The long Pan American Highway heading south from San José ascends the highest pass in Costa Rica, Cerro de la Muerte, a cold and windy place of Andean-type páramo vegetation and low oak trees. The tranquil cloud forests of San Gerardo de Dota are tucked away close by below.
Descending through the Talamanca mountains, the road continues south to the border with Panama. This little visited region is home to the Wilson Botanical Gardens, where the Organisation for Tropical Studies has a research centre in well-planted grounds with beautiful flowers and plantings of gingers, lilies, heliconias, bromeliads, agaves and bamboo. The star of the show is the garden's collection of over 700 palms.
A large part of the Talamanca range is protected by La Amistad International Park which continues into Panama.