Kingston Jamaica, the sprawling, urban home to approximately 900,000 people – a third of Jamaica’s population – can feel dense and gritty at times. That’s why the parks and gardens are so important: they provide space to breath, to relax, and to remember that yes, this is still the Caribbean. There are a handful of green spaces in and around Kingston that provide beautiful shady spots to cool off, have a picnic, eat an ice-cream, or just take a walk. Culture Trip Caribbean explores the best of them.
Created in 2002 on seven acres of landed gifted by the adjacent Liguanea Club, Emancipation Park is one of the best kept parks in Kingston. Conveniently located right in the middle of New Kingston, close to the main hotels and restaurants, the park is a favourite of office workers who can be seen cooling off during the day, and old men who play dominoes in the late afternoon sun. The southern entrance to the park is dominated by the 11 foot high bronze sculpture Redemption Song by Jamaican artist Laura Facey. Within its manicured grounds, there’s a jogging track that is just perfect for an evening stroll. The Sub Zero ice-cream stand near the north gate makes waffle cones while you wait and the coconut ice-cream is the perfect way to cool off at the end of the day. The topiaried trees provide numerous shady spots to relax on the grass while fragrant flowers and a large fountain create a relaxing backdrop.
National Heroes Park is, at 50 acres, the largest open space in downtown Kingston. The park contains monuments to Jamaica’s national heroes and is the burial place of former Prime Ministers. Founded in 1783 originally as a racecourse, the park underwent several changes before achieving its current name after independence in 1962. The monuments to Jamaica’s seven national heroes are at the southern end and are protected by an honour guard from the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) who man the Cenotaph. The changing of the guard takes place each hour and is worth watching. The body of Marcus Garvey, a political leader, publisher and key inspiration for the Rastafarian movement was transported from London in 1964 and interred in a black marble tomb in the park. This park is one for quiet contemplation and learning more about Jamaica’s rich history, especially at the weekend when it is quiet. During the week it can be busy with vendors selling street food.
Established in 1873 on the estate of one of the original English colonisers, Hope Botanical Gardens is, at 200 acres, the largest green space in metropolitan Kingston. Situated a short drive along Old Hope Road, this historic place is easily reached by car, taxi or bus and is definitely worth a visit. There is a small fee for cars (approx USD2), while pedestrians enter free. Snacks and drinks are available from vendors at the gate. The park is best explored in sections; shortly after entry on the right are the old glass houses, to the side of which are ornamental ponds and walkways shaded with tall tropical trees. This beautiful, intimate area is a popular site for wedding photos. From there, large manicured lawns lead around to a grove of palm trees behind which sits the zoo. The newest feature, and a real highlight of the park, is the Chinese pavilion and garden opened in August 2016 to commemorate 40 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries. However, the absolute best thing about Hope Gardens is the quiet peacefulness and the sheer sense of space, all framed within lush tropical vegetation and a dramatic mountain backdrop.
The large manicured gardens of Devon House are open to the public and enjoyed by many locals and visitors alike. Declared a national monument in 1990, the house was built in the 19th century for Jamaica’s first black millionaire George Steibel. Today, the house is open for guided tours, and the grounds offer an array of restaurants, bars and shops. The shaded central courtyard is scattered with benches perfect for enjoying a world famous Devon House ice-cream. This rightfully popular attraction serves some of the largest and tastiest ice-creams anywhere, with a dizzying array of exotic flavours. Paying for a tour of the main house gives access to the ornamental gardens which are worth seeing in their own right, otherwise the public gardens to the rear are a good place to spend time.
Just 18km from from Kingston, this park is worth the 50 minute drive it takes to climb almost 1000m above sea level into the edge of the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park. This park is definitely the most rural of our recommendations but is still well equipped with shelters, picnic tables, barbeque pits and even a solar powered visitor information centre. The two main reasons to visit are the spectacular views across Kingston to the coast, and the delightful nature walks. Hummingbirds flit between plants, and brightly coloured flowers punctuate the lush green vegetation. The temperature is a few degrees cooler up there which makes it perfect for escaping the heat of city. Take a picnic and make a day of it.