Natural History Visitors – Las Cruces

The Robert and Catherine Wilson Botanical Garden has a rich, internationally recognized, collection of tropical plants from around the world. Over 1000 genera in more than 200 plant families form the unique collection that is an integral part of the Las Cruces Biological Station. Aroids, bromeliads, ferns, gingers, heliconias, marantas, and palms are all well represented on the 12-hectare (30-acre) site.

The Garden and adjacent forest (266 ha total; 657 acres) also have an impressive diversity of native plants (~2000 species). Over 400 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 40 are bats), and a high diversity of reptiles and amphibians.

The Station serves as the principal center in the region for teaching, research, and on-site environmental education, as well as visitors who have a unique opportunity to experience tropical nature and to learn about it in a place where scientists and students from around the world come to research and study.

Las Cruces Highlights

  • 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.

  • Explore one of the premier botanical gardens in the American tropics, which boast an impressive collection of tropical plants and gardens designed by Roberto Burle-Marx, famous Brazilian landscape architect.

  • Meet hundreds of bromeliads and orchids; dozens of philodendrons and other aroids of all sizes; scores of heliconias, plus giant bamboo and more than 650 species of palms.

  • Observe the richness of the tropics: native plants (approximately 2000 species) and animals, including nearly 400 bird species, more than 800 types of butterflies, an abundance of mammals (at least 40 species of bats), and an impressive diversity of reptiles and amphibians.

  • Enjoy the lodge-style rooms, furnished with bamboo and wood, and a private deck overlooking the lush gardens, perfect for bird and animal observation.

  • Dine is family style, where students and researchers mix with tourists in a spacious, friendly setting.

The Garden was established by Robert and Catherine Wilson, who were former owners of the Fantastic Gardens tropical nursery in Miami, Florida. They emigrated 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 universities and research institutions from the US, Costa Rica, Peru, Mexico, South Africa, and Australia. The Organization operates three biological field stations in Costa Rica (Las Cruces; La Selva; Palo Verde) as part of its mission to provide leadership in education, research, and the responsible use of natural resources in the tropics.

The Wilson Botanical Garden is located at 1,200 m (3,900 ft) above sea level along a spur of the Fila Cruces coastal range, and is about 300 km southeast of the capital San José in Coto Brus County. The prevailing temperatures at Las Cruces are pleasant and 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, and mean annual rainfall is ~4,000 mm (157 inches).


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.


San Vito de Coto Brus, Puntarenas, Costa Rica. Distance from San José: 287 km; 4.5 hours.
Near the Panamanian border on Costa Rica’s coastal range (8° 47′ N, 82° 57′ W).

Getting there

Las Cruces Biological 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 from where 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 5 kilometers south of San Vito. Look for the Wilson Garden/Las Cruces Biological Station.

San José Office

Station Phones

Tel. + (506) 2524-0607

Tel. + (506) 2773-4004

Fax. + (506) 2524-0608

Fax. + (506) 2773-4109

Regular Tour

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 would lead the visitor through well-maintained, gently sloping trails, enchanting grounds filled with the richness of tropical colors and scents. The guided walks last approximately 2 hours. The Garden is open year-round from 8 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Booklets for self-guided tours (Natural History, Trees, Palms) of the garden can be purchased at the Gift Shop. A few of the garden collections are described below and their location is indicated on the adjacent map.

Natural History Tour

Seventeen numbered stations take you on an easy loop trail around the gardens. The self-guided tour will introduce you to the ecology of some of the major plant groups found in the garden. (2 hours)

Tree Tour

This tour leads you on a loop trail that introduces you to 33 tree species. Some are native to Costa Rica; many others have been brought from all over the world. The tour will explain some of the methods and characteristics used to identify tree species in the field. You will also learn some of the important economic and cultural uses of many of these plants. (2 – 3 hours)

Palm Tour

The Wilson Botanical Garden houses the second largest collection of palms in the world. This tour introduces you to 50 species, although many other specimens are planted throughout the garden. Take your time to stroll around the grounds and appreciate the incredible diversity of this majestic family of plants. Many specimens have identifying labels. (2 hours)

