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Saturday, February 24, 2024

A Visit to Costa Rica’s Wilson Botanical Gardens

Around every corner, you will find such beauty in Costa Rica. It is what attracts so many of us to this special country, the jungles, towering lush trees, colorful flowers and foliage, and its natural beauty. The Wilson Botanical Garden holds all this magic within its breathtaking 25 acres.

If you are in the southern region of Costa Rica, this is one stop you will want to make the effort to see. Not far from the Panama border, is where you will find the internationally recognized Wilson Botanical Garden, about 6 kilometers from San Vito. Wilson Botanical Garden is located within Las Cruces Biological Station which is overseen by the Organization for Tropical Studies and is part of La Amistad Biosphere Reserve.

History of Wilson Botanical Gardens

However, its journey began when a couple running their own tropical nursery in Miami Florida made their way to southern Costa Rica. Robert and Catherine Wilson started to create their tropical landscape in 1962 as they developed their botanical garden and farm with inspiration from the world-famous Robert Burle Marx.

Using influences of his tropical landscape design and creativity for modern landscape architecture they paired this with their skills and knowledge. It was a perfect combination for brilliance. The paradise design of their remarkable grounds began to unfold through the years.

It was in 1973 when Robert and Catherine Wilson agreed to sell the special property to the nonprofit Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS) where it would be sustained and protected responsibly. Maintaining the name in honor of the originating founders, Wilson Botanical Garden was now part of Las Cruces Research Station operated by the Organization of Tropical Studies. The focus of the organization is that of research, education, increasing knowledge and awareness of using natural resources responsibly and is made up of research institutions and universities.

There is no need to be a botanist to understand and appreciate the beauty at the Wilson Botanical Garden as it grabs your interest and senses as soon as you begin to explore the pristine paths. It also helps that everything is clearly labeled and marked for you as you make your way around. The shades of greens and colorful flowers of all shapes, sizes, and designs will have you marveling that such creations exist.

Tropical Plants and Birds

With tropical plants featured from all around the world, you will be continuously amazed, just the palm tree collection alone has over 700 species. Not all the flowers smell beautiful though, like the Aristolochia Grandiflora. Keep your eyes open for this signage before you lean in to appreciate its grandeur.

Although the odor may not be that appealing and perhaps a bit offensive, it makes up for it in its stunning beauty. Also known as the Dutchman’s Pipe, it is the largest flower in Costa Rica growing upwards of 20 centimeters.

Throughout the beautiful grounds, there are several different trails to take in all of its glory and are even grouped according to species of relation to help you identify all that surrounds you. The paths are very well kept and maintained so there is no need to prepare for a day of hiking and exploring. It is a great way to familiarize yourself with the beauty that you may have already seen in Costa Rica or prepare you for what you may see on your explorations.

You will feel a sense of connection when recognizing some of the various species or even a bit of excitement when realizing, hey, I know the name of that random cool-looking flower now. Stroll along the orchid garden trail or into the towering bamboo forest trail, there is no wrong choice and you will want to see them all.

It is a sense of freshness and tranquility as you admire how everything has been designed with intention. The bromeliad hill walk is pristine and gorgeous and the heliconia loop has you feasting your eyes on the vibrantly colored lobster claw plants of so many variations. The hummingbirds love to feed on the plant’s nectar and attract the aerobatic performers with just the right bill to fit perfectly into the small flowers. It is a remarkable performance and a sight to watch.

Fruit is set out regularly for the birds at feeding stations which makes for a perfect spot to stop and have the opportunity to birdwatch as they gather for their fresh fruit. Look throughout for the striking blue and green honeycreepers, the distinguishable blue-crowned motmots, and the brightly decorated cherry tanagers.

All the colors of the rainbow can be spotted within the botanical gardens of over 1,000 species of plants and decorated amongst the birds, butterflies, and hummingbirds.  

With a vast diversity of plant species along with primary and secondary forests in the area, the abundance of birds reflects. Wilson Botanical Garden is also one of the places to have a chance to see the Crested Oropendolas as it is so close to Panama and they have crossed over into the area and towards San Vito. Both blue-headed parrots and Chestnut- mandibled toucans have been seen with their bright beautiful colors.

Hiring a Guide

There are trail guides if you are wanting to go at your own pace and learn on your own or simply just walk amongst beauty. If you are hoping for a bit more knowledge or a fun way to learn then take advantage of the affordably priced tours, they offer at Wilson Botanical Garden.

They even have tours of the day which come with a guide for a few hours, admission, and lunch. If you want to stay a bit longer or even try out their nocturnal guided walks to hear the sounds of nature come to life in the darkness you can even stay right on-site at Las Cruces Biological Station.

This southern area of the country is driest from January to April and the rainy season begins in May with the wettest months being September and October so remember to pack according to the season and weather. It is open from Monday to Sunday 8 am until 4 pm and it is best to contact them for reservations for their night walks.

Final Thoughts

Wilson Botanical Garden is much more than a walk through what feels like the secret gardens of Costa Rica. It is a training and research area providing preservation and protecting endangered plants of Costa Rica as well as those from other countries from around the world. It is a tropical paradise for nature lovers and a photographer’s delight. There is such brilliance in its design and respect for all its life. It is a chance to see the colors and beauty of Costa Rica’s nature all in one gorgeous, peaceful place.

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