Gardens and Nature of Costa Rica Day 3

Turriaba Volcano in full eruption.

Here we are in the third day of our trip: myself as tour leader, our local guide, Andrea, and 20 travelers. The day started off much like the previous one, with a nice sunny early morning in San Jose, but this time, instead of seeing the mountains around surrounded in clouds, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Perfect, as we were heading towards Irazu volcano and it would have been disappointing had it been covered in clouds as Poas volcano had been the day before. In fact, it was so clear you could see a nearby volcano , Turrialba, which was in full eruption mode this morning, and yet it was some 11 km from where we stopped to see it on the road to Irazu.

Volcano hummingbird

Irazu National Park is right on top of the volcano and as soon as we got out the bus, we saw the only hummingbird that can live in such a high altitude (3432 m/11,260 ft): the tiny volcano hummingbird. It was in a terrible hurry, zipping from flower to flower and very hard to photograph. It was visiting an absolutely extraordinary flower, Bomarea sp., a climber in the lily family with clusters of brilliant red tubular flowers .

Bomarea sp.
Main Crater, Irazu Volcano

Then there was easy to walk two craters in a very lunar landscape, Diego de la Haya Crater and the much larger Main Crater. The view is spectacular and we actually well above the clouds! What a spectacular effect… and what an odd feeling to your your feet on solid ground while looking down at clouds!


Returning to the bus, I run into a coati, raccoon like mammal but with a long, pointed snout. I took a picture, but the travelers were not around to share in the pleasure of seeing it. Too bad!

San Rafael Oreomuno

Leaving Irazu, we stopped at the San Rafael Oreomuno Saturday farmers market and Andrea gave us a tour having us taste the exotic fruit we did not know, such as passionfruit (Passiflora edulis), cas (Psidium friedrichsthalianum) and soursop (Annona muricata). I’m a real fan of public market, so this was a nice treat!

Next we went to the Basilica of Nuestra Señora de los Angeles in Cartago where you have attended a wedding. Thereafter, Andrea told us the legend of the Black Madonna and brought us to see the statue in question. This is actually a very small statue ! After , we went to the source of miraculous water behind the church , yes, as in Lourdes ! People lined up to fill their bottle of this water .

Basilica Nuestra Señora de les Angeles, Cartago.
Panorama of Orosi valley

At noon we had a delicious dinner at Mirador Sanchiri in Paraiso with a great view of the Orosi valley below. There was also a very pretty garden all around, with trees laden with epiphytes, including many orchids and bromeliads and even a mistletoe cactus (Rhipsalis baccifera).

Afterwards, we went to the fascinating Lankester Botanical Garden, also in Paraiso. This is the country’s oldest and best known botanical garden. At 11 hectares (27 acres), it is not a huge botanical garden, but it is big enough to house over 3,000 species.This garden is famous for its collection of epiphytes (plants that grow on trees ), including the most complete collection of neotropical orchids in the world.

Guarianthe skinneri

I led the group on a sort general tour, starting with the orchid shade house. The floral emblem of the country, an orchid called Guarianthe skinneri (formerly Cattleya skinner) was in full bloom with its spectacular bright pink flowers and there were also lots of colorful orchids, including species and hybrids from other countries, especially at the shade house’s entrance. However, the largest part of the collection is dedicated to the native orchids of the New World, not all quite so showy. Novices often think that orchids all have large flowers with spectacular colors, but the reality is that most orchids are small and their flowers are rather discreet. Some are smaller than a 25 cent coin… and that includes the flowers! There were thousands of this mid-size to truly tiny orchids, some with truly strange flowers and foliage. The garden even provides magnifying lenses so you can better seethe flowers of the very tiniest varietiesg!

Anthurium sp.

After the orchid shade house, I led the group through the garden, from the water garden to the Japanese garden and  through the collections of gingers (including the famous heliconias, so abundant and varied in Costa Rica), palms, bamboos, cacti and succulents and bromeliads, all along providing what I hoped were useful comments. Personally, I was impressed by the huge nest anthuriums (Anthurium salvinii and others) in secondary forest, locally called tabacon because the leaves are somewhat similar to tobacco leaves. The largest of these anthuriums have leaves 1.5 m (5 fee) long! And to think these huge plants often grow on trees!

Las Ruinas, Cartago
Las Ruinas, Cartago

Our last stop for the day was Las Ruinas in Cartago, the ruins of an old church. The roof is long gone, leaving on the walls, but the inside has been converted into a garden of flowers. Normally this garden is always locked and you can only admire from the outside, through the windows of ruins: nice enough, but still. But Andrea managed to find police officers with a key and they let us in. Absolulely beautiful, with a jarcanda (Jacarfanda mimosifolia) with purple trumpet flowers, dozens of exotic shrubs, flowerbeds filled with a whole range of lantanas and so much more. I think every garden needs a few ruins: they give it so much atmosphere!

To finish the day , we went to dinner at the posh restaurant Cafe Mundo in an old colonial house. If you ever go there, I highly recommend the linguini with seafood : delicious and unlike Quebec restaurants, there were more seafood pasta !

But with that, I have to go to bed !

Do not expect “blogs” for the next two days because we will be in Tortuguero where I will not have easy access to the Internet. I’ll pick up again in a few days.

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

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