San Vito (Costa Rica)

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San Vito (Spanish pronunciation: [san vito]), originally named San Vito de Java, is the capital of the Coto Brus district of Puntarenas Province, Costa Rica. It is located about 271 kilometres (168 mi) southeast of the capital San José, and close to the Panama border.

The city is located on a high plateau with very irregular topography, at an altitude of 996 metres (3,268 ft) above sea level in the foothills of the Talamanca Mountain Range. The narrow and fast-flowing Java River traverses the outskirts of San Vito from northeast to southeast.

San Vito was founded in 1952, since when it has become an important centre in Costa Rica’s Brunca region.

The area of the district is 14,237 square kilometres (5,497 sq mi), with an estimated population of 14,839 inhabitants as of 2011. Of these, around 5,000 live in the city.


San Vito de Java was the result of a process of foreign agricultural colonisation organised by the state of Costa Rica. Its two goals were to populate the country with foreign settlers, and to establish settlements in outlying areas. San Vito was founded by settlers from Europe, in particular Italy.

In 1952, in the midst of the post-war socio-economic crisis in Europe, the two brothers Vito Giulio Cesar and Ugo Sansonetti organised a group of Italian pioneers from forty different places, from Trieste to Taranto, and including a handful from Istria and Dalmatia.

This Italian immigration is a typical example of directed agricultural colonisation, similar in many ways to the process in other places in Latin America. The European immigrants were helped by the Comité Intergubernamental para las Migraciones Europeas (CIME), (Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration).

Vito Sansonetti (1916-1999), a seaman by profession, was the founder of the colonising company which he named Sociedad Italiana de Colonización Agrícola (SICA), (Italian Agricultural Colonisation Society), and was in charge of negotiations with the Costa Rican authorities represented by the Instituto de Tierras y Colonización (ITCO) (Institute of Land and Colonisation). His brother, lawyer Ugo Sansonetti, lived in San Vito and acted as the leader and agent of the company in the region.

Previously, the area had been known simply as Coto Brus, a place name of indigenous origin. At the time, the country was very interested in expanding new agricultural frontiers in order to develop and diversify the economy, as well as to attract foreign investment by means of easy bank loans and land grants.


The government of Costa Rica offered 10,000 hectares of land, and the contract was signed in 1951. SICA undertook to install 250 families of which 20% would be Costa Rican. The period of 1952 to 1964 was characterised by the settlement and consolidation of the colony. Each family received 20 hectares to use for agriculture.

The colonists had to confront many problems, especially due to the isolation of the region. Nevertheless, from 1964 on, the production of coffee caused the outlook to change for the better. The contract signed in 1951 was a driving force which brought in both the Italian colonists and Costa Ricans from different parts of the country attracted by the economic possibilities that the area offered.

By the 1960s, the programme of colonisation was bearing fruit. The colonists were making a decent living, the coffee trees had reached a good level of production, and there was other farming, mainly subsistence crops. There was also an urban centre where public and social services were available.

In San Vito itself the population went from 45 inhabitants in 1952 to 10,710 in 1982, an annual growth of 710%, while the growth rate for the cantón of Coto Brus was 91% over the same period, the number of inhabitants going from 1,000 to 28,000.

SICA began the construction of a series of buildings such as the hospital, the school, the sawmill, industries, and businesses, while the government of Costa Rica undertook to construct a highway between San Vito and Golfito.

Cattle farming was very successful.


Contrary to popular belief, the name San Vito does not refer to Vito Sansonetti, one of the first landowners in the area, but honours the Italian saint Vito de Lucania, founder of villages, who coincidentally had the same name.

The name “Jaba”, according to the legend, is due to the fact that at one point the migrants met a Panamanian Indian by the stream as he was passing through San Vito with a “jaba” (a package consisting of a wooden box) on his back. The river is said to have taken the name that it bears to this day.

