The Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Gardens, or Botanic Park -- you'll see both names in different places, was our first stop when we landed because it seemed like it would be a pleasant, leisurely way to work off jet lag -- and it was.
They cover 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 sore eyes -- but still didn't want to leave! The good news, for those of us no longer able to manage difficult ground, is the walks are all on well maintained level paths.
The Park is a tranquil oasis in the center of the island, definitely Grand Cayman's best kept secret, about 30 minutes drive east from George Town. It's owned by the National Trust for the Cayman Islands on behalf of the Cayman people and are open from 9 am to 6:30 pm daily (April to September) and 9 am to 5:30 pm daily (October to March). The entrance fee is US$10 per adult, US$5 for children over 5 and free for toddlers.
We began our tour of the Botanic Gardens with the Rankine House and Heritage Garden, part of the managed side of the park. The house is a traditional Cayman settler's home surrounded by an also traditional 'sand garden' with the path lined by Conch shells. Sand gardens were a way of keeping down bugs and preventing them getting into the house and occupants.
Our next stop was the Floral Colour Garden, though you can't really call it a 'stop'. It's a walking trail through brilliantly colored trees and shrubs arranged so one side of the garden is red, the other side is blue and the plants between seamlessly connect the two.
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. By this point in our stroll we were looking forward to a drink, I mentioned the hot sun earlier, and were disappointed to find the teahouse is a an ornamental feature of the park, providing welcome shade but no tea. Stock up at, or revisit, the Visitor Center for refreshments.
Running through, and alongside, the Floral Garden is the Lake and Wetlands with its collection of water plants and water birds. We walked on the path running alongside the lake until we reached an area of picnic benches and two motionless Grand Cayman Blue Iguanas enjoying the shade. They were so still, we thought maybe they were statues -- until they hurried over to see what we'd brought to eat! Their approach was so quick, we were alarmed and hurriedly retreated back the way we'd come. That may sound wussy to you, sitting at your monitor reading this, but adult iguanas are big. These two were both about 4-5 feet long and they had large mouths that looked like they could bite.
The Woodland Trail leads off from the Botanic Gardens Visitor Centre so, after a much needed stop for refreshments, we headed out again. Here the trees provide shade for much of the walk and there are benches for rests.
Along the Trail is the Grand Cayman blue iguana breeding Centre, with its pens for the growing iguanas. This is a good place for blue iguana viewing without the worry of whether they bite; however, you do need to book one of the tours so call ahead to get the times if this is something you'd like to do.
The walk passes 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.
Destin, Fla, USA