Anthurium Trail

Over 180 species of Anthurium are found in Costa Rica and Panama. Many of the diverse leaf shapes and growth forms of this large Aroid genus are represented in our collection. Anthuriums should be flowering at any given time of the year, showing their characteristic ‘stalked’ inflorescence of tiny flowers known as a spadix. The trail starts on Tree Fern Hill. (30 minutes)

Orchid Trail

The second largest family of plants in the world (with over 20,000 species) is represented in the garden along a trail near the Wilson house and in the orchid greenhouse (by appointment), but specimens can be found attached to trees all over the garden. A number of specimens are labeled and if you are lucky, you may find one flowering! (20 minutes)

Bamboo Collection

This section of the garden houses an impressive collection of bamboo of all sizes. Bamboo belongs to the grass family and is found all over the world. On a windy day some of the larger species in the garden sound like gigantic wind chimes. (20 minutes)

Jungle Trail

The short and long loop trails traverse two beautiful creeks and allow you to explore the secondary forest that surrounds the Wilson Botanical Garden. This area had been completely cleared when the Wilson first started the Garden in the early 1960s. The forest has recovered over the last 40 years, and you will see many native plants growing in their natural habitat. Note that both trails have steep sections. (Short loop 20 minutes; long loop 45 minutes)

The Rio Java & Primary Forest Trails

Access is restricted to overnight guests only. The trail takes you through a picturesque section of secondary forest, crossing a number of small creeks along the way. It is a well-maintained trail but only people in good physical condition should hike it. Bamboo walking sticks and rubber boots are available upon request. Remember that it gets dark by 6pm! (2 – 3 hours)

Several trails into the primary forest and the Melissa restoration plots are accessible from the Rio Java trail. These trails have steep sections and are only for experienced hikers. Please ask for information and a map at Reception before going to the primary 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:

  • Wear closed toed shoes 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 a coral snake) 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.

Private Tours

Early Birding Tour

Las Cruces is a favorite spot for birders. Here you should be able to see the Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, Silver-throated Tanager, Violaceous Trogon, Blue-headed parrot, Violet Sabrewing, and if especially lucky (!) the Turquoise Cotinga. We offer walks from 5:30 – 7:30 am or 7:30 – 9:30 am. Advance reservation is required.

Night Tour

Night walks can be scheduled after dinner (start around 7:00 – 7:30 pm). The night walk lasts approximately 2 hours, and is centered around the garden area. Anytime of the year is good for night walks, but is best if there is no rain and there is a new moon. Prior reservation is also required.


Do not forget to consult for our workshops on different topics, created especially for groups and with the quality that characterizes us.

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-design itineraries

A new and exciting way of adventure… seek the thrill of exploring Costa Rica’s tropical rainforest with one of the world’s leading institutions in education and research of tropical science, the Organization for Tropical Studies.

Overnight visits to the field station should be reserved in advance; larger groups should reserve well in advance of high season (January to March).

Please inquire at Reception for further information on accommodations. Day visitors can have lunch at the garden, but lunch must be reserved at Reception by 10am, or previously reserved to Reservations Department, contact


We offer cabins with private bath, twin beds, fans and balcony with view to the gardens.


We offer set meals in family style service. Vegetarian food is a daily option. Box lunches are also offered.

Breakfast: 6:30 a.m.

Lunch: 12:00 m.d.

Dinner: 6:00 p.m.

The Bookstore & Gift Shop

Store hours are from 8am – 5pm daily. Books, garden guides, T-shirts, and a wide variety of gift items are available. Your purchase helps us conserve this unique place.


Guided tours of the garden and forest are available by reservation. Our natural history guides can focus tours on the individual interests of each party – please let us know if you have a particular preference. We also have booklets for self-guided tours of the garden, which are available for purchase at the gift shop.

Prescription medicines as needed, good walking shoes, hot weather clothes, insect repellent, umbrella or rain jacket, flashlight, binoculars, sun screen, film and camera extra batteries, 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 of its own accord. Notify a staff member immediately in the event of an emergency.

Reservation Policies 2019

Regular Season
2019 Rates US $
Valid from: December 15 2018, to April 30, 2019, January 1 to August 31, 2019

Lodging + 3 meals + taxes (Full Board)

Rates per person per night








Additional person



Children (5-12 years)


Includes: lodging, three meals, one short guided walk and taxes.
The courtesy guided walk must be coordinated upon your arrival at Reception.
Children under 5 years are free of charge when sharing room with parents.


