Surrounded by green, overlooking the industrial, urban sprawl of San José, there is a place that has been lost in time. The pre-Columbian masks and wildlife paintings on the walls in the main lobby recall a lost age of Costa Rican accommodations that has been crushed under the oppression of shiny floors and trendier art.
It feels like the last stand in a futile war when you stare out over the balcony of the hotel, and you see the end of the tree line and the beginning of central Escazú and the capital.
You know, instinctively, that it will continue to spread, but as long as those last lines hold, the Costa Rica of old is not lost. And the view of the city lights is breathtaking at night.
“I’m developing it slowly,” says owner John Botterill, a Brit with longtime roots in the country. “I’m trying to keep it as green as possible. I’m just sorry that Escazú’s losing all of its green spots.
“This was my house. I realized how scenic it was and I turned it into a hotel and bar.”
A hotel with sweeping views, wireless Internet, satellite television and a swimming pool that could double as blue-whale habitat certainly has a place in the market, and for those seeking that familiar caress of Costa Rican hospitality, Hotel Mirador Pico Blanco Inn in the western suburb of San Antonio de Escazú may reinvigorate the psyche.
“It’s not a modern hotel; it’s Costa Rica,” Botterill says. “I started this place 25 years ago. This was the second hotel in Escazú … It’s not one of the cement-type hotels you see all over the place now.”
The first hotel in the mountains of Escazú, Hotel Fonda del Sol, has since gone under, leaving Pico Blanco the oldest relic of its era. And by no means do years entail wrinkles at this gorgeous hilltop hideaway.
Sometimes, upon entering a place, one can tangibly feel the essence of the people who have poured their life’s work into it. Pico Blanco is one of these places.
Botterill’s wife, Flor, and his sister-inlaw, sons and nephews, all Ticos, make up the staff, and they take the time to establish relationships with the guests. Staying here is akin to immersion in the family for a little while. As a result, guests occasionally end up staying for a long time.
“I ended up here in the hands of John and Flor,” says Mike Beyrle, a hotelier from Manuel Antonio on the central Pacific coast, who has been at Pico Blanco since September.
“They’ve been with me 100 percent of the way no matter what … better than family, better than my church … They’re the best people I’ve met in Costa Rica.”
The friendly service appeals to both vacationers and locals, who frequent the hotel for a getaway.
“Our market is about 50-50 Ticos and Gringos,” Botterill says. “We’re a Tico business … The service is laid-back, and the Ticos like that.”
“On the weekend it’s full of Ticos. Our Gringos have been coming back for years,” Botterill adds.
The 24 rooms, mostly set up with two beds, a television and a comfortable table and chair, range from $45 to $70 per night, adding quality for value to the list of the hotel’s pluses.
Additionally, the hotel is away from the crime and predatory mentality that a lot of tourists encounter in central San José.
“It’s like a one-to-one ratio of clients to help and security (personnel),” Beyrle says. “I feel safe. I want security, and they have it. You don’t have to worry.”
If you find yourself with a fever and the only cure is the Costa Rica you used to know, this family-driven dose of the lost world might be the medicine you need. It may not be flashy, but the beauty and tradition do the trick.
“We’re a hotel with a lot of heart,” Botterill says. “People who come here get a good deal on the room rates. We’ve not made a killing out of it, but we’ve never intended to.”
Getting There, Rates, Info
Pico Blanco Inn is in San Antonio de Escazú, up the hill from San Rafael and Escazú Centro. From the Scotiabank at the main intersection in San Rafael de Escazú, head south up the hill and proceed to Escazú Centro. From here, continue south (uphill) to San Antonio de Escazú. Turn right at the last bus stop in San Antonio, at the large Pico Blanco sign instructing you to turn right and go one kilometer.
Double-occupancy, low-season rates are $45 for standard rooms, $55 for the larger minisuites and $65 for a suite, plus tax.
For information and reservations, call 2289-1908 or visit www.hotelpicoblanco.com.