A small brown bird perches on the vertical trunk of a tree.

A plain-brown woodcreeper (Dendrocincla fuliginosa) in Los Cusingos Bird Sanctuary. Photo © Juan Zamora, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Map of San Isidro de El General, Costa Rica

San Isidro de El General

San Isidro, regional capital of the Valle de El General, is an agricultural market town, gateway to Parque Nacional Chirripó and Dominical, and a base for white-water rafting.

There is little to see in town. The small Southern Regional Museum (Calle 2, Ave. 1, tel. 506/2771-5273, 8am-noon and 1pm-4:30pm Mon.-Fri., free) tells the story of the local indigenous peoples. More impressive, the modernist concrete cathedral on the east side of the plaza has lovely stained-glass windows.

Nature Reserves and Farms

La Gran Vista Agro-ecological Farm (tel. 506/8924-8983), at El Peje de Repunta, 15 kilometers (9.5 miles) south of San Isidro, teaches sustainable agricultural practices to local farmers. It relies on travelers for volunteer labor. Accommodations are in dorms ($20 pp, including all meals) with hot showers. A minimum weeklong stay is recommended.

La Ribera Centro Ecológico (tel. 506/2737-0004) is at Mollejones de Plantaneres, 22 kilometers (14 miles) south of San Isidro, on the road to Pejibaye. It has waterfalls, a tropical forest, and natural swimming holes as well as hand-built swimming pools and a restaurant. It’s a popular weekend destination for locals.

Finca Ipe is a self-supporting commune on a 12-hectare (30-acre) farm, 20 kilometers (12 miles) west of San Isidro. You can volunteer (2-month minimum required; from $300 per month); five hours of labor per day is expected. Free time grants a chance for hiking, horseback riding, or yoga. Nearby, at San Antonio de Pejibaye, you can swim in pools at the base of the Cataratas Namú (tel. 506/8345-2952) waterfall.

Finca Tres Semillas Mountain Inn (tel. 506/8512-0234, $60 pp, students $25, volunteers $20, including meals) is about 35 kilometers (22 miles) northwest of town, in the Río División valley. At this organic farm, you can volunteer to teach English to local children through hands-on activities, including on the farm and in the kitchen. The kids (and you) learn about organic farming and sustainable living practices in an experiential setting. It adjoins the Reserva Forestal Los Santos, perfect for nature hikes and horseback rides.

Los Cusingos Bird Sanctuary

The 142-hectare Los Cusingos Bird Sanctuary (contact the Centro Científico Tropical, tel. 506/2738-2070 or 506/8659-2228, cusingos@cct.or.cr, 7am-4pm Mon.-Sat., 7am-1pm Sun., $13), in Quizarrá de Pérez Zeledón, is on the lower slopes of Chirripó, near the small community of Santa Elena, 15 kilometers (9.5 miles) southeast of San Isidro. The former home of the late Dr. Alexander Skutch (coauthor with Gary Stiles of Birds of Costa Rica) now lies within the Alexander Skutch Biological Corridor. Run by the Centro Científico Tropical (Tropical Science Center), the reserve is surrounded by primary forest, home to more than 300 bird species. You can tour Skutch’s simple clapboard home, retained as it was when he and his wife lived here. Skutch is buried in a simple tomb of raised earth. An hour-long trail, muddy and slippery in parts, leads to a rock carved with pre-Columbian petroglyphs.

You get here via General Viejo: five kilometers (3 miles) east of San Isidro from the San Gerardo de Rivas road, then south for Peñas Blancas; or from Highway 2 via Peñas Blancas, then north for General Viejo. Turn east for Quizarrá-Santa Elena, two kilometers (1.2 miles) north of Peñas Blancas, then follow the signs for Quizarrá.

Entertainment and Events

The town comes alive in late January and early February for its Fiesta Cívica, when agricultural fairs, bullfights, and general festivities occur. The best time to visit, however, is May 15, for the Día del Boyero, featuring a colorful oxcart parade.

Hotel del Sur Country Club (tel. 506/2771-3033, fax 506/2771-0527), six kilometers (4 miles) south of San Isidro, has a casino. On weekends, dance-happy Ticos flock to Disco Scorpio (tel. 506/2771-4015), on the highway about two kilometers (1.2 miles) south of town. It also has a karaoke bar.

Information and Services

Selva Mar (Calle 1, Aves. 2/4, tel. 506/2771- 4582) offers visitor information and acts as a reservation service. The hospital (tel. 506/2771-3122) is on the southwest side of town. Medical centers include Centro Médico San Isidro (Ave. 4, Calles Central/1, tel. 506/2771-4467), Hospital Clínica Labrador (Calle 1, Avenidas 8/10, tel. 506/2771-7115), and Clínica de Urgencias (Hwy. 1, Ave. 5, tel. 506/2772-7070), with a 24-hour pharmacy.

The post office (tel. 506/2770-1669) is three blocks south of the plaza, on Calle 1. The police station (tel. 506/2771-3608) is hidden south of the river on Avenida 0. The town’s many Internet cafés include Balcón Internet Café on Avenida 4.

Getting There

Musoc (tel. 506/2222-2422) buses for San Isidro depart Calle Central, Avenida 22, in San José hourly 5:30am-5:30pm daily, plus express service at 1pm and 4pm daily. Return buses (tel. 506/2771-0414) depart San Isidro from Highway 2 at the junction of Avenida 0 5:30am-5:30pm daily. Tracopa (tel. 506/2221-4214) buses depart Calle 5, Avenidas 18 and 20 in San José 14 times 5am-6:30pm daily, returning 5pm-8:30pm daily.

The regional bus station in San Isidro is at Calle Central and Avenidas 4 and 6. Transportes Blanco (tel. 506/2771-2550) buses depart for San Isidro from both Quepos and Dominical five times daily; from Puerto Jiménez at 1pm daily; from San Vito four times daily; and from Uvita at 6am and 1:45pm daily. Buses depart San Isidro for Dominical at 7am, 9am, 1:30pm, and 4pm daily; for Puerto Jiménez at 6:30am daily; for Quepos at 7am, 9am, 1:30pm, and 4pm daily; for San Gerardo de Rivas at 5:30am and 4:30pm daily; for San Vito at 5:45am, 8:15am, 11:30am, and 2:45pm daily; and for Uvita at 9am and 4pm daily.

Excerpted from the Ninth Edition of Moon Costa Rica.