The Best Tropical Garden Hotels – Hotel Bougainvillea, San José, Costa Rica

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“Best tropical garden hotels in Costa Rica” – this search phrase didn’t take me long time to google it to Hotel Bougainvillea in the country’s capital city San José. After reading many positive comments I had a good feeling about visiting and reviewing it on our trip to Costa Rica.

Small waterfall in Hotel Bougainvillea gardenAn email to the hotel followed by a quick and utterly warm invitation to come visit them. Our first stay on the trip was settled.

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The hotel is situated 20 minutes driving from the International Airport and just 10 more minutes to down-town San José. This location makes Bougainvillea to a perfect first or last stay on the trip.

Our plane landed the very same evening as hurricane Otto did its landfall. The first hurricane in Costa Rica‘s recorded weather history. Not really knowing what to expect, we hurried to the hotel.

However, the worries got quickly replaced with anticipation of a great vacation. Coziness of homelike atmosphere was irradiated by the front desk personal and by the whole ambience. A flavorous dinner in the hotel’s restaurant concluded the day.

The Tropical Garden

You might need a mapThe following day, while the hurricane Otto showed to be a disaster further up in northern provinces, in San José area it was just overcast with some drizzling. So exploring the 41.000 sqm (10 acres) of tropical garden and taking photos I had to do under protection of an umbrella.

And exploring is what you are going to do here if you are a tropical plant lover. Despite the overall feeling of spacious colonial style garden, you are going to spend many pleasant hours flitting between colorful islands of endless plantings.

Five full time gardeners are taking care of more than 1000 plant species, including 160 species of trees, over 50 species of bromeliads, many orchids, heliconias, ti plants, ferns ready for your quiet entertainment.

To quote the hotel owner Hans van der Wielen: “Bougainvillea is not a hotel with a garden, it’s a garden with a hotel”. It’s a garden completed with water ponds, sculptures and pre-Columbian native objects. Not to forget many birds and frogs feeding and dwelling here.


The Hotel

Bougainvillea is a family ran hotel. Hans van der Wielen moved to Costa Rica from The Netherlands in 1965 at age of 25 and established there both family and business. The current hotel grounds, former coffee plantation, served to Hans and his family as residence until 1989, when the hotel building was constructed. Until than they owned another hotel closer to the city.

That was a successful business as well with more customers than the old hotel could accommodate. So some guests where offered to stay on the family estate. Even so it was a bit more far from the city, the guests loved the property for its splendid garden. That how the idea of the garden hotel was born.

The name of the hotel came from some German coffee producer crazy about Bougainvillea plants. He even had a sticker on his car: Plant Bougainvilleas. And Hans gladly did it in their garden. So Hans’ wife had an idea to call the new hotel by the plant’s Spanish name Veranera. However, considering mostly international guests, the final decision became the Latin and English name Bougainvillea. Even so it’s a bit harder to spell right.

The welcoming feeling is something you are going to get here right away. This is despite the imposing size with 84 guest rooms and meeting facilities for up to 100 people. You can see Hans and his doter Annette, who is the hotel manager, every day working together with their employees or socializing with the guests. Many of whom return to Bougainvillea year after year.

The pool area

The best tropical garden hotels surely wouldn’t be the best without a pool. Likewise a pool needs a garden around it to provide the feeling of seclusion and serenity. Here at Bougainvillea the pool is completely surrounded by dense tropical vegetation. Giant bromeliads (Alcantarea imperialis) planted on and around a large white podium referring to former British colonial pools and gardens. Or maybe they remind strictly landscaped tropical gardens of Dutch colonies in East Java.

Meet the plants

Probably the toughest decision about you trip to Costa Rica is what time of the year to go there. This small country has extremely diverse tropical climate. The decision is even more complicated for a plant interested person. Surely you will see an abundance of plants there any time of the year. What you have to consider, however, is that flowers don’t like a lot of raining. While foliage loves it.

So, if your botanical passion is orchids for instance, then the best season for you is the dry season. You won’t see many flowering orchids during the rain season. And vice versa, foliage plants like Cordyline fruticosa, crotons, bromeliads will be at most of their tropical splendour, when receiving daily showers.

Yet there is no time of the year when Costa Rican flora would disappoint even the most demanding botany enthusiast. Our visit was at the very end of the rain season and here are some of the plants I had pleasure to photograph:

Finally, I would love to thank Hans and Annette for their incredible hospitality. Bougainvillea doubtless deserves to be featured among the best tropical garden hotels. I’m sure that I will return to Costa Rica and staying here will be again the pure pleasure. Or as they say in Costa Rica – La pura vida!

With Hans van der Wielen on his favorite garden spot under Bismarckia nobilis

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