Natural History Visitors – Las Cruces and Wilson Botanical Garden

General information

The Robert and Catherine Wilson Botanical Garden has a rich, internationally recognized collection of tropical plants from around the world. Over 1,000 genera in more than 200 plant families form the unique collection that is an integral part of the Las Cruces Research Station. There are hundreds of bromeliads and orchids; dozens of philodendrons and other aroids of all sizes; scores of heliconias; plus ferns, gingers, marantas, giant bamboo and close 500 species of palms well represented on the 12-hectare (30-acre) site.

The garden was established by Robert and Catherine Wilson, who were former owners of the Fantastic Gardens tropical nursery in Miami, Florida. They immigrated to southern Costa Rica in 1962 and established the botanical garden on what were abandoned coffee plantations and land previously cleared for cattle pasture and subsistence farming. Roberto Burle Marx, a famous Brazilian landscape architect and friend of the Wilsons, assisted with the initial design of the grounds.

Robert Wilson’s skills as a gifted gardener resulted in the rapid establishment of many plants with a particular emphasis on palms and bromeliads. Stanley Smith, an English industrialist who settled in Australia and a devotee of tropical plants, became the Wilson Botanical Garden’s most significant patron. His support began in 1967, and to this day a horticultural trust in his name continues to be a key benefactor to the garden.

In 1973, Las Cruces was purchased by the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS), a nonprofit consortium of international universities and research institutions. The Wilson Botanical Garden is located at 1,200 m (3,900 ft) above sea level along a spur of the Fila Cruces of the coastal range, and it is about 300 km southeast of the capital San José in Coto Brus County.

The garden and adjacent forest (365 ha total – 900 acres) also have an impressive diversity of native plants (2,000 species). Over 425 species of birds have been censused around Las Cruces as well as 800 species of butterflies, more than 100 species of mammals (of which over 60 are bats), and there is a high diversity of reptiles and amphibians.

The Wilson Botanical Garden is part of “La Amistad Biosphere Reserve” that encompasses 472,000 hectares of park land and buffer zones centered in the southern Talamanca mountain range in Costa Rica’s South Pacific.


  • Enjoy the lodge-style rooms, furnished with bamboo and wood, private bathroom, and a private deck overlooking the lush gardens, perfect for bird and animal observation.
  • Dining is family style, where students and researchers mix with tourists in a spacious, friendly setting.
  • There is a gift shop on site. Get a precious handmade item from an indigenous community from the area for yourself or for your loved ones. Your purchase helps us conserve this unique place.
  • Other amenities include onsite library, laundry service, free Wi-Fi, and free parking.

Day visitors can have lunch at the garden, but lunch must be reserved when making your reservations or at the front desk by 10:00 am.

Things to take

You should bring all necessary prescription medicines, lightweight and fast drying hiking boots, hot weather clothes, insect repellent, umbrella or rain jacket, flashlight, binoculars, sunscreen, camera and film, extra batteries, and plastic bags to keep film/paper dry. Most of these items are also found on our gift shop.


If you are hypersensitive to insects, bees, or wasps, always carry a sting kit with you. Please walk only on marked trails and remain watchful for snakes, bees, and wasps. If you encounter a snake, back away slowly and allow the snake to move away on its own. Notify a staff member immediately in the event of an emergency.


At approximately 1,200 meters elevation (3,900 feet), the prevailing temperatures range from 21° – 27° C (70° – 80° F) during the day and 15° – 21° C (low 60° F) at night. The dry season runs from January to April. The rainy season begins in May and lasts until November. The annual rainfall is approximately 4,000 mm or 157 inches.

Species list

If you want to know more about the species list that you can to find at the research station please click here.


