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A visit to Copey de Dota 

 Dota, and the neighboring cantons of Tarrazu and  Leon Cortes comprise what is known as the Los Santos region, the heartland of Costa Rica, It is famous for its Terrazu and Dota coffees, some of the highest rated and awarded coffees in the world. Enter into any small shop in the area and you are faced with dozens of brands of coffee to try. 

 

I love the Dota Region. As an avid birdwatcher, It is perhaps my favorite area in Costa Rica, and for many years that, along with its famous coffee, were the two reasons to visit. If you are a Tico, you also think of this region as where you go to catch and eat farmed trout. 

 Things have changed. 

 We recently spent a short weekend traveling to Copey de Dota.  Copey is an extremely small town near Santa Maria, the municipal city of the Canton of Dota,  sitting in a high valley at 1900 meters ( over 6000 ft), and is flanked by the Talamanca Range rising to 3000 m.  It is also the southeastern end of the road to Providencia de Dota, one of the best-known birding hotspots in the country  (https://howlermag.com/providencia-san-geraldo-de-dota-costa-rica  ) . This time of year you travel there to walk the Providencia road in search of capturing a glimpse of the Resplendent Quetzal, but that was not the number one reason for this trip.

 I wrote recently about the budding growth of astro tourism here in Costa Rica (https://howlermag.com/astro-tourism ), so when I saw an announcement for a star party in Copey to correspond with the eta aquarid meteor shower, we decided to go. May is not exactly known for its clear skies here in Costa Rica, but we decided to drive out and investigate all there is to do in the area.

 Our first stop, and first surprise, was to the only true commercial winery in Costa Rica:  Copey Estate Winery (https://copey.com/en/).  Copey Estate Winery was founded by an Israeli/Costa Rican couple who had started a winery in Israel and wanted to do something in the area of her family home in Costa Rica. The label has become known as   3 Corners Wine,  with  wines from  three different corners of the world, all in extreme climates: 

The Negev desert in Israel, the volcanic heights of Moon Mountain in California, and Copey de Dota in Costa Rica. 

The tour is similar to any Sonoma or Napa Valley winery. You get to visit the vineyards and hear the story of the winery, which has had its ups and downs including losing its first generation of grape vines. To augment their business they are also producing Golden Rush – the only  Uchuva / golden berry liqueur in the world.  After the tour, you have a tasting of wines and liqueurs from all three locations in their special tasting center. 

After the tasting, you can stay and enjoy a lunch paired with the wines. As vegetarians, we had a charcuterie board filled with our next surprise: the local cheeses of the Copey region.

Over the past couple of decades, artisanal cheese making has flourished in the region, with several wonderful cheese factories turning out cheeses not commonly made by Costa Ricans. We were treated to a wonderful Chevre and a feta, and two types of Swiss and a Manchego from Queso Pacheco (https://www.facebook.com/quesopacheco), operated by the son of the former Costa Rican president.  

Enjoying a wonderful Syrah with Manchego and stuffed figs and dates is not normally what you think of here in the tropics, especially here in Costa Rica. 

 

After sobering up from the wine tasting, we left the cabana where we were staying, traveling only a few blocks to a trout farm and restaurant for the Star Party. The event was put together by Groupo Disfrutemos Costa Rica ( https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100063591486566) which does nature and birding tours but recently has added Astro tours in the Copey area. We set up our gear with the other assortment of astrophotographers with telescopes of all sizes, talked about what we could see that evening over dinner, and then went out to stargaze.

The weather was not that cooperative ( it was May in Costa Rica), so the early evening viewing was cloudy, and our guide Ronald said that it is common to have the skies clear around 2 am. We took advantage of that to go and get some sleep. We were texted at 3 am with the news that the skies had cleared and rushed out into the cool, crisp, 14-degree Dota evening to witness the amazing sights: The Milky Way had risen and arched across the entire sky, dark sky objects from star clusters to nebulae were visible, and the rising constellation of Aquarius supplied meteors.  The tiny crescent moon along with Saturn rose right before a beautiful sunrise that ended the viewing. 

We warmed and caffeinated ourselves with lots of wonderful Tarrazu coffee for breakfast and then headed out for a morning of birdwatching. Our guide Ronald is also a nature guide, so led us on a several hour walk looking for the Dota Region birding specialties. We were treated to many,  from the clownish-looking Acorn Woodpeckers to one of my favorite Toucans, the Northern Emerald Toucanet, and many nesting Long-tailed silky flycatchers. And having a local guide helps for they all know where the Quetzals live and nest.

We walked several kilometers up the road to Providencia as cars raced back and forth filled with tourists looking for Quetzals. One car stopped and told us they saw some right ahead of where we were already heading, so we started looking and waiting. Patience is called for when looking for the Resplendent Quetzal.

After about 10 minutes a spectacular male flew in and sat in the open for all to see. They are always a treat no matter how many times I have seen them. The word quickly spread and within 10 minutes we had a dozen vehicles with people arriving, forming a paparazzi-like mob to view and photograph the bird.  

We left shortly after the mob’s arrival, walking back to town to buy some local cheeses and coffee to take home.

If you want a very different weekend here in Costa Rica, head up to the Los Santos region to cool off and enjoy some Quetzals, Queso, Cabernet, and Constellations. 

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