Los Santos: The amazing highlands of Costa Rica

The highlands of Costa Rica, in the Talamanca Mountain Range, is probably one of the most beautiful – however not fully discovered – destinations in Costa Rica.

Los Santos Hills

Maybe because it is not the usual warm and humid weather of the beaches and lowlands, the area of Los Santos is not as known, but it is luscious, is rich, it is one of the most genuine traditional regions of Costa Rica and it is home of the breathtaking Resplendent Quetzal, an iridescent plumed amazing bird that lives in the forests of the Talamanca Mountain Range.

Los Santos Region as we call the central highlands of Costa Rica is part of the highest area above sea level of the country. It is a group of towns, mostly all called with saints names and that is where the name “Los Santos” comes from.

The towns in Los Santos:

The area of Los Santos is composed of three counties and several different towns:  Santa María, San Marcos y San Pablo are the main centers, however, you can also find: San Marcos de Tarrazú, San Gerardo de Dota, and San Cristóbal.

In the travel industry, the most popular town is San Gerardo de Dota, at the bottom of an amazing small valley, created by the Savegre River.

It is also very close to Los Quetzales National Park.


Mainly the highlands of Costa Rica are crossed by the southern portion (In Costa Rica) of the Panamerican Highway.

As you can see from the map below, the area is quite large.

The distance from SJO (Juan Santamaría International Airport) is 108.61 km, 67.49 mi (2 hours and a half) and from LIR (Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport) is 299.23 km, 185.94 mi (5 hours). 

The Weather in Los Santos

The high mountains of Costa Rica have quite unique weather, it is one of the highest points above sea line in the whole country, and the climate is quite fresh. Although if you have a good jacket with you it is very nice!

The average temperature in San Gerardo de Dota is 18°C (64° F) although in January it can come down to 8° C (46°F).

Best time to visit the central highlands of Costa Rica

The best time is in late March or April when the quetzals are mating and most active.


The area has some of the most unique tropical highlands forests. There are a total of seven ecosystems in the area, however, the most visited of course are the high and low mountain rainforests.

These are cloud forests with very old oak trees, a lot of moss and ferns and with a tendency to be foggy all the time.

They are a habitat for many animals (baird’s tapirs, howler and capuchin monkeys, jaguars, manigords, white-tailed deers, coatimundis, agoutis, and nine-banded armadillos, to name a few) and incredible birds like the resplendent quetzal, or the scissor-tailed kites.

Highlights and activities of Los Santos Region

Resplendent Quetzal

The resplendent quetzal

The main highlight of these forests of course in the resplendent quetzal. With its iridescent plumage and long tails, the quetzal used to be part of the symbol of the mayan deity Quetzalcoatl.

(Quetzalcoatl was half serpent and half bird (the feathered snake) and it symbolized the growth of the soul from the ground (inferior realms) to the sky (superior realms).

And when you see a quetzal flying in the forest, you can understand why was it considered the highest part of the god.  It goes beyond beautiful to magical.

Los Santos

Cloud Forests

Beautiful and mystical, the cloud forests of Los Santos are sometimes dark (Because of the fog) and quite impressive. With huge trees and an abundance of life the forests of the highlands have an abundance of birds (hummingbirds especially) and waterfalls.

Trekking and Hiking

In the region of Los Santos, you can enjoy some of the most amazing trekking in Costa Rica. As the mountains in this region are so steep and the tropical nature can be so dense it is quite a challenge to go trekking in the area.

However, there are some milder trails for those who want to enjoy nature, natural history or bird watching.


In the area of Los Santos, in the central highlands of Costa Rica, you can find 190 bird species, including the resplendent Quetzal, the scissor-tailed kite, and up to 15 species of hummingbirds, including the smallest and the largest species in the country.

Other activities:

Horseback riding, photography tours, garden bird watching, nurseries, a tour of apples, trail running, night tour, exploration paramo, and cycling, among others.

Accommodations in the central high areas of Costa Rica

In this region mostly all the hotels are small boutique beautiful lodges surrounded by forests and with fantastic amenities like floor to roof windows, private decks, and fireplaces.

Savegre River

What to bring to Los Santos?

The region of the central high forests of Costa Rica is quite chilly as you can see above (weather). It is a good idea to bring a good jacket, closed hiking boots, a rain poncho, two couples of socks per day, and if possible, binoculars.

In Conclusion

The area of Los Santos in the Central Highlands of Costa Rica is a strategical point for many coast to coast itineraries. As well as a fantastic spot for any nature lovers, birdwatchers, hikers, and photographers.

Please ask our travel designers about this amazing destination and all the options around it.

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