When visiting the Caribbean, soaking up the warmth of a sunny beach and swimming in aquamarine waters are de rigueur. But many Caribbean islands are also home to verdant treasures: public gardens and green spaces. These peaceful landscapes are brimming with sensory delights that will appeal not only to the botanically inclined, but also bird-watchers and families who crave a quiet, stress-free outing. Here are seven you shouldn’t miss.
Fort Napoléon, Les Saintes, Guadeloupe Islands
High above Terre-de-Haut at almost 400 feet above sea level, this garden is built on the stone ramparts of a fort named for Napoleon III, France’s first president. Hovering over the scenic bay of Les Saintes, the fort was originally built in the 18th century and, after the British destroyed it, rebuilt a century later. As you wander the grounds, you’ll be captivated by the views of Dominica and the Guadeloupe islands of La Désirade and Marie-Galante across the teal waters. The landscape is dominated by succulents: yuccas, aloes, acacias and agaves. You’ll also likely see pipe organ cactus, queen of the night, blade apple cactus and prickly pear.
Adventure Farm and Nature Reserve, Tobago
This working organic farm grows myriad fruit trees, from guava and banana to West Indian cherry. Trails weave through the tropical landscape that attracts numerous birds, including herons, blue tanagers, egrets and five species of hummingbirds. Walk the lush Mot Mot Trail, where you’ll find a massive saman tree. Epiphytes drip from its branches. You’ll also notice a travelers palm with leaves spanning up to 10 feet. At a small rainwater pond, various reptiles, such as a sally painter lizard, come to drink. Nearby, benches beckon you to sit for a while and bird-watch or scope out the reptiles.
Mamiku Botanical Gardens, St. Lucia
Instead of joining the throngs flocking to the Pitons or the drive-in volcano, meander through eight acres of colorful, naturally wild gardens on a former 18th century sugar estate. With so much to see here, it might be best to sign up for a guided tour that focuses on your interests, whether birding, hiking or plant life. Those enamored by orchids will find plenty to love here, including eyelash orchids, with their fringy protuberances, and spider orchids, whose flowers resemble the arachnid. Moss-coated tree stumps are scattered about, bedecked with delicate, pale orchids. There are also hobbit-like, rustic, white cedar benches that are quite inviting.
Domaine d’Emeraude, Martinique
A network of forest trails slice through this vast expanse, veering from sun-dappled scenery to areas dense with shadows. Though there’s a web of paths, you won’t get lost: Most intersections display a map. A sense of tranquility predominates as you become mindful of the array of textures, sounds, hues and scents surrounding you. Any of several themed pavilions (ajoupas) are worth enjoying for their environmental themes, accompanied by photographic displays. For example, Ajoupa la Lumiere displays arresting images of leaves and the forest glinting in the sunlight. Beyond the woodland are garden paths wending through an undulating terrain, offering views of majestic Mount Pelée.
The Botanical Gardens of Nevis, Nevis
Your entrance to these bucolic gardens may be a bit surprising: a duo of guardian lion Foo dogs from China flank the entrance. This property is peppered with more than two dozen mostly Asian (but also Indonesian and South American) sculptures from the owner’s collection. Probably one of the most impressive is a massive Olmec head waterfall. As you wander along curvy paths and across footbridges, don’t miss the Vine Garden, where hummingbirds flit about the blooms draping the arbors. The many-hued orchid collection is considered one of the Caribbean’s largest. No matter where you stroll, you’ll be enthralled by views of the island’s signature sight: the often cloud-draped Nevis Peak.
St. George Village Botanical Garden, St. Croix
It’s worth slowly exploring these serene gardens built around the stone remains of a former rum and sugar plantation. Taking the walkways through the ruins and up and down several steps, you’ll find a lone bench in an alcove that’s particularly alluring. Sphagnum moss drips from an immense crimson bottlebrush tree. Nearby, a tiny circular pool bears Egyptian lotus. Continuing around the stone walls, you’re bound to spot brilliant purple orchids, a stunning queen’s wreath vine and a breadfruit tree. Not far from a road where royal palms soar sits a copper cauldron, once used to boil sugar and now serving as a planter holding papyrus sedge.
Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, Grand Cayman
On this 65-acre property, the signature feature of the aptly named Heritage Garden is a more than 100-year-old Caymanian cottage. Wander through a grass-free sand yard, where numerous medicinal plants grow, such as periwinkle that’s used for high blood pressure and lemongrass to treat fevers. Also popular is the Floral Colour Garden, where the plants are grouped by hue. The red section features crimson-colored ginger, burning bush and lobster claw. Bird-watchers will delight in the lively bird activity in the lake and wetland area, including tricolored herons and blue-winged teals.
10Best is a part of the USA TODAY Network — providing an authentically local point of view on destinations around the world — in addition to travel and lifestyle advice.