Las Cruces Research Station

The History

Las Cruces Research Station and Wilson Botanical Garden

OTS acquired Las Cruces in 1973 from Robert and Catherine Wilson, who founded the site in 1962 as a botanical garden and farm.

  • Las Cruces Research Station protects one of the largest remaining fragments of tropical wet premontane Forest in Coto Brus County, southern Costa Rica.
  • The Wilson Botanical Garden has one off the most important plant collections in Central America with an extensive collection of palms, tropical and subtropical ornamentals, unusual plant families, and endangered plants from Costa Rica and other parts of the world.
  • Las Cruces is a cultural hub of southern Costa Rica, bringing together scientists, artists, outdoor enthusiasts, and nature lovers from local and international communities.

Ecological Uniqueness

The rugged topography in the region around Las Cruces provides habitat for a diversity of fauna and flora. Within a 10 km radius around the station, the flora has at least 2,000 plant species including more than 20 endemic plants, 113 mammal species (60 species of bats), more than 400 montane and lowland bird species, an estimated 70 species of reptiles, and much more than 1,000 species of insects including 800 species of butterflies.

The region around Las Cruces is a complex mix of fragmented forests and agricultural land. This setting provides outstanding opportunities for cutting-edge research and conservation in a typical tropical landscape. Decades of research in the area has resulted in numerous articles on forest fragmentation, corridors, and tropical forest restoration. Outreach to the local communities and collaborative work to improve sustainable livelihoods and landscapes are a key priority of this research station.


Las Cruces is embedded in a mosaic of different agricultural land uses, where deforestation has left forest fragments of various sizes spread across the landscape. This setting makes Las Cruces an ideal place to study the effects of forest fragmentation and biological corridors as well as a testing ground for forest restoration. The botanical garden provides a wealth of opportunities for work on a broad variety of species in a controlled setting. Beyond this, our nearby satellite station at Las Alturas abuts the largest and most intact forest in Central America, La Amistad International Biosphere Reserve, allowing for comparative studies between spectacular primary forest and agricultural landscapes.

5 Key Themes:

  • Global change
  • Landscape restoration
  • Ecosystem services and sustainability
  • Human-natural system dynamics
  • Agroecology


Las Cruces Research Station serves researchers, courses, and natural history visitors. The station offers comfortable accommodations for up to 100 people.

  • We offer delicious meals in the dining hall, potable water, laundry service, Wi-Fi, gift shop, and library.
  • The 365 hectares of protected area offers 25 km of rugged trails.
  • The Wilson Botanical Garden offers 10 hectares of beautiful grounds and extensive collections of plants from the tropics and across the world.
  • An observation tower provides outstanding views of the forest reserve and landscape.
  • Educational resources on the station and an active environmental education program provides family friendly learning opportunities for local and international visitors.
  • Las Cruces is equipped with 140 m2 of laboratory work space with basic equipment, one large auditorium, a classroom and several smaller rooms for meetings.
  • The Herbarium Luis Diego Gomez at Las Cruces contains 4,600 samples comprising 2,000 species of the native flora of the Coto Brus Valley; wet collections of fruits, seeds, and flowers; leaf reference samples for DNA studies; and an arthropod reference collection.
  • Las Cruces Research station manages Las Alturas, a satellite research station, located ~25 km away, abutting La Amistad International Biosphere Reserve at 1,500 m above sea level.
  • Meteorological station and long-term weather data is available.

Local partners:
San Vito Bird Club
Casa Botania
Las Alturas

Visitor Information

Las Cruces is located in the southern Pacific highlands near the town of San Vito, close to the border with Panama (8° 47′ 7” N, 82° 57′ 32” W). The Station is 287 km southeast of San José, the capital of Costa Rica, and 10 km from the Panamanian border by road. The trip by car from San Jose takes approximately five hours. From San José, follow the Pan-American Highway (Route #2) south to San Isidro (also known as Pérez Zeledón). Continue on to Buenos Aires. Further 25 km south, look for a small intersection called Paso Real at kilometer marker 221. Here, take a sharp left and cross a bridge over the Térraba river; San Vito is 46 km after the bridge. In San Vito, go right at the road towards the town of Agua Buena and continue on for 6 km to Las Cruces.

The Tracopa bus company serves San Vito from San José or San Isidro with several departure times throughout the day.

How to book your travel to the field station: If you are a researcher click here; a Natural History Visitor, click here; lead contact for a faculty-led academic group, click here.

Additional activities: Natural History Walk, Birding Walk, Wilson Botanical Garden Walk, Picnic, View from the Observation Tower

Contact us for more information: info@tropicalstudies.org

La Cruces Research Station, Costa Rica

Las Cruces Photo Gallery

Las Cruces Video Gallery

La Selva Research Station
Palo Verde Research Station