A must-see for gardeners and bird-watchers, the world-renowned Wilson Botanical Garden is enchanting even for those who are neither. Paths through the extensive grounds are lined with exotic plants and shaded by avenues of palm trees and 50-foot-high bamboo stalks. In 1961, U.S. landscapers Robert and Catherine Wilson bought 30 acres of coffee plantation and started planting tropical species, including palms, orchids, bromeliads, and heliconias. Today the property extends over 635 acres, and the gardens hold around 2,000 native and more than 3,000 exotic species. The palm collection—more than 700 species—is the second largest in the world. Fantastically shaped and colored bromeliads, which usually live in the tops of trees, have been brought down to the ground in impressive mass plantings, providing one of many photo opportunities.
The garden was transferred to the Organization for Tropical Studies in 1973, and in 1983 it became part of Amistad Biosphere Reserve. Under the
name Las Cruces Biological Station, Wilson functions mainly as a research and educational center, so there is a constant supply of expert botanists and biologists to take visitors on natural-history tours in the garden and the adjoining forest trails. Birders can hike to the new canopy tower in the forest, funded by the local San Vito Birding Club, to get up to eye level with birds in the treetops. Twice a month, members of the San Vito Bird Club lead free birding tours of the garden, complete with binoculars and field guides to share. Check www.sanvitobirdclub.org for the bird walk schedule. If you spend a night at the garden lodge, you have the garden all to yourself in the late afternoon and early morning, when wildlife is most active. Guests also have access to the Río Java trail, where monkeys abound.