Grand Cayman: The Caribbean’s Cultural Capital
Located as it is, close to both Barbados and the Bahamas, Grand Cayman often gets overlooked, but the idyllic isle is well worth a visit.
Grand Cayman is a vibrant Caribbean island with a higher per capita income than either the US or Britain and an enviable standard of living. Grand Cayman also plays host to a myriad of festivals including an annual three-day jazz event in December which has attracted the likes of celebrities Alicia Key and Bryan Adams.
Make no mistake: after years in the second rank of Caribbean destinations, this small (despite its name Grand Cayman measures a mere four miles by 22 miles and is home to only 45,000 people) island that first shot to fame in the Tom Cruise film, The Firm, is back on the international travel map.
Ready to put thousands of miles between you and your desk? Here are 10 of the best things to do on Grand Cayman…
Seek out Seven Mile Beach
Visiting Grand Cayman and not spending at least one day basking in the sunshine on Seven Mile Beach – which is in fact, a five and a half miles stretch of Instagram-worthy sand – is akin to flying to Rome and skipping the Colosseum or popping to Paris and passing up the chance to ascend the Eiffel Tower. Seven Mile Beach is Grand Cayman’s number one attraction and yet for all its fame, it remains remarkably unspoilt. You can still take a stroll upon rising and barely see another soul – even during the frenetic holiday season.
Once you’ve had your fill of Seven Mile Beach, it’s time to take to the sea. Those warm, azure waters are way too enticing to pass up. Never dived on a Caribbean coral reef before? Then the legendary Cayman Trough is the perfect place to make your diving debut! Expect to be utterly amazed by the beauty and diversity of the underwater world. And keep your eyes peeled for the ‘Wreck of the Ten Sails’ – the result of an event that took place one night in 1794 and saw 10 merchant vessels run aground on the reef. Local legend has it that Caymanians (as Grand Cayman residents are affectionately known) managed to save every passenger prompting King George 111 to make Grand Cayman tax free in gratitude.
Say hello to the Stingrays
Meeting the Cayman Islands’ most famous residents – southern stingrays – is another must while on Grand Cayman. To do so, simply take a boat trip to Stingray City Sandbar – a sandy shallow spot where you’ll find scores of black, velvety stingrays (many of which boast impressive eight-foot wingspans) feeding and frolicking in the waves.
Get up close and personal with the Grand Cayman Iguana
Away from the water, the Blue Iguana is Grand Cayman’s largest native animal. This giant dragon-like lizard can grow to more than five feet in length and weigh up-to as much as 25 pounds. This unique species faced extinction as recently as 15 years ago but, thanks to a successful recovery programme, their numbers have happily risen once again. The best place to gawp at the gorgeous blue iguanas is The Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park – 65 acres of lush gardens.
Take a Hike
Want to get the endorphins going? Make for the Mastic Trail – a 2.5 mile route used, up until the 18th century, by islanders as a means of transport timber from the Northside of Grand Cayman to Bodden Town. As you lace up your hiking boots and march past ancient mastic trees, you’ll spot wonderful wildlife such as West Indian woodpeckers, endemic Cayman parrots and Caribbean doves, banana orchids (the Caymanian national flower), and much more.
Make a beeline for Bodden Town
The original capital of the Cayman Islands, Bodden Town is actually only a couple of kilometres away from today’s capital, Georgetown, but it feels like entering a bygone Caribbean era. Expect to see islanders hanging out in hammocks, rural roads lined with stands selling Coconut water and delicious patties and radios playing reggae at full blast. When in Bodden Town you’ll believe – as Bob Marley once sang – that “every little thing is going to be alright.”
Treat your taste buds
Celebrity chef and co-owner of top New York restaurant Le Bernardin, Eric Ripert, has created a world class restaurant: take a bow Blue. Located in the luxurious Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman, the island’s only AAA Diamond rated restaurant is the place to dine on delicate Coconut ginger soup with avocado and yellow fin tuna in a savoury soy citrus vinaigrette amid elegant, sea-inspired décor.
Quaff a Cayman Mudslide
Even if you aren’t a fan of cocktails, you must try a Cayman Mudslide while in Grand Cayman. This tasty cocktail consists of frothy vodka, Kahlua, tia maria and ice cream and is invariably topped with a kitsch, colourful, cocktail umbrella. The Cayman Mudslide is a dieter’s nightmare but it tastes divine – and hey, you are, after all, on holiday.
Check out Pedro Castle
If ancient castles are your thing, potter over to Pedro Castle (also called Pedro St James). This beautifully restored three storey plantation style house – the only building to have survived a massive hurricane in 1785 – is guaranteed to give you a flavour of Cayman’s colonial period of life. It was at Pedro Castle that slavery was officially abolished in 1835.
Take a trip to the Turtle Farm
When Christopher Columbus sailed through the region back in 1503, he saw so many turtles that he named the islands Las Tortugas.
That was then… fast forward to today and Grand Cayman’s green sea turtles sadly feature on the endangered species list but it’s still possible to see these sea creatures at the Grand Cayman Turtle Farm – which breeds endangered green sea turtles and then releases them into the wild.