Back in Paso Real, take the ferry across the Rio Terraba and follow the route southward along the steep winding road that offers excellent viewpoints along the way. You can’t go very fast on this road, but you are rewarded with a splendid view of the Valle Coto Brus and the mountains of the Cordillera de Talamanca. After 50 kilometers the road reaches San Vito de la Jaba. The small town, situated at 990 meters above sea level, refreshes the traveler with cool mountain air – a welcome relief after the tropical heat and humidity of the lowlands. The city of 13,000 inhabitants has a short but unusual history. It was founded at the beginning of the 1950s by Italian immigrants. An Italian organization for agricultural colonization purchased 10,000 hectares of land from the government of Costa Rica. In 1952, the first Italian immigrants arrived armed with tractors and other farm machinery, and began to farm the land intensively and to raise cattle.
By the 1960s and 1970s, they were very successful and many Ticos moved to the flourishing city. Today it is difficult to find any particularly Italian charm in the town and there is little to distinguish San Vito from other Costa Rican cities. The town does have an Italian cultural center, but the visitor will search in vain for typical Italian houses or Old World churches.
Wilson Botanical Gardens
One thing does become immediately apparent, though; unlike other Costa Rican cities, San Vito is not laid out in a grid pattern. The Italian atmosphere is more evident in the Italian restaurants, for example the Mamma Mia Restaurant that serves delicious pasta and pizza, homemade spaghetti and glasses of real Chianti. Italian is still occasionally heard over an espresso in the cafes, but it is usually spoken only by the older citizens of San Vito. Not far from Costa Rica’s version of Little Italy (here called Italia Chica) in a location halfway up the slopes of Mt. Fila Zapote, is another attraction of southern Costa Rica.