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San Vito is a pleasant hill town that nestles on the east-facing flank of the Fila Costeña, overlooking the Valle de Coto Brus, at 990 meters above sea level. The town was founded by Italian immigrants in the early 1850s. The tiny park at the top of the hill as you enter town from Buenos Aires or Ciudad Neily has a life-size statue of two children under an umbrella dedicated to “La Fraternidad Italo-Costarricense.”
Finca Cántaros (tel./fax 506/2773-5530, www.fincacantaros.com, 8:30 A.M.–5 P.M. daily, $4 admission), a 9.5-hectare reserve three kilometers southeast of San Vito, is centered on a beautifully restored farmhouse converted into a gallery with beautiful indigenous crafts, and a library.
Self-guided trails lead to Laguna Zoncho, which attracts waterfowl, and into forest good for spotting such rare endemics as the collared trogon, orange-collared manakin, and streaked saltator. Rest spots offer lovely views over San Vito. Recent archaeological finds include stone petroglyphs and a metate, on display.
Although coffee production has dwindled locally, Desafío Tour (tel. 506/2773-5810) offers a coffee tour, plus horseback riding and ATV tours. Gringo Wally rents horses at Rancho Wally Aqui; ask at Finca Cántaros (tel./fax 506/2773-5530).
Hotels and Restaurants
Finca Cántaros (tel./fax 506/2773-5530, www.fincacantaros.com) has camping ($6 pp), with showers, toilets, and use of a simple outdoor grill and kitchen converted from cattle stalls.
Several budget options in San Vito include Hotel Rino (tel. 506/2773-3071, fax 506/2773-4214, $15 s or $26 d with fan, $26 s or $38 d air-conditioned), on the main street, with 13 simple but adequate rooms with private bathrooms and hot-water showers. The glossy wood ceilings add a nice touch.
The nicest place in town is Hotel El Ceibo (tel./fax 506/2773-3025, $35 s, $45 d), with 40 modern air-conditioned rooms with fans and private baths with hot water, a large restaurant, a lounge with TV, and a small bar. The hotel’s restaurant (7 A.M.–10 P.M. daily) serves the likes of cannelloni, lemon scallopini, and fresh tuna spaghetti.
Las Cruces (reservations c/o tel. 506/2524-0628 or 2773-4004, www.ots.ac.cr, $89 s, $168 d including meals, taxes, and guided walk) will accept drop-by overnighters on a space-available basis. It has 12 spacious and cozy rooms with picture windows opening to verandas with views, and WiFi throughout. Dining is family-style at set hours. Discount rates apply for researchers, volunteers, and students. Walk-in backpackers can bunk in well-run dorms with plenty of modern showers and toilets, plus Internet; researchers get their own cabins.
In 2010, I was thrilled to discover the beautiful and bargain-priced Morphose Mountain Retreat (tel. 506/2734-3127, www.morphosecr.com, $75 s/d one room, $120 entire house low season; $95 s/d one room, $150 entire house low season), at Bello Oriente high atop the mountain ridge near La Cruz Botanical Station (9 km above Ciudad Neily). Patrick (a former chef from France) and Kate (a former Smithsonian Journeys program director) Desviain are your amiable hosts at this deluxe eco-sustainable lodge that is a veritable home away from home. Set in its own private rainforest reserve, it’s centered on a huge Balinese-inspired all-teak lounge-restaurant with wraparound glass walls and a huge deck. The incredible views far out over the valley below to the Golfo Dulce are especially fabulous at dawn and dusk. The couple rent a separate two-bed, two-bath guesthouse (it can rent out as two apartments) designed by Thai architect Boonma Yongprakit. It has a full kitchen and open-air living space and its own deck. Consider a seven-day package that includes three nights here plus four nights on the beach at Matapalo. Breakfasts are available for guests; other meals are made on request. Wildlife abounds!
Don’t be surprised to see coatimundis come begging tidbits as you dine at the Morphose Restaurant (by reservation for outside parties upon request), serving gourmet fusion dishes such as arugula salad with roasted beets and goat cheese crouton, and grilled Chilean salmon with a basil pesto sauce, sautéed spinach and cilantro gnocchi. You dine beneath a soaring ceiling or on a wraparound deck with stunning vistas.
Pizzería Lilliana (tel. 506/2773-3080, 10 A.M.–10 P.M. daily), 50 meters west of the plaza in San Vito, is recommended for Italian fare, with fresh homemade pasta, gnocchi, and lasagna; I had a tasty pizza served on the patio. The best of several restaurants in town is Cafetería del Sur, which also has a bakery.
Getting to San Vito
Tracopa buses (tel. 506/2221-4216, in San Vito tel. 506/2771-0468) depart San José daily from Calle 5, Avenidas 18/20 at 6 A.M., 8:15 A.M., noon, and 4 P.M.; and depart San Vito for San José at 4 A.M., 6 A.M., 6:30 P.M., and 3 P.M. Buses from San Isidro depart for San Vito five times daily.
Buses depart Terminal Cepul for Ciudad Neily, Las Mellizas, and Las Tablas.
San Vito–Ciudad Neily buses will drop you off at Las Cruces Biological Station; they operate from San Vito eight times daily. Tracopa buses from San José also pass via Las Cruces four times daily.
© Christopher P. Baker from Moon Costa Rica, 8th Edition