Lodging + breakfast *+ taxes

Rates per person per night











Additional person




Children (5-12 years)


Includes: lodging, one breakfast*, one short guided walk and taxes.
The courtesy guided walk must be coordinated upon your arrival at Reception.
*Breakfast can be changed for another meal (lunch or dinner) prior coordination.



Low Season
2019 Rates US $
Valid for: May, September, October, November, December 1 to 14, 2019


Lodging + 3 meals + taxes (Full Board)

Rates per person per night











Additional person




Children (5-12 years)


Includes: lodging, three meals, one short guided walk and taxes.
The courtesy guided walk must be coordinated upon your arrival at Reception.
Children under 5 years are free of charge when sharing room with parents.



Lodging + breakfast* + taxes

Rates per person per night











Additional person




Children (5-12 years)


Includes: lodging, one breakfast*, one short guided walk and taxes.
The courtesy guided walk must be coordinated upon your arrival at Reception.
*Breakfast can be changed for another meal (lunch or dinner) prior coordination



Regular Guided Walk
Rate per person



Short Walk Adults 1-10 pax




Short Walk Children




Long Walk Adults 1-10 pax




Long Walk Children


Notes: Available Hours between:
1:30pm Walk led by bilingual Naturalist



Private Guided Walk
Rate per person



Short Walk 1 pax




Short Walk 2 – 10 pax




Long Walk 1 pax




Long Walk 2 – 10 pax


Notes: Specific Topic Walk through Wilson Botanical Garden. ALWAYS according availability. Must be coordinated with Reservations
Short Walk: 2 hours. Long Walk: 4 hours.
The Regular Tours Rate Children apply also for Private Tour.



Special Private Tours
Rate per person



Early Birding Tour
Hour: 5:30am.
Duration: 2 hours.

Avifauna of Las Cruces



Nocturnal Wildlife Walk
Hour: 7:00pm.
Duration: 2 hours

A Night Tour to watch the Station Wildlife



1 pax




2 – 10 pax




Children 5-12 years



Notes: Please take into consideration that this tours must be coordinated with Reservations or Reception.




*Consultas de tarifas para nacionales y residentes al teléfono 2524-0607

For information and reservations: visit.ots @

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 Reception 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 bi-annual Las Cruces AMIGOS newsletter.

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

Blue Flag

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

The Blue Flag program substantially improves the use of resources efficiently doing the work of each agency involved, which is reflected in:

  • Saving resources
  • Less pollution
  • Implementation of best environmental practices
  • Changes in the attitude of people

As an organization OTS participated since 2009 in two categories:

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

In which we obtained 5 and 2 stars respectively, this program is coordinated by resident biologist Rodolfo Quiroz together with the Environmental Sustainability Committee of the station.

For more information:
rodolfo.quiros @
diana.bermudez @

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 of 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 scale of 5 “levels” of sustainable tourism achievement.

In the year 2011 the JBW and EBLC 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.

Between the actions taken are:


  • Collect rainwater for reuse in toilets and laundry
  • Gray water oxidation pond project
  • Check for leakage and replace 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.


  • There is a storage facility for solid waste recycling
  • Project-based composting kitchen scraps, fruit, vegetables, medicinal plants and yard waste. Bio-enzymes, bocashi and vermin culture compost are produced.
  • Monitoring and control 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: 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 who helped make it happen with their generous cooperation. • Eco-Cultural Festival: held annually in June in order to raise awareness surrounding communities about the importance of conservation while given 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 sport 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 Ramirez
emilce.ramirez @
Phone: (506) 27734004 Ext.3200

Our goal is to be a Sustainable Biological Station where our actions do not impact negatively on the environment, but to support the conservation, research and reduced utilization of resources.

Many sustainability efforts continue to be implemented, to learn more contact:

Diana Bermudez
diana.bermudez @
Phone: (506) 27734004 Ext: 3150

For information and reservations
Costa Rica (506) 2524-0607 | Fax (506) 2524-0608
United States (919) 684 5774 | Fax (919) 684 5661