By Lindsey Turnbull
When HM the Queen visited the Cayman Islands in 1994 she opened the newly developed Botanic Park, which, at the time, only consisted of a Woodland Trail. The Park took on its royal name and, over the past two and a half decades, it has grown to become a varied and exciting tourist attraction that speaks volumes about the natural beauty of the island.
The drive up to the Botanic Park is a pleasant journey out east, then head north up to North Side, where, if you carry on, the road takes you all the way up to Rum Point and Kaibo. It is definitely worth ensuring that the Botanic Park is a stop on your Cayman itinerary, as it’s a brilliant way to learn about the natural habitat of these great islands.
The entrance to the Botanic Park is a sweeping drive that takes you to the very heart of Grand Cayman. Entering this tranquil setting is almost like taking a step back into the past, as you imagine what the island may have looked like before the advent of construction and development. Once you’ve paid your entrance fee of CI$8 (children under 12 are free if they are with a parent), you can first enjoy the Queen Elizabeth II monument, which is made from locally sourced stone and framed by a stand of Silver Thatch Palms (Cayman’s national tree), then head to the Visitor’s Centre where it’s advisable to buy a Woodland Trail map, so you can plan your visit and get the most out of all the attractions on offer.
Head out into the park and work your way towards the Heritage Garden, where a traditional Caymanian cottage and its garden are a tangible piece of history, showcasing how Caymanians of old decorated their gardens, with white sand and traditional trees, some of which are medicinal.
A discovery that is sure to delight is the Orchid Garden, situated around a boardwalk that winds its way through some of the rarest orchids to be found anywhere, including Cayman’s national flower, the Wild Banana Orchid. Worthy of note, each year the Botanic Park and the Cayman Islands Orchid Society host Cayman’s Orchid Show, and growers from all across the islands gather to showcase this most rare and beautiful plant.
A riot of colour
The Floral Colour Garden is a particular favourite of this author. Depending on the time of year you go, you should be able to move through a riot of colour, with plants arranged in groups of white, yellow, orange, red, pink and lavender. In this location, a gorgeous little stop (and great photo opportunity!) is the gazebo that overlooks a lily pond. If you are lucky, you can enjoy this little piece of serenity all by yourself!
Continuing on the main path, you will then come upon the two acre lake and its adjacent wetlands, a breeding ground for native birds such as Tri-coloured Herons, Common Moorhen, Green Herons, Black-necked Stilts, American Coots, Blue-winged Teal, Cattle Egrets and rare West Indian Whistling Ducks.
The main path links to the original Woodland Trail, another worthwhile visit because you get to appreciate all the different kinds of terrains and habitats on just one mile of walkable discovery. Note the wetland, cactus thicket, logwood swamp, epiphyte woodland, dry thickets and tall woodland with huge Mahogany trees, all located on one trail. You’ll also discover The Blue Iguana Habitat along this trail, a breeding ground for this unique reptile that, up until a few years ago, was facing extinction. Thanks to the efforts of The National Trust for the Cayman Islands, these animals are now coming back in numbers. Keep a close eye open and you will see one of these amazing creatures all for yourself!