Emerald Toucanet during our tour for us!
Our four-night stay was peaceful and relaxing. The blooming flowers, warm decorative touches, private tails, and nature activities set Trogón Lodge apart from the other hotels in the area. Being nestled in the lush valley along the river felt like we were privy to a secret oasis.
Looking back, we would've stayed only two days due to the price. Sticker shock hit us a bit harder during our stay at Trogón Lodge since we were backpackers on a budget. Compared to other guests on the roster, we had the longest reservation. We definitely made the most out of our splurge by unplugging, hiking, and birdwatching.
The Quetzal Quest tour was an extraordinary adventure. Seeing and hearing Resplendent Quetzals in their pristine cloud forest habitat left us awestruck. If San Gerardo de Dota doesn't work for your Costa Rica itinerary, check out the parks of Curi-Cancha Reserve and Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve for a chance to find a quetzal.
I wish you the best of luck along your expedition to find this renowned bird!