Zone: San Vito de Coto Brus, Puntarenas, Costa Rica.
Distance from San José: 287 km; 4.5 hours driving. Near the Panamanian border on Costa Rica’s coastal range (8° 47′ N, 82° 57′ W).
Getting there: Las Cruces Research Station is located in the Pacific Highlands of southern Costa Rica, 287 kilometers (178 miles) southeast of the capital city of San José. The drive by car from San José takes a minimum of 4.5 hours (without stopping). From downtown San Jose, go east toward San Pedro and find the Interamerican Highway South (Route N° 2). Stay on this highway, passing Cerro de la Muerte, San Isidro, and Buenos Aires. You must drive some 25 kilometers more to find Paso Real, the entrance to the Coto Brus Valley. Take a sharp left turn at the Paso Real sign, cross the bridge at río Térraba; San Vito is 46 kilometers ahead. Once in San Vito, take the fork in front of the city’s park; Las Cruces is some 6 kilometers south of San Vito. Look for the Wilson Garden/Las Cruces Research Station.
Phones: San José Office Tel. + (506) 2524-0607 (ext. 1340), Fax. + (506) 2524-0608
Las Cruces Reception Tel. + (506) 27734004, Fax. + (506) 2773-4109
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Image gallery

Embark on guided walks through Costa Rica’s premier garden. Discover the richest botanical collection in Central America and learn about the flora and fauna of a mid-elevation forest at this leading research station in southern Costa Rica. Visitors can arrange a guided walk with a resident biologist/naturalist guide who will lead the visitor through well-maintained, gently sloping trails, and enchanting grounds filled with the richness of tropical colors and scents.

Regular Tour

A two-hour guided natural history walk is offered from Monday to Saturday, twice daily, at 7:30 am and 1:30 pm. The garden is open year round from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Private Tours

Early Birding Tour

Las Cruces is a favorite spot of birders. Here you should be able to see the scarlet-thighed dacnis, silver-throated tanager, violaceous trogon, blue-headed parrot, violet sabrewing, and – if you are especially lucky! – the turquoise cotinga. We offer 2-hour guided walks at 5:30 am. You must book the birding tour in advance.

Night Tour

Two-hour night walks of the garden area start at 7:00 pm. Any time of the year is good for night walks, but it is best if there is no rain and there is a new moon. Prior reservation is required.


Do not forget to ask about our workshops on a variety of different topics with a focus on flora and fauna of the surrounding tropical rain forest.

Garden Rules

To maintain garden grounds, allow other visitors to also enjoy their visit, and for your safety, we ask that you follow these simple rules:

    • Do not wear open-toed shoes on station grounds or when walking around in the garden and/or forest.
    • Do not collect insects, plants, seeds, flowers, or fruits.
    • Leave plant labels where they have been placed.
    • Do not handle snakes. Although uncommon, poisonous snakes (vipers and coral snakes) are occasionally found in the garden.
    • Remain on designated trails and out of areas that are marked private.
    • Please do not smoke in any building, and do not leave cigarette butts in the garden.
    • Shirt and shoes are required inside buildings. Please do not enter with muddy shoes or boots.
    • Overnight guests should always carry a flashlight.

Short Research Project Supporting Las Cruces Station Work

  • Flowering and pollination monitoring
  • Plant distribution in the Wilson Botanical Garden
  • Exotic plants distribution in the native forest
  • Native plant distribution at the forest restoration project
  • Insects from the forest restoration project (field and lab activity)

Custom Designed Itineraries

We can help to design a custom day-by-day itinerary based on your wishes and preferences.

Read our Reservations
and Cancellation Policies

Our rooms:

Regular Season
(from December 15, 2019 to April 30, 2020 and June 1 to August 31, 2020)

Standard Room – Full Board

Single occupancy$109
Double occupancy$188
Additional person$70
5-12 years old children$39
Notes: Rates per night in US Dollars, taxes included. Includes: Lodging, full room and board, and one regular 2-hour guided walk per stay at either 7:30 am or 1:30 pm (except on Sunday). The guided walk must be coordinated when making your reservations or at front desk when you check in. The meal schedule is breakfast from 6:30 am to 7:30 am, lunch from 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm, and dinner from 6:00 to 7:00 pm. CHECK IN: 3:00 pm, CHECK OUT: 12:30 pm


