Edens in Eden: Don’t Miss These Fab Caribbean Botanical GardensBy Terry Ward
No matter how much you love the beach, there comes a time on every Caribbean vacation when you might feel an urge to take a little break from the sun and surf and see something of the land itself. Venturing into the verdant surrounds of a Caribbean garden on diverse islands like Bonaire, Barbados and St. Kitts gives you a glimpse of the spectacular flora of the tropics.
Bring on the orchids, bromeliads and palm species in spades—and read on for a few of our favorite botanical gardens across the Caribbean.
Andromeda Botanic Gardens, Barbados
Prepare to be spellbound as you venture along the self-guided trails at this east Barbados treasure that’s a partner garden of the UK-based Royal Horticultural Society. Pick up a guide at the visitor’s center to inform your stroll through Andromeda Botanic Gardens, named for the Greek goddess who, like the gardens, was similarly chained to a rock.
Incredibly lush plants and trees cultivated entirely by organic practices rise from Barbados’ coral rock base here to wondrous effect. Originally farmland, the gardens were established by renowned Barbadian horticulturalist, Iris Bannochie, who collected many of the plants during her travels in the Caribbean.
More than 80 species of trees, 70 species of palms and all kinds of herbaceous and flowering plants are the canvas for flitting hummingbirds and butterflies. The highlight for kids might be the chance to grab some free fish food to entice the hungry tilapia swirling in the garden ponds.
J.R. O’Neal Botanical Gardens, Tortola
Visitors to Tortola can dodge the midday tropical heat within the cool surrounds of J.R. O’Neal Botanical Gardens right in the middle of Road Town. You enter along a pathway of towering royal palms that lead to a gurgling fountain. From there, trails diverge to explore the gardens’ other delightful nooks and crannies, home to over 60 unique plant species.
A collection of native and exotic orchids is displayed in a pretty gazebo, there’s a dedicated cacti exhibit, and in the garden’s well-kept nursery you can see endangered flora of the BVI. The varied habitats of the BVI are also represented in displays that spotlight rain forest, dry forest and coastal plant species.
The Bonaire Botanical Garden, Bonaire
Far more arid than most of the Caribbean islands, Bonaire surprises with its desert-like landscapes and abundance of cacti and twisting-branched divi trees, which are more prevalent here than palms. Located along the inland road north, between Kralendijk and Rincon, the Bonaire Botanical Garden is a surprisingly green oasis presided over by owner, Manuel Vargas.
Vargas leads visitors on tours that explain the organic gardening practices in use, permaculture and the many medicinal properties of the plants that grow naturally on Bonaire. Don’t be afraid to smell or even nibble on a leaf proffered by Vargas, whose passion for Bonaire’s flora runs deep. At the end of the tour, you may even be offered a cup of Bonaire herbal tea to enjoy.
Fairview Greathouse and Botanical Gardens, St. Kitts
Head to the base of Olivees Mountain on St. Kitts’ south coast to visit the gardens at this 18th century great house, the only remaining French plantation house on the island.
A historical landmark on the island, the Fairview Greathouse dates to 1701 and is fascinating to tour for a peak at the period furnishings within and original features, like the brick oven and volcanic stone bath.
The plant lovers among you, however, will be most taken by the property’s gorgeous grounds that include tropical gardens thick with exotic plants and fruit trees often frequented by monkeys.
Tours usually include a visit to the great house, rum tasting and a Caribbean cooking tour, with a walk around the gardens and a day pass for the pool —the icing on the cake. So, plan to spend the day enjoying yourself.
Phantasea Tropical Botanical Garden, St. Thomas
Orchid enthusiasts won’t want to miss one of the newest attractions in the US Virgin Islands.
Open to the public since 2015, Phantasea Tropical Botanical Garden is an eco-attraction home to over 1,000 orchids in various stages of flowering throughout the year, along with many other tropical plant species that include agave succulents, sabal and coconut palms and bromeliads galore.
The 2017 hurricanes thinned the tree canopy overhead, which shone increased sunlight on the forest floor and led to a veritable explosion of flourishing plant life in the gardens.
Bananaquit hummingbirds arrive like clockwork every morning to sip from their nectar feeders. And the gardens’ afford great views of the surrounds, too—you can see Magens Bay, Tortola, St. John and the cruise ship harbor from various vantage points.