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Riding the buses » Costa Rica, Gardens of the world, Travel itinerary, Uncategorized » Wilson Botanical Garden, Las Cruces, Costa Rica

Wilson Botanical Garden, Las Cruces, Costa Rica

There are many reasons to visit the Wilson Botanical Garden in Costa Rica, two of which have nothing to do with the garden itself. The Wilson Botanical Garden is located at 1200 m (3,935 ft) above sea level along a spur of the Fila Cruces pacific coastal range, 5 km from the Panamanian border.

Welcome to Wilson Botanical Garden (Barbara Reinhardus, Riding the buses)

Welcome to Wilson Botanical Garden (Barbara Reinhardus, Riding the buses)

To travel there from our rental property in the coastal town of Dominical, we headed to the mountains and the wide valley of the El General River and the towns of San Isidro and Buenos Aires. Then we followed the wonderfully scenic road from Paso Real to San Vito, driving along a high ridge with sweeping valley views on both sides of the road. For our return trip, we travelled south to Cuidad Neily on a 33 km steep road with heart-stopping twists and turns and spectacular views over the Coto Colorado plain toward the Golfo Dulce. These drives alone were worth the trip.

Many interesting native plants at Wilson Botanical Garden (Barbara Reinhardus, Riding the buses)

Many interesting native plants at Wilson Botanical Garden (Barbara Reinhardus, Riding the buses)

The bustling hilltop town of San Vito is a pleasant place to stop for lunch. It is located 6 km north of Wilson Botanical Garden and is known for its pizza, ice cream and pastries. Two hundred Italian families founded the town in the early 1950s when they cut down forests and started coffee, fruit and cattle farms. The rolling hills and picturesque villages around the town will remind visitors of the Italian homeland from where those families emigrated.

Second largest collection of palms in the world (Barbara Reinhardus, Riding the buses)

Second largest collection of palms in the world (Barbara Reinhardus, Riding the buses)

When Robert and Catherine Wilson, two horticulturists from Florida, moved to the area in 1962, they established a botanical garden filled with ornamental plants on cleared land that had been used to grow coffee and to pasture cattle. In 1973, the Organization for Tropical Studies purchased the property and since that time has overseen the site as both a botanical garden and center for biological research. In 1987, the name was changed to the Wilson Botanical Garden as part of Las Cruces Biological Station. Both Wilsons are buried on the grounds.

Ginger, one of many exotic collections (Barbara Reinhardus, Riding the buses)

Ginger, one of many exotic collections (Barbara Reinhardus, Riding the buses)

The garden is impressive to view but even more impressive when seen through the eyes of a knowledgeable guide. It is impossible for most visitors to appreciate the size and diversity of the collection of exotic species of plants including aroids, bromeliads, ferns, gingers, heliconias, marantas and the second largest collection of palms in the world. Nor is it possible to begin to understand the complexity of the ecosystem that supports it all without some education from researchers or staff. As you wander about the grounds reading the signs, taking notice of the tags and little bags attached to plants or when you overhear conversations in the dining room amongst scientists and students, you become very aware that Wilson Garden is more than a pretty place.

View from the canopy tower (Barbara Reinhardus, Riding the buses)

View from the canopy tower (Barbara Reinhardus, Riding the buses)

It comes as a shock to be told that Las Cruces is located in one of the most deforested parts of Costa Rica but it is confirmed when you view the area from the top of the Canopy Tower.

Forests in Wilson Botanical Garden (Barbara Reinhardus, Riding the buses)

Forests in Wilson Botanical Garden (Barbara Reinhardus, Riding the buses)

This sliver of land–one of the largest remaining sections of forest in a region of agricultural fields–is home to an exotic plant collection, primary and secondary forest, native plants, more than 400 species of birds, 800 species of butterflies and some 100 species of mammals of which 60 are bats. This surely is a biological station worth cherishing and protecting.

Exotic ground covers (Barbara Reinhardus, Riding the buses)

Exotic ground covers (Barbara Reinhardus, Riding the buses)

An overnight stay at Wilson Garden allows you time for a guided tour and an opportunity to explore the grounds, enjoy some birding and wildlife viewing and be grateful for the Wilsons and others like them who possessed the vision and commitment to create this inspiring place.

By Barbara Reinhardus

Photo credits Barbara Reinhardus

© Riding the buses 2014

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2 Responses to "Wilson Botanical Garden, Las Cruces, Costa Rica"

  1. Cindi says:

    I am in Dominical and would like to drive the same route as you did. How long did your trip take? Could you break it down as much as possiblefor planning purposes

    Thanks for sharing

    1. Barbara Reinhardus says:

      Dear Cindi,

      We drove from Dominical to San Isidro – lovely drive through foothills, winding but good road, about 40 k/25 miles. At San Isidro, we turned right (south) onto the Pan American Highway 2 to Paso Real, passing Penas Blancas, Buenos Aires and El Brujo. The distance between San Isidro and Paso Real is approximately 70 k/43miles. This highway is very good.

      Watch carefully for the turnoff at Paso Real. The road from Paso Real to San Vito is very scenic. I loved it; however, it is slow at times due to construction. This stretch is approximately 40 k/25 miles.

      San Vito is a charming town however a little confusing. We had lunch there but had some difficulty finding our way onto the road to Wilson Gardens. Finally figured it out. You can ask people for directions to Agua Buena and Ciudad Neily. The Gardens are about 6 kilometers south of San Vito near Agua Buena. I suggest that you give yourselves 3 hours to drive from Dominical to San Vito although it should not take that long.

      We took a different route back to Domincal. The drive from Wilson Gardens to Ciudad Neily is spectacular but you must drive slowly and carefully. The remainder of the trip is pleasant but not of great interest. From Neily, your drive through Rio Claro, Piedras Blancas to Palmar Sur. At Palmar Sur you will leave the Pan American Highway #2 and drive along the Pacific on Highway 34 to Cortes, Ojochal, Uvita and Dominical. This return trip should take less than 3 hours.

      Barbara

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