BY: MARI DE ARMAS
“It is a land of love and wondrous beauty where fragrant flowers ever will grow.”
No matter how much of a city person you are, there is something magical that happens when you surround yourself in a lush landscape and bathe in the extraordinary colors of flowers in bloom. Luckily, in the Caribbean, you are never too far from being surrounded by natural beauty. Beyond the sun, sea and sand, the region also offers exquisite flora in must-visit botanic gardens and parks. These are a few of my favorite places that feature some of the most unique and picturesque vegetation in the world.
ANDROMEDA GARDENS IN BARBADOS
In the serenity of this historic garden, you may see hummingbirds fluttering about. You may even see the resident monkey in the trees. And you will definitely spot a type of flower that blasts a superb combination of red and yellow. This year-round bloom is inimitable and stunning, just like the island that has claimed her as its national flower. While she is known regionally as the ‘pride of Barbados,’ the plant is also known as the peacock flower.
EL YUNQUE IN PUERTO RICO
El Yunque is so incredibly immense that it demands your silence. I believe it’s the only place in the world my Puerto Rican friends and I have had a whispered conversation, as to not interrupt the chirping of the coquí frog. In this cathedral of green, there is one tree that is easy to spot, the flamboyant. The name says it all. In the summer months, the blooms are as fiery as the heat, exploding in bright reds and deep oranges. Legend has it that there is also a rare blue flamboyant somewhere in the mountain, but these eyes have yet to see it.
ARIKOK NATIONAL PARK IN ARUBA
One of the more surprising landscapes of the Caribbean is in Aruba, where the dry climate allows for cacti to thrive. There’s no better place to get a sense of the rugged terrain than at Arikok National Park, where you can appreciate desert-like hills filled with tall cacti alongside a breathtaking coastline. In addition, this park is home to a variety of unique attractions and cultural heritage sites, including spectacular caves, original Indian rock drawings, unusual land formations made from lava, quartz diorite and limestone.
DESHAIES BOTANICAL GARDEN IN GUADELOUPE ISLANDS
The Deshaies Botanical Garden is the perfect showcase for an island shaped like a butterfly. On your path you’ll see magnificent water lilies, a village of parrots and lorikeets and, my personal favorite, graceful flamingos alongside flamingo flowers, also known as anthuriums. Unlike their pink namesakes, the heart-shaped, waxy leaf is a bold red color. Look closely and you’ll notice the tiny flowers growing out of its center spike.
DIAMOND BOTANICAL GARDENS IN ST. LUCIA
Near Soufrière, at the base of the famed Pitons, you’ll not only find this brilliant garden, but you can also view the colorful Diamond Waterfalls and go for a dip in the mineral baths. In the midst of all of this beauty, there is a flower that demands your attention: the Heliconia, A.K.A. lobsterclaw. Their vibrant yellow and red colors will catch your eye along the nature trail. Take a closer look to see that the blossoms grow in contradictory directions, giving the presence of being woven together.
ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS IN TRINIDAD & TOBAGO
Breadfruit dishes, from roasts to crispy chips are a cornerstone of the Caribbean cuisine — especially in Trinidad and Tobago, where it’s been a part of the landscape since the early 1800’s. The seed was brought from the Pacific and planted in the Royal Botanic Gardens, where it bore fruit for practically the entire island. More than the breadfruit, the gardens are home to 700 trees or so, many from all over the world, including orchids, tulip and magnolias.
SUNNYSIDE GARDEN IN GRENADA
Grenada is synonymous with nutmeg. Everywhere you turn it smells delicious. This is especially true at the Sunnyside Garden, where you get to wander among the citrus grove, cotton bushes, cashew nut trees and century old mahoganies. Adding to the delight are the tortoises, parrots and lizards living among the trees in the garden. My favorite discovery was of the Fountain Tree, widely known as the African tulip tree. Tall and gorgeous, she had unusual flower clusters that looked like claws surrounded by an intense orange flower.
While many of these flowers, plants and trees can be found around the world, these verdant landscapes set on a backdrop of clear blue skies and crystalline waters are endemic to the Caribbean. On your next visit to the region with Regent Seven Seas Cruises, set out to find your very own oasis-within-an-oasis by exploring a botanic garden or meandering on a nature trail at a national park. There’s nothing like experiencing the natural beauty of these islands firsthand.