Standard Room – Breakfast only

Single occupancy$76
Double occupancy$130
Additional person$48
5-12 years old children$28
Notes: Rates per night in US Dollars, taxes included. Includes: lodging, breakfast, and one regular, guided 2-hour walk per stay at either 7:30 am or 1:30 pm (except on Sunday). The guided walk must be coordinated when you make your reservations or at the front desk when you check in. Breakfast is served from 6:30 am to 7:30 am. CHECK IN: 3:00 pm, CHECK OUT: 12:30 pm


Green Season
(valid for May, September, October, November, Dec 1 to 14, 2020)

Standard Room – Full Board

Single occupancy$92
Double occupancy$128
Additional person$52
5-12 years old children$34
Notes: Rates per night in US Dollars, taxes included. Includes: lodging, full room and board, and one regular, guided 2-hour walk per stay at either 7:30 am or 1:30 pm (except on Sunday). The guided walk must be coordinated when you make your reservations or at the front desk when you check in. The meal schedule is breakfast from 6:30 am to 7:30 am, lunch from 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm, and dinner from 6:00 to 7:00 pm. CHECK IN: 3:00 pm, CHECK OUT: 12:30 pm


Standard Room – Breakfast only

Single occupancy$63
Double occupancy$78
Additional person$47
5-12 years old children$24
Notes: Rates per night in US Dollars, taxes included. Includes: lodging, breakfast, and one regular, guided 2-hour walk per stay at either 7:30 am or 1:30 pm (except on Sunday). The guided walk must be coordinated when you make your reservations or at the front desk when you check in. Breakfast is served from 6:30 am to 7:30 am. CHECK IN: 3:00 pm, CHECK OUT: 12:30 pm


Guided walks
(from December 15, 2019 to December 14, 2020)

Regular Short Walk (2 hrs)$34
Regular Short Walk, Children (5-12 years old)$23
Regular Long Walk (4 hrs)$45
Regular Long Walk, Children (5-12 years old)$28
Notes: Rates per person in US Dollars, from 1 to 10 people, taxes included. Please take into consideration that the time of the walk might change according to weather. Available hours are 7:30 am or 1:30 pm. You must arrive 15 minutes early to check in. The walk is led by a bilingual naturalist and provides a specific topic walk through the Wilson Botanical Garden.


Private Short Walk, 1 person$68
Private Short Walk, 2-10 people$51
Private Long Walk, 1 person$79
Private Long Walk, 2-10 people$62
Notes: Rates per person in US Dollars, taxes included, subject to availability. Please take into consideration that the time of the walk might change according to weather. The regular tours rate for children applys also for private tours.


Early Birding Tour, 1 person$90
Early Birding, children 5-12 years old$34
Early Birding, 2-10 people$54
Notes: Avifauna of the garden at 5:30 am, 2-hour walk. Rates per person in US Dollars, taxes included, and subject to availability.  Birding tours must be coordinated when you make your reservations or at the front desk (before 5:00 pm).


Nocturnal Wildlife Walk 1 pax$90
Nocturnal Wildlife Walk 2-10 pax$54
Nocturnal Wildlife Walk Children 5-12 years old$34
Notes: A night tour to watch the Research Station wildlife at 7:00 pm for two hours. Rates per person in US Dollars, taxes included. Always according with availability must be coordinated with reservations or front desk (before 5:00 pm). Remember to bring your own flashlights.

***Rates are subject to change***

At Las Cruces we train graduates, undergraduates, and non-biology professionals in a broad range of courses; we facilitate scientific research with particular emphasis on the fields of conservation biology and restoration ecology; and we provide educational outreach to kids and adults in the surrounding communities.

