Introducing Santa María & Valle de Dota
Centered on a green, grassy soccer field and surrounded by lavish plantations, Santa María de Dota is a picturesque Costa Rican town that merits at least a quick stop if you're driving (on bus, the detour would likely cost you a whole day). It's a quiet, sleepy place where mist rolls across the mountains and coffee production is the economic lifeblood. It seems as if the Coopedota processing facility employs half the town.
Coopedota can give you the complete picture of where your caffeine fix comes from: the Coffee Experience is a half-day tour (US$10) that takes guests to an organic coffee farm, visits the production facility and offers tastings. The cofounder and manager of the cafe previously won third place in a national barista competition and is locally famous for her signature coffee drinks.
Those who linger in the area should spend the night at El Toucanet Lodge, a lovely country lodge that is perched at 1850m and offers seven rustic hardwood cabins with wonderful views of Valle de Dota. The Flintstones-style hot tub is an excellent place to recover from the day’s activities. To reach the lodge, drive east from Santa María or turn off the Interamericana at Km 58.
Those traveling south on the Interamericana can cool their heels at Café de los Santos. When the weather is cool, a steaming cup of rich, brightly flavored high-altitude arabica coffee is ideal. The cafe also turns out fancy espresso drinks and buttery pastries for a few thousand colones. The gas station at this intersection is the last one before San Isidro de El General.
Most drivers from San José take the Interamericana south to Empalme, almost 30km from Cartago. Just south of the station a signed turnoff leads west on a paved road and turns to Santa María de Dota (10km away), San Marcos de Tarrazú (7km beyond) and San Pablo (4km further). Six daily buses (US$4, 2½ hours) connect these towns to San José.