South of the Border

Two Alabama natives have made their favorite travel destinations a way of life. Check out their luxurious vacation rentals in Costa Rica and San Miguel de Allende, along with recommendations for the ultimate in relaxation and adventure.

The Villas of Costa Rica

Hitting the easy button on a weeklong vacation to Costa Rica is a no-brainer when you rent from a fellow Birmingham native. Mountain Brook resident Ila Worthen and her family have owned and operated The Villas of Costa Rica ( for almost 20 years. In that time, they have developed an intensely loyal network of tour operators, household staff members, and dream-vacation makers in the Central American hamlet.

Ila and Thacher Worthen first visited Costa Rica more than 20 years ago. “My parents were approaching their 35th wedding anniversary, and my dad wanted to take everyone on a family vacation to celebrate,” says Ila. “My mom saw an ad in the paper for these all-inclusive private rental villas in Costa Rica with near-perfect weather year-round, so we all decided to go.” To say the Worthens fell in love with Costa Rica would be an understatement. “We fell deeply in love with the people, the culture, the beauty, the very laid-back lifestyle, and the food,” Ila says. “Before long, we decided to build a seven-bedroom villa, not only as a family vacation home but also as a rental property.” 

Fast-forward to today, and Ila’s family now owns two properties—a four-bedroom villa and a nine-bedroom villa. “We also have relatives who own three villas on our same road,” she says. “And over the years, we have made friends with owners of neighboring properties. I handle the rentals for all these homes and take care of every vacation detail for renters, from tours and excursions to meals and special dietary concerns. My goal is to create an unforgettable Costa Rican experience.”

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Ila adds that each home comes with a full staff. “You don’t have to cook, clean, do laundry, or even fix your own drink,” she says. “It allows you to focus on time with family and friends. From my personal experience with three teenage children of my own, I know the importance of spending quality time with them. It’s hard to do that in this busy, over-scheduled world we live in. But when we go to Costa Rica, we spend time together while fishing, sailing, surfing, zip-lining, hiking, snorkeling, or just relaxing—and so much of it is in the outdoors. Our villas lend themselves to living, eating, and relaxing in the beautiful surroundings of Costa Rica.” 205.410.8910 or

Flying to the Guanacaste province of Costa Rica is the first step on the easy journey to Costa Rica. Delta Airlines has nonstop flights out of Atlanta to the international airport in the capital city of Liberia. From there, Ila will schedule private transportation to your villa, which is about a 40-minute drive. If you plan it right, you can leave Birmingham at dawn and be poolside overlooking the Pacific Ocean by 2pm without ever leaving your time zone. Assure your teenagers there is Wi-Fi on site for every Bluetooth device they’ve stashed in their carry-on bags. (Yes, you only need to pack enough clothes to fit in a carry-on bag. Your villa staff includes a housekeeper who keeps you in freshly laundered shirts and shorts the whole time!)

Choose from four all-inclusive villas with a range of square footages—each with a private pool. The Worthens’ favorite is the Villa Puerto Escondido with four bedrooms and four baths. The Villa Puesta del Sol with nine bedrooms can accommodate almost any size family or group get-together. Often, several Birmingham families will book adjacent villas in the gated community so that the good times can flow from casa to casa and pool to pool.

Each of the four villas boasts a full-service staff, including a cook, housekeeper, and houseboy/bartender. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner all feature the region’s traditional smoky black beans and rice, as well as plenty of fresh fish and local produce. The house-made guacamole and salsa is a specialty. If you choose to amble down to the beach and hang with locals at Father Rooster, you’ll find the beer is always cold. Should your daily excursions take you off property, you’ll discover there is no shortage of dining options.

Allan Murillo with Costa Rica Tours is Ila’s local go-to for adventures. See howler monkeys and iguanas on the Palo Verde National Park River Cruise. Zipline in a Jurassic Park-worthy setting before enjoying a volcanic mud bath at the Borinquen Resort. Learn to surf in world-famous Tamarindo. Catch a glimpse of a sloth on a rainforest hike. Tackle some class-3 rapids, or explore the area’s terrain on ATVs. Every excursion includes transportation and tons of local knowledge from Allan’s top-notch, English-speaking staff.

Premier San Miguel

San Miguel de Allende in Central Mexico may not have a beach in sight, but it rivals the coastal towns with its alluring colonial architecture, vibrant facades, winding streets, art galleries, high-design shops, sophisticated restaurants, and local markets. Voted the best city in the world two years running by the readers of Travel & Leisure magazine, it feels more European than Mexican. A designated UNESCO World Heritage site, San Miguel has remained authentic while serving locals and tourists alike. The city is centered around a main square, El Jardin, where its iconic pink church overlooks the town’s sometimes lively, mostly laid-back vibe.

Katharine Hibberts

“When I told my friends I was moving to Mexico 16 years ago, they immediately asked, ‘Which coast?’ ” says Alabama expatriate Katharine Hibberts. “My answer? Neither. I was moving to Central Mexico—in the Mountains.” Though her friends were dumbfounded at the time, anyone who has visited Katharine since understands the allure of her new hometown—San Miguel de Allende.

A Birmingham, Alabama, native, Katharine graduated from Mountain Brook High School and attended Auburn University. After college, she moved to New York City to work in the fashion industry. “My mother had moved to San Miguel after I graduated from college,” says Katharine. “After I visited her several times, I decided to follow. I wasn’t sure this city would be my forever place, but I was drawn to the magic here.”

Katharine bought a house-rental business in Mexico, rebranded it, learned Spanish, and married a San Miguel de Allende local. “I’m definitely not going anywhere now. I love San Miguel and my life here,” she says. “Everyday I am so thankful that I took a leap of faith on this Mexican adventure. Who knew a girl from Alabama would end up in Central Mexico?”

Premier San Miguel House Rental & Concierge , 646.536.7634 or our local Mexican land line 415.154.9460

Leon International Airport is nearest to San Miguel and is just under a four-hour flight from Atlanta. Once you land, it takes a little over an hour to drive to San Miguel. Rental cars are an option but shuttle service is advised. Once in San Miguel, there’s little need for a car. The town is very walkable as long as you have comfortable rubber-soled shoes for the cobblestone streets. Cabs are plentiful and inexpensive. To find out about weekly events in the city, be sure to pick up a copy of the local paper, Atención. It comes out every Friday and is printed in both Spanish and English.

Katharine manages about 55 private homes throughout the city, including the Rosewood Hotel villas. “Our properties range from a cozy, two-bedroom house to luxurious and spacious 11-bedroom villas,” says Katharine. “Some have pools, and each home is individually decorated. Over the years, I’ve curated the best properties available.” (Watch for Katharine on an upcoming episode of House Hunters International on HGTV.)

San Miguel de Allende boasts plenty of dining experiences. Leisurely breakfasts are an especially big deal in the city. Dine on pastries and huevos rancheros in the garden at Posada Corazon, or take in the city views at Cafe MuRo in the hills above town. Lunch is easy with the wide variety at the food hall, Mercado Centro. When late afternoon arrives, start with cocktails at the Rosewood’s rooftop bar before wandering over to Sollano 16.

Wandering the city’s 64 blocks is an adventure in itself. Galleries, design boutiques, and local flavor (think parades, markets, street vendors) are everywhere. For adventure, book an excursion with Coyote Canyon Adventures. Their trail ride is far from a pony show. Guided by authentic rancheros, you can expect to see plenty of cattle roping while navigating the canyon and crossing streams. You’ll finish up with lunch at a local ranch.

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Christiana Roussel

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