Visiting Grand Cayman’s Botanic Gardens

The Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park (you’ll see it called a Botanic Park and Botanic Gardens in different places so I’m also using the terms interchangeably) is a tranquil oasis in the center of the island about 30 minutes drive east from George Town just off the Frank Sound Road. The National Trust for the Cayman Islands manages the gardens on behalf of the Cayman people and they do a fine job. The gardens are open from 9 am to 6:30 pm daily (April to September) and 9 am to 5:30 pm daily (October to March) and the entrance fee is US$10 per adult, US$5 for children over 5 and free for toddlers (2009 prices).

The Park covers around 60 acres of managed and fairly natural countryside. It’s a good walk in the hot sun so be prepared. We weren’t. I forgot my sunglasses and ended the day with fried eyes — but still didn’t want to leave! The good news, for those no longer able to manage difficult ground, is that all the Park’s walks are on well maintained level paths.

The Park has a number of distinct features; a genuine Cayman settler’s house (the Rankine House), a trail through Cayman’s natural bush (Woodland Trail), a Blue Iguana breeding centre, a flower garden (Floral Colour Garden), and a lake and wetlands. The Rankine House and Heritage Garden are part of the managed side of the park. It’s a traditional Cayman settler’s home surrounded by an also traditional ‘sand garden’ with the path lined by Conch shells. The simplicity of the home is a nostalgic reminder of where we all were not so long ago. Sometimes, the Twenty-First Century can look pretty cold for all its many attractions.

The Floral Colour Garden (Grand Cayman follows British spelling so I’m using that for local place names) is enjoyed through an easy walking trail among brilliantly colored trees and shrubs arranged so that one side of the garden is red and the other side is blue. Between these two extremes, the plants shift on the color spectrum from red to pinks and purples to blue. Butterflies, large and small, flit between the plants adding their own vibrant colors to the mix. The Floral Gardens boast a Tea Room but don’t assume that means you can get tea. In the hot sun, a drink would be welcome but the teahouse is an ornamental feature of the park, providing welcome shade but no tea.

Running through the Floral Colour Garden is the Lake and Wetlands with its collection of water plants and water birds. The path beside the lake becomes a picnic area and, of course, where there’s food, you’ll find animals waiting to scoop up the crumbs or, if they’re the bolder sort, beg for more than crumbs. We found two motionless Blue Iguanas, so still we thought they were statues at first — then they scurried over to see what we’d brought to eat! Their approach was so quick, we took fright and quickly retreated back the way we’d come. That may sound wussy to you, sitting at your monitor reading this, but adult iguanas are big – really big. At around 5 feet (1.6m) in length, 25 lbs (11Kg) in weight and naturally armed with sharp teeth and claws, they are a fearsome sight. I could see me losing more than just a toe, if they weren’t friendly. Fortunately they were, but it’s still best not to feed them.

After a much needed stop for refreshments at the Visitor Centre, head out along the Woodland Trail. It’s a relaxing stroll, about 30 minutes, with the trees providing shade for much of the walk and with benches for regular rests. Along the Trail is the Grand Cayman blue iguana breeding Centre, with its pens for the growing iguanas, and a number of pools with Green Turtles. One pool is called Crocodile Hole but, sadly or maybe thankfully, there are no longer any crocodiles, or Caymans, on Grand Cayman. The Trail is also a popular spot for growing blue iguanas (the ones old enough to be let out without parental supervision, I guess) who like the sun and shade mix too.

The trees and wetlands are well signed to help visitors understand what they’re seeing. Meandering from sign to sign, working on your tan and learning something new while you do it makes for a pleasant way to spend a morning or afternoon of your vacation.. Sometimes life really is a ‘rose garden’ without the thorns.