If you love to see tropical flowers, plants, butterflies and birds… Costa Rica has it all! There are many delightful botanical and other gardens in every province all around Costa Rica. I have already written about some of them. The La Paz Waterfall Gardens near Alajuela and the Poas Volcano National Park is much more than the 5 waterfalls. It is a very ecologically entertaining place with orchid, butterfly, and humming bird gardens as well as an aviary. The Zarcero central park is a unique topiary garden. And of course, there is The Ark Herb Farm in Alajuela Province is actually a botanical garden full of amazing and sometimes mysterious herbs and medical plants, besides all the ornamental and fruit plants that grow there.
In addition to each of these, let me tell you about three other gardens that you will not want to miss. Each of these locations is an easy half- or full-day trip from either San José or Alajuela (near the airport).
Else Kientzler Garden is located in the town of Sarchí, about 1 hour north of San José and 40 minutes from the airport in Alajuela. Sarchí is Costa Rica’s center for wood working craftsmen. It is the hub for handmade wood and artistic crafts, and where pure talent, handed down from generations, lives on. Handmade wood furniture is displayed and for sale in Sarchí, but you will find Sarchí-made furniture everywhere in Costa Rica. I recommend the wonderful rocking chairs! Sarchí is also home to the talented craftsmen and women who build and decorate the typical colorful Costa Rican ox carts. A photo next to the world's largest (giant) ox cart on display in Sarchí central park will certainly spark some conversations when you get back home.
On the outskirts of Sarchí, is the Else Kientzler Gardens which is actually many gardens linked together along pleasant walkways that lead you around this garden-park. There is a trickling stream that runs through the garden. For the most part, plants and trees are labeled in Spanish and English. There are picnic areas and benches to pause for photos or to appreciate the surroundings. Be sure to look and around to see birds and butterflies. The walk can easily take 2-3 hours; there is lots of diversity here. There is a cactus garden that gives the appearance of being hundreds of years old (but it is not). There is also a labyrinth, a succulent garden, fruit trees, and of course, orchids. There are a couple of bridges and a children’s garden. It is a wheelchair friendly garden.
The Lankester Botanical Garden is in Cartago, south of the airport and San José. It is actually a set of diverse gardens ranging from orchids displays to a Japanese stone garden. Orchids can be seasonal, but Lankester always has a greenhouse that never seems to be void of these incredible flowers. They are displayed at eye level, giving you the opportunity to examine these beautiful plants up close and to take lots of photos. Possibly the best time to visit is from February to April, when the most flowers will be in bloom. However, with so many different species, you are sure to find a few in bloom no matter when you visit. Birdwatchers, be sure to take your binoculars! Many tropical birds and butterflies also make their homes in the protected sanctuary of Lankester Gardens. It is a wheelchair friendly garden.
As its name indicates, this is an ornate garden at a beautiful hotel, in Heredia, minutes south of San José and not far from the international airport in Alajuela. Hotel Bougainvillea is elegant and comfortable and, besides the garden, also features a gourmet restaurant. I recommend staying there, but you do not have to be staying at the hotel to enjoy the garden (or to have a cup of coffee in the café). It is open to the public and garden visitors are quite welcome. The location is a popular and magical place for weddings. There are 4 hectares of gardens. The pathways wind around garden islands and pass a delightful herb garden. It is picturesque in every way and even in the rain. Most plants are labeled in English & Spanish and include the scientific name.
There is a bridge or two, several trellises to walk through and big rocks scatter throughout the Hotel Bougainvillea garden. In other words, there are plenty of spots for fabulous photos. If you are not staying there, I recommend taking in the breakfast buffet and the gardens all at once! If you find yourself there in the afternoon or evening, then stay for dinner and happy hour. The garden is beautifully lighted at night.
If you find yourself with free time between conference meetings or dental/medical appointments, plan to tour any of these 3 cities to see birds, blooms and nature's beauty in their magnificent gardens. It will promise to be a delightful and relaxing, get-back-to-nature adventure. Bring your binoculars and be sure your camera is charged.
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