San Gerardo: One Place in Costa Rica Without Tourists
Thousands of people visit Monteverde, Costa Rica each year. Actually, hundreds of thousands do. It’s a popular place, and for good reason. Tucked away in the Tilarán mountains, Monteverde is roughly a three-hour drive from both San Jose and Liberia airports. For people who like being in the woods, it’s a place with countless possibilities, and it draws a different type of tourism than the beaches do. On any given day, you can go zip-lining, walk along the hanging bridges above the cloud forest, horseback ride along beautiful secluded mountain paths or take a guided tour of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. For the adventurous few who have a little more time and a little more curiosity, there’s also San Gerardo Field Station.
San Gerardo Field Station is part of the Children’s Eternal Rainforest, the largest private reserve in Costa Rica. Monteverde happens to be located right on the Continental Divide (yes, the same one that’s in the U.S.), and as you cross over from the main town of Santa Elena to the start of the trail in San Gerardo, you are also crossing from the Pacific to the Caribbean side of the country.
The beautiful thing about visiting a place like San Gerardo, is that it automatically lends itself to slowing down and taking in the view.
This kind of trek is not for everyone. Accommodations are rustic and you will find yourself hiking through the mud in big rubber boots. But for people who want to explore the wildness of Costa Rica a little deeper, it’s a beautiful place. To get there, you’ll need to take a taxi from Santa Elena, navigating a dirt road to the Santa Elena Reserve, which takes under 15 minutes. At the reserve, you can and should rent those fancy rubber boots.
From there, you’ll begin your hike to the station. All together, it could take 45 minutes to 1.5 hours depending on how often you like to stop and take in the layers of green around you. The hike is mainly downhill on a dirt road, and it starts off at the muddiest part. If you’re lucky, the clouds will part and you’ll get to a point about halfway to the station where you’ll see a view out to Lake Arenal and the famous volcano.
San Gerardo: One Place in Costa Rica Without Tourists.
You’re likely to be the only ones on the trail and the only guests at the station, and considering the popularity of tourism in Costa Rica, that’s pretty incredible. Some of the trails are more maintained than others, but one that I highly recommend is the Catarata (waterfall in Spanish) Trail, which leads to what it’s named for. You will feel like you’re discovering something that’s been forgotten.
Traveling can sometimes feel like you’re checking off things on your to-do list. While that can feel exciting, it can also feel manufactured. In the age of selfie sticks and constant documentation of your every move, it’s hard to actually get completely immersed in a place, and to fully take in a quiet moment in nature.
The beautiful thing about visiting a place like San Gerardo, is that it automatically lends itself to slowing down and taking in the view. On the trail there, it is rare to see other people, and I quickly felt like I was in the middle of the jungle at the start of the hike. Cars cannot access these trails, and travelers are left with their own two feet to guide them.
The station house has no internet, simple bunk beds, and a few hammocks on the balcony looking out to Volcán Arenal (with the best views being from May to July). The downstairs dining area is equally simplistic, and a Costa Rican family lives next door to the kitchen, offering hearty home-cooked meals. This in itself is something worth fawning over (and making a reservation ahead of time), since food is brought in from Santa Elena, over the dirt roads, and through the trails on the family’s ATV. Ivana’s meals will happily fill your belly, while her husband Giovanni is a very warm, friendly man who loves to talk about all types of frogs, snakes and wildlife in the area, and will be happy to take you on a night tour in the surrounding jungle.
You will feel like you’re discovering something that’s been forgotten.
What made this trip extra special for me, was that their son is in first grade at the bilingual school where I work as the External Relations Manager; known both as the Cloud Forest School and the Centro de Educación Creativa. My admiration for the couple only grew when they told me that they commute an hour along these trails and roads each day so that he can receive a bilingual education and have more opportunities in the future.
Making the journey back from San Gerardo into town, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the importance of finding simple joys in life: a sunny day, fresh air, a full belly, good company, and the freedom to follow a path to a beautiful view. I know for sure that that is not something I would have learned so quickly in one weekend had I not taken those first muddy steps toward a wilder kind of destination.
San Gerardo: One Place in Costa Rica Without Tourists photo by Unsplash.