Just six kilometers east of Cartago, on the road to Paraiso, is the Lankester Garden, which is internationally famous through the number and variety of its orchids. The original owner was a British orchid fancier named Charles (Carlos) Lancaster, who laid out the garden on approximately 10 hectares of land in 1917 in order to plant, catalogue and breed new forms of Costa Rican orchids. By the time of his death at the age of 90 in 1969, Lancaster had created 110 new hybrids and cataloged another 80 species up to that time unknown in Costa Rica. After 1969 the jungle threatened to reclaim the garden until the University of Costa Rica took over its care.
Fortunately, Lankester Garden is now open to the public throughout the year. The best time to visit it is between March and May, when most of the 800 different types of orchids (from 1,200 species known to exist) are in bloom. Some are epiphytes, growing on host trees and taking their nourishment from the air and rain. Every half hour there is an hourlong guided tour which is included in the price of admission.
The average temperature is 20°C, and the garden is watered by an underground sprinkler system, creating ideal conditions for growing orchids. A greenhouse contains more delicate species. The pink Cattleya skinnerii and the national flower of Costa Rica, better known by its Spanish name la guaria morada, are found here, along with countless orchids from all over the world. They are surrounded by birds and butterflies.