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Exploring San Isidro del General

Destination: San Isidro del General

A sweet clay-colored robin (Costa Rica's national bird) fed her young in the eves outside the dining area. Bosque del Tolomuco's verdant grounds are home to 200 species of birds, including the emerald toucanet, sulphur-winged parakeet and silver-throated tanager.

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The 40 hectare property is often visited by bird watching groups as it attracts a combination of middle and high-elevation species.

Breakfast was served al fresco and included homemade wheat bread topped with banana-mango jam alongside seasonal fruits. Multihued hummingbirds darted around verbena plants, and cherry tanagers flashed their vibrant feathers as they flew overhead.

It was a brilliant morning as I hiked a couple of the lodge's trails, keeping an eye out for coatimundis or the odd tayra. The view from the top of the property was fantastic -- a sweeping vista of the Talamancas and Cerro Chirripo, the nation's tallest peak.

I wanted to loaf around the pool and play with Lise and Rolf's hilarious dogs -- a Japanese Akita named Khouma and her sidekick, the rock-fetching Tula. A birding tour with local expert Noel Urena was in the works, but unfortunately had to be postponed for another time. Instead, I explored the booming metropolis of San Isidro del General, the gateway to southern Costa Rica.

Commonly referred to as Perez Zeledon after the county where it resides, San Isidro del General is your typical blue-collar town, with activity centered around a nicely remodeled parque central. The city is flanked by coffee and sugar cane farms and is often a point of transit for travelers en route to Chirripo National Park or the South Pacific Coast.

Modern hotels, restaurants and internet cafes are plentiful, and travelers can stock up on food and sundries in the town's supermarkets and pharmacies.

It was decidedly hotter in the valley, so after surveying the better part of San Isidro, I headed skyward again to Las Quebradas Biological Center on the outskirts of town.

Set amid 750 hectares which encompass hiking trails and a butterfly garden, Las Quebradas is a community endeavor dedicated to preserving the environment. The reserve includes the Quebradas River, a crucial watershed for San Isidro and its surrounding communities. The center offers environmental workshops for local students and encourages volunteer participation.

A sudden downpour cut my visit short, but I managed to squeeze in a stroll through their medicinal plant and butterfly gardens before heading back up the mountain to Bosque del Tolomuco.

It was my last evening on Cerro del la Muerte, and I savored each minute of fresh mountain air. A Canadian family had just arrived from Dominical and joined the dinner table for another home-cooked meal. A fresh vintage was uncorked, but I slipped away to my cabin for an early night, having enjoyed the best of Bosque del Tolomuco -- a private mountain retreat with wonderful hospitality.

The cool highlands of the Southern Zone are one of the country's last frontiers -- a region frequently overlooked by travelers in lieu of beaches and volcanoes. Ethereal cloud forests and river valleys offer exceptional bird watching, and one of the few places where the resplendent quetzal can be seen year-round. From fly fishing scenic rivers to chilling out in cozy mountain hideaways, Costa Rica's highlands are a unique alternative to the tourist trail.

Exploring San Isidro del General in Pictures

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