by Paul Brindamour, March 12, 2017
Havana has abundant parks and plazas, but as in other large cities, many of these public spaces have few trees. My husband and I are really interested in plants, so we made a point of visiting several greenspaces around the city.
Nestled in a cool, shaded canyon, along a sleepy river, was one such urban oasis, “Parque Almendares,” a family-friendly park complete with rowboats, ice-cream stand, miniature golf course, and pavilion, which hosts children’s entertainment or can be used for weddings. Paved paths wound peacefully beneath immense ficus trees, and brown squirrels frolicked noisily in the lush, tropical undergrowth. We enjoyed a relaxing lunch at the cantina, which was also offering-up freshly prepared mojitos.
We spent an afternoon at the National Botanic Garden, just a few minutes outside of Havana. The two of us, along with just one other couple, got a tram-ride tour, with the Garden’s Botanist speaking directly to us, and pretty much stopping the tram whenever we had questions. (This was another one of the private tours we received spontaneously during our trip, likely because we had Juan Miguel, our Cuban tour guide in tow.) The Botanic Garden had a great collection of tropical plants, shade houses, and one of the best collections of Palm-tree species we’ve ever seen. It reminded us of Fairchild Tropical Garden in Miami, but much larger and not as manicured.
Another plant-related location was the Botanic Garden at the “Quinta de los Molinos,” right in the heart of the bustling Vedados neighborhood. Along with a nice assortment of trees, all scientifically labeled, they have a butterfly enclosure, bonsai collection, koi pool, bird feeders, and some caged birds.
Across the street from this tranquil green sanctuary, was Havana’s most upscale shopping mall, packed wall-to-wall when we visited.