No other place in Costa Rica has been so strongly influenced by Italian culture, even though with the passing years it has been greatly modified by contributions from other ethnic groups: Creole, Guayami Indian, Asian, and so on.


San Vito is located at coordinates 8°49′12″N 82°58′15″W / 8.82000°N 82.97083°W / 8.82000; -82.97083Coordinates: 8°49′12″N 82°58′15″W / 8.82000°N 82.97083°W / 8.82000; -82.97083.[1]

In terms of geomorphology, San Vito is situated in the Valle de Coto Brus (Coto Brus Valley), a depression caused by tectonic activity, and which extends from San Isidro to Panama. The valley is convergent, that is to say the Coto Brus Valley and the Coto Brus River that runs through it meet the Valle del General (Valley of the General), forming the Térraba River plain.

The district is characterised by mountain foothills and irregular high plateaus, and consequently its rivers are straight and fast-flowing.

Climatologically, it is under the influence of the south Pacific climate, meaning that it is characterised by an annual precipitation of 3050 mm,[citation needed] with rain falling on 175 days a year on average. The average temperature is 23 °C, and there is a three-month dry season from December to March. San Vito is affected by moisture coming from the Pacific and entering the area through the Térraba and Río Coto river valleys.

Vegetation is predominantly low-altitude evergreen wet forest, which is found in wet areas with temperatures between 23 and 38 °C at altitudes from sea level to 1000 metres. Tree species include almond, cedro amargo, gavilán, espavel and kativo, among others.


Coto Brus overall is one of the zones that rank lowest in Costa Rica on the Human Development Index. The economy is primarily based on agriculture and cattle farming. The principal crops are coffee, sugarcane, maize/corn, plantains, and beans. Cattle farming has also developed, although on a smaller scale.

Manufacturing is small, linked to farming and to the production of handicrafts for local consumption.

The town is served by San Vito de Java Airport.


In 2011, the population of San Vito numbered some 14,835 people, a slight decrease over the estimated 15,531 in the previous census taken in 2000. This represents a negative growth of about -4.7%, due to outmigration to more developed areas of Costa Rica or abroad, and a reduced birth rate. On the other hand, many of the inhabitants are temporary, living in the area according to the need to harvest certain crops, coffee in particular.

51% of the population of San Vito are men, and 49% are women. 56% are under fifteen years old and only 5% are over 65 years old, making it a very young city. People of working age make up 39% of the total.

The population of San Vito represents 49% of the total population of the Coto Brus cantón.


7% of the population of San Vito have not completed any type of education. 24.8% have completed only primary, while 9% have satisfactorily completed secondary. 6.6% of the population have completed a university education. San Vito is the only place in Costa Rica (other than some small communities) in which the teaching of the Italian language is compulsory in the educational system, and promoted by the Ministerio de Educación Pública (Ministry of Public Education) in order to save Italian customs and traditions.

Points of interest[edit]

Tourism is only just beginning in the area due to a lack of interest on the part of both private business and government. The access roads are in poor condition, and the infrastructure is insufficient to serve the needs of tourism. Nevertheless, the following are noteworthy:

  • The Centro Cultural Dante Alighieri (Dante Alighieri Cultural Centre) across from the park offers historical information on the Italian immigration. Behind the centre is a jeep that was hit by a bomb in Italy during World War II.
  • The Jardín Botánico Wilson y Estación Biológica Las Cruces (Wilson Botanical Garden and Las Cruces Biological Station),[2] 6 km south of San Vito, protects more than 300 hectares of premontane wet forest at altitudes between 1000 and 1400 metres. It is home to some 2,000 species of plants, more than 400 species of birds, and 113 species of mammals.
  • The Parque Internacional La Amistad (La Amistad International Park)[3] is 60 km north of San Vito.
  • The Reserva Forestal Las Tablas (Las Tablas Forest Reserve)[4] covers 19,602 hectares, with rugged terrain and a great variety of climates.