The Las Cruces Biological Station (Estación Biológica Las Cruces, tel. 506/2773-4004, www.ots.ac.cr ), six kilometers south of San Vito , is a botanist’s delight. The center, in the midst of a 290-hectare forest reserve, is run by the Organization of Tropical Studies (OTS).
New plants are propagated for horticulture, and species threatened with habitat loss and extinction are maintained for future reforestation efforts. Maintaining the reserve—proclaimed part of La Amistad Biosphere Reserve—is the cornerstone of a larger effort to save the watershed of the Río Java; you can donate to its Adopt-a-Pasture Program.
The reserve is in mid-elevation tropical rainforest along a ridge of the Fila Zapote. During the wet season, heavy fog and afternoon clouds spill over the ridge, nourishing a rich epiphytic flora of orchids, bromeliads, ferns, and aeroids. The forest is a vital habitat for pacas, anteaters, opossums, kinkajous, porcupines, armadillos, sloths, tayras, monkeys, deer, small cats, more than 45 species of bats, and some 800 species of butterflies. Bird-watching at Las Cruces is especially rewarding: More than 400 species have been recorded.
The spectacular highlight is the 12-hectare Wilson Botanical Garden (8 A.M.–7 P.M. Mon.–Fri., 8 A.M.–5 P.M. Sat.–Sun., $8 adults, children free) established in 1963 by Robert and Catherine Wilson, former owners of Fantastic Gardens in Miami. Both are now buried on the grounds. The garden was inspired by the famous Brazilian gardener Roberto Burle-Marx, who designed much of the garden following his vision of parterres as a palette.
Approximately 10 kilometers of well-maintained trails (and many more in the forest reserve) meander through the Fern Grove, Orchid Grotto, the largest palm collection in the world, heliconia groves, and other locales. The garden also has an open-air cacti exhibit, plus greenhouses of anthuriums, ferns, elkhorns, and more. More than 2,000 native plant species are on display, and a bird-watching tower has been added.
Guided walks ($20/32 half-/full-day) and meals are available by reservation; and you can buy self-guided-tour booklets in the well-stocked gift store.