In 1917, 40-year-old British botanist Charles Lankester laid out 10 hectares/24.7 acres of gardens six km/four miles east of Cartago on the road to Paraíso (506/551-9877). Surrounded by tall pines, Lankester worked to catalog and develop new species of orchids, a delicate bloom treasured by flower aficionados. Costa Rica is world renowned for its beautiful orchids. Exotic blooming orchids are the largest family of flowering plants in the world and they thrive in warm, humid climates. The many varieties have different styles of flowers, from tiny delicate petals running along the stem to bold blossoms and big thick green leaves. Costa Rica claims up to 1,500 different varieties, 75% of which are epiphytes.
By the time Lankester died in 1969, at the age of 90, he had cataloged 80 native species previously unknown in Costa Rica, and developed another 110 hybrid species. Upon his death the gardens were taken over by the University of Costa Rica. Marked paths point out the over 800 different species on display as well as other flowering native plants. The gardens have orchids in bloom all year, but blooms are most prolific between February and May. Open 8:30 am-3:30 pm; US $3.50.
If you’re on a public bus from Cartago toward Orosí (marked with Lankester as a stop) ask the bus driver to let you off at the gardens. Follow a short dirt road past a go-kart racetrack to the gardens Across the main road at the bus stop is a very good restaurant with hotel rooms, Casa Vieja (506/591-1165), in a Caribbean-style main house.
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