Please ask at the front desk for further information on how to support Las Cruces, our education programs, and conservation projects including the land campaign. Your donation is essential to continuing the botanical heritage begun by the Wilsons and maintain a strong research and education center at Las Cruces. In return, you will receive the biannual AMIGOS newsletter.

Donations are accepted at any OTS office in Costa Rica or can be sent directly to our main office in North America. You can find our mailing address information here. All donations are fully tax-deductible in the United States, Canada, and Costa Rica.

Blue Flag

The Blue Flag program, born in response to strengthening public health and tourism, currently has nine categories and is an interagency program. It is administered by various public sector institutions and some private organizations.

The Blue Flag program strives to substantially improve on each agency’s efficient use of resources with a focus on:

    • Saving resources
    • Reducing pollution
    • Implementation of best environmental practices
    • Changing attitudes and perceptions

OTS has participated since 2009 in two categories:

    • Protected Natural Areas
    • Actions to Address Climate Change-Mitigation

In these categories, OTS has obtained 5 and 2 stars respectively. This program is coordinated by resident biologist Rodolfo Quiroz along with the Environmental Sustainability Committee of the station.

For more information contact Rodolfo Quirós.

Certification for Sustainable Tourism

The Certification for Sustainable Tourism Program (CST) is a product of the Costa Rican Tourism Board (ICT). The CST was designed to differentiate businesses in the tourism sector based on the degree to which they comply with a sustainable model of natural, cultural, and social resource management.

CST is regulated by the Costa Rican National Accreditation Commission and consists of a 5-level scale of sustainable tourism achievement.

In the year 2011, the Wilson Botanical Garden and the Las Cruces Research Station obtained the first levels of tourist sustainability. With this we marked the beginning of recognition for our efforts for the tourism and environmental sustainability that we initiated 50 years ago.

The actions we have taken are:

Water saving

    • Rainwater collection for reuse in toilets and laundry
    • Gray water oxidation pond project
    • Checking for leakage and replacing damage pipes
    • Monthly control of water consumption through the various gauges in station buildings
    • Education and training to save resources and lower consumption for visitors and workers using murals, workshops, and other activities

Saving Energy

    • Use of renewable energy, particularly solar energy, cabin heaters project
    • Education and training for saving resources and lowering consumption provided to visitors and workers with murals, signage, and workshops inviting contribution to energy saving
    • Monthly control of energy usage by measuring the different buildings at the station which monitor consumption and make the necessary adjustments

Waste management

    • Storage facility for solid waste recycling
    • Project-based composting kitchen scraps, fruit, vegetables, medicinal plants, and yard waste
    • Production of Bio-enzymes, bocashi, and vermin culture compost
    • Monitoring and controlling of daily weight of all waste produced

Environmental Education Program

Within the five districts of the Coto Brus County, this program works with schools, colleges, and public and private institutions. This program is directed by Ariadna Sánchez, who has 6 years of experience working together with communities to develop successful projects such as:

    • Eco-Suitcase: This is a program for elementary school students that includes a practical guide for educators and all the associated materials for developing class activities found within the Eco-Suitcase. This project received support from the National Bank and HB Fuller.
    • Eco-Cultural Festival: The event is held annually in June in order to raise awareness within the surrounding communities about the importance of conservation while giving locals the opportunity to see our facilities, services, projects, and conservation activities. This community festival also provides a space for artistic expression such as theater, dance, local crafts, and sale of environmentally friendly products.
    • Eco-Cup: This is a sports activity that began in 2012 to promote the sport and also to educate the community about the importance of conservation through exhibits by various public institutions and NGOs.

To learn more about environmental education projects contact Emilce Ramírez.

Our goal is to be a sustainable research station where our actions do not impact negatively on the environment but at the same time to support conservation, research, and reduced utilization of resources.

Request Reservation

For information and reservations: visit.ots@tropicalstudies.org
Costa Rica (506) 2524-0607 (ext. 1340) | Fax (506) 2524-0608
United States (919) 684 5774 | Fax (919) 684 5661

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