At some point on any island vacation, you may have to drag yourself away from the beach. It’s either that, or face looking like a bright red lobster the next morning. But what exactly can compare with the magnetism of soft sand, clear azure waters, and graceful palm trees? That’s one dilemma my husband Zickie and I faced this past summer, while in Guadeloupe with the littlest Island Runaways member, our nine-turning-ten year old daughter.
Guadeloupe is an archipelago of islands, about 310 miles southeast of Puerto Rico; we made our base on Basse Terre, a hilly, rustic isle known for its unspoiled beaches and lush scenery. So, where to go when we had to force ourselves to take a break from Grande Anse? Our answer: the botanical gardens. Or more specifically, the Jardin Botanique de Deshaies, on the western side of Basse Terre. Here we’d get a chance to see flowers, flowering trees, and even some animals up close.
When you arrive at the Jardin Botanique, immediately after the entrance, you find a huge pond full of enormous koi. Visitors can buy fish food, so of course, we had to purchase some. The koi were definitely not shy. These golden orange and white creatures rushed to one side with open mouths. Some of them lunged half-away out of the water. It was incredibly entertaining to feed them. “They’re like our dogs,” my daughter laughed, and she was right. They’re exactly like eager puppies. The pond also has beautiful water lilies, which reminded Zickie and me of a Monet canvas.
Finally, we tore ourselves away and started into the gardens. The paths are narrow and wind through trees and flowerbeds, so you’re always in the shade. (Which, to be honest, did make for a nice break for the tropical sun.) We saw darling little hummingbirds dart into pink flowers. Lush banks of fuchsia bougainvillea lined the paths, followed by exquisite orchids. At another pond, flamingos searched the shallow water for lunch-time shrimp.
You heard birdsong and the breeze rustling palm fronds. The quiet and the serenity felt very relaxing.
Red Heliconia with yellow trim, orange bird-of-paradise, and then suddenly…live parrots!
Our daughter thought that “looking at plants” might be boring, but the love birds and the blue and yellow macaws that crept along wires overhead and into Creole-style bird houses had her totally enrapt. Another path led to a spectacular waterfall. Along a cleared area with a gorgeous view of green hills and ocean was a snack bar. (Probably one of the nicest snack bar views in the world!) This being a French territory, the snack bar offered wine and beer, along with various chips and sandwiches. There was also a more formal restaurant on the property, but we weren’t very hungry yet, so we settled for cold drinks and an ice cream for the young one.
From the Royal Poinciana trees with their scarlet blossoms to the little streams winding around the park, the Jardin Botanique turned out to be a wonderful way to spend some time. Many of the signs were in French, which I tried to translate, although I didn’t know the English words for all the terms. Still, we managed to learn a few new names for the growing things found in Guadeloupe. Seeing nature up close, and concentrated, gave us a renewed appreciation for the island’s amazing nature. With all that green and all that shade, it was like a tall, cool glass of mineral water. Perfectly refreshing.
If you get to Guadeloupe, I hope you have time to visit the Jardin Botanique. Not only was it an entertaining break from the temptation of sand and sea, on their own terms, the gardens are simply enchanting.
(All photos (c) Zickie Allgrove.)