San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Bounteous breakfasts, vistas at San Vito B&B

Nothing could be finer than to be at Casa Botania in the morning. This pleasant new bed-and-breakfast on the southern edge of San Vito in the Southern Zone has one of the finest breakfasts in the land. Spread out on the buffet table every morning are platters of pear, pineapple, papaya; savory cheeses, avocado slices and boiled quail’s eggs; a basket of freshly baked, buttery croissants, alongside slabs of homemade, whole-grain bread; and an apple crumble, fresh each morning out of the oven, emitting seductive cinnamon sensory waves. And that’s just for starters.

There’s also a menu of omelets, gallo pinto with eggs, traditional tamales, French toast, crisp bacon, croque monsieur (toasted ham and cheese sandwich), yogurt with cereal and last, but certainly not least, Belgian crepes stuffed with chocolate and banana slices.

What puts this bounteous breakfast over the top is that you get to enjoy it on a spacious, tiled terrace with a modernist, Gaudí-inspired trellis framing a wildly scenic view of the Coto Brus Valley, backed by the Talamanca Mountains. On a crystal-clear day, there is even a view of Mount Chirripó, Costa Rica’s highest peak.

Casa Botania 1

Casa Botania offers great views, fantastic breakfasts and warm hospitality in San Vito de Coto Brus.

Dorothy MacKinnon

The creative young talents and cooks behind this chic and cozy B&B are Kathleen Ulenaers, a multilingual tour guide from Belgium, and her Costa Rican naturalist-guide husband, Pepe Castiblanco. The pair met when Ulenaers was guiding groups of Belgian tourists around Costa Rica and Castiblanco signed on as their naturalist guide. After a number of trips between Costa Rica and Europe, the couple tied the knot and lived in Belgium for three years, long enough for Castiblanco to become fluent in Flemish.

But their dream was to live in Costa Rica. “From the first day I was here, I knew I wanted to live here,” says Ulenaers, who first came to Costa Rica as a volunteer at Carara National Park in the Central Pacific region. “I felt so at home.”

With their talents – her language, tour guide and cooking skills, plus Castiblanco’s logistical and natural history knowledge – opening a B&B was the obvious way to fulfill that dream. After a countrywide search, they chose this ideal site, in Linda Vista, between San Vito and world-renowned Wilson Botanical Garden, a mecca for botanists and bird-watchers.

The pair designed and custom-built Casa Botania to provide a home for themselves – and now their first child, a boy named Elías, born Feb. 10 – as well as a spacious, light-filled guest room in the main building, with private bath, satellite TV and a sunny garden terrace. 

Two separate guest bungalows are perched on the edge of the property to take full advantage of the panoramic views. The larger bungalow has two stories; up top, there’s a queen-size bed, bright, modern bathroom and sliding glass doors to a private terrace. Stairs lead down to a comfortable room with two single beds – ideal for families. The other bungalow has a queen bed and glass doors leading to a terrace, too, with the added advantage of being wheelchair-accessible, with a sloping ramp to the front door and a bathroom designed for wheelchairs. The rooms are furnished with handsome headboards and night tables made of cedro nogal (black walnut) by a local artisan. The color scheme is warm gold and earth tones with fabric accent walls creating a soft effect.

You can enjoy the spectacular views without even getting out of bed. But you’ll want to get up, because there’s so much to do, starting with early-morning bird-watching from your terrace or around the garden. Wilson Botanical Garden is less than two kilometers down the road, and Castiblanco knows every trail and resident bird. Farther afield, he can take you to some hidden bird-watching sites, including a trail along the Río Negro, where the elusive lance-tailed manakin is sometimes spotted, or higher up to Las Alturas, an excellent vantage point for viewing raptors. He also leads hikes to some warm springs in a nearby forest, visits to the local Guaymí Indigenous Reserve, and cave-exploring excursions near Ciudad Neily.

Just across the road, guests can visit Finca Cántaros, a private nature reserve with gardens and forest, a lake, grand views as far as Panama, and a 3,200-year-old archeological site with a cemetery and pre-Columbian petroglyphs. The Cántaros shop also has a fine collection of indigenous and Costa Rican arts and crafts.

Even if you’re not staying at Casa Botania, you can enjoy a romantic, candlelit dinner on the terrace. Their three-course dinners ($15) are the most sophisticated you’ll find in town, and dinner here has already become very popular with the locals. A typical menu might include osso buco or steak with Belgian-style fries. You just need to reserve before noon.

Grand vistas, romantic and comfortable accommodations, excellent cuisine and amiable, enthusiastic hosts make this B&B a very welcome – and surprisingly affordable – addition to the San Vito scene.

Going There

From San José, take the Inter-American Highway south past San Isidro and Buenos Aires, turning off at Paso Real onto Route 237 to San Vito. Casa Botania is in Linda Vista, 5 km south of San Vito on the main road. Room rates are $55 single, $65 double per night, including tax and breakfast. Dinner, by reservation only, costs $15 per person.

For information and reservations, call 2773-4217 or 8711-3008, or visit

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