Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park

Endangered blue iguanas are becoming more common throughout.

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Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park

Opened in 1994 by Queen Elizabeth II herself, Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park includes numerous natural attractions. Many of them border the 4/5-mile Woodlands Trail that encircles most of the park. Park map.

The Woodlands Trail is estimated to contain more than 50 percent of the Cayman Island’s native flora, allowing excellent close up views of such rare trees as the Cockspur (Erythrina velutina) and a stand of Bull Thatch palms (Thrinax radiata). 

The trail, an easy flat walk, passes through swampy areas, dry areas, and areas with enough soil to grow large Mahogany (Swietenia mahagoni) trees. 

At the limestone rock depression called the Crocodile Hole, fossil bones of the Cuban Freshwater Crocodile (Crocodylus Rhombifer) were found. 

Quietly approach the area known as Ground Dove Walk (walk softly and don’t talk!). And you may see native and Caribbean doves.

Queen Elizabeth II Park includes a Color Garden that features primarily imported and hybrid plants of every hue.

Although many species are non-native, the pink, red, blue, orange and yellow exotics were added in response to the frequent visitor request to see "some color." Green becomes monotonous.

Native Cayman plants in an authentic setting are located in the adjacent Heritage Garden that includes a sand yard surrounding a restored, traditional cottage moved from East End.

These areas join the existing eight-tenths of a mile-long circular Nature Trail passing through rocky areas, swamps and highlands, each with their distinctive vegetation such as bromeliads, palms, cactus, ferns and hardwoods.

The Endangered Blue Iguana

Probably the most popular stop is the blue iguana habitat where the endangered blue iguana  (Cyclura lewisi), almost extinct before QE II Botanic Garden became involved in protecting the Cayman Islands’ endemic reptile. Originally thought to be a subspecies  of the Cuban iguana, scientists later uncovered distinct genetic differences.

The blue iguana is one of the longest lived iguanas. The record is 67 years.

The official blue iguana habitat is actually a cage with low walls—think about waist high—which makes it easy to observe and photograph the animals as long as they are sunning themselves. 

If the blue iguanas decide to hide in the shade, as they are likely to do at mid-day, you may see only iguana silhouettes.  When conditions are perfect, and if you are patient enough to spend 30 minutes or more, you can capture some amazing images, including a protruding red tongue of a blue iguana.

If the animals aren’t cooperating, look for them along the Woodland Trail and elsewhere in the botanic garden, including the open grass.

Backgrounds won’t be as good but what you’re really after are animal pictures, nothing fancy.  Iguanas also can show up frequently in the area well away from the Woodlands Trail at the Color Garden.  

The point: never stop looking and never give up. And make sure you have enough camera card space.

Special guided tours behind the scenes of the park’s blue iguana captive breeding facility are sold at the QE II park gate booth. The ticket includes both park and iguana tour fees.

Besides the captive breeding facility, the excursion also includes a walk along the Woodland Trail where many released  iguanas roam freely.  This is not a guided tour of the entire park but a focus on iguanas.

The tours don’t start until 11am, which based on my experience is too late for serious iguana hunting. This schedule is to accommodate cruise ship passengers and visitors who don’t want to leave their hotels until 9:30 or 10.

If you’re serious about iguana hunting without the crowds, be there when the park opens at 9 a.m.
Park website.

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