If you are looking for a great family vacation, Cayman Islands should be at the very top of your list! It is the most wealthy region in the Caribbean and its wide offering to tourists is very hard to match. This comes at a price though measured in Cayman dollars as the islands are about 25% more expensive than what is average for the Caribbean. A significant reason for this is the fact that as Cayman Islands is one of the world’s key offshore banking destinations with hundreds of financial institutions keeping an office here as well as tens of thousands of registered companies (by some accounts more than actual residents). What attracted majority of these companies (besides beach and sun!) is the tax-exempt status their get here as the islands do not impose income, capital gains or wealth taxes.
|Size||102 square miles (264 square kilometers)|
|Population||61,000 (40% Multiracial, 20% Black, 20% White, 20% other)|
|Status||British overseas territory|
|GDP per capita (2014)||$58,808|
|Currency||Cayman Islands dollar|
|Electricity||US standard two-prong|
|Driving||on the left|
However, let’s focus on what makes these islands a true paradise for adult and child tourists alike! Advanced economy and long established hospitality industry means that when it comes to hotels, restaurants and shopping, your will always have a wide choice of options catering to all tastes and budgets. As a significant nature reserve, the islands offer many fantastic experiences of exploring the animal kingdom (think dolphins, turtles, parrots and more!) as well as hiking miles and miles of beautiful trails full of exotic plants and stunning views. The Caymans are snorkeling and diving meccas with as many as 10 incredibly well persevered shipwrecks located along the Seven Mile Beach of Grand Cayman. Talking about beaches, low tide and calm waters that surround the islands mean that most of them are very safe for kids and non-swimmers. Pristine, blue waters are full of fish and creatures clearly visible even without snorkeling equipment. If all this is not enough, some of the other things you can do here are: fishing, golf, horseback riding, kayaking, submarine rides, sailing and much more. Finally, Cayman Islands are well known for their pirate stories as it is said many of them buried their treasures here. Hence, if you are a pirate fan, you will find lots of related activities here including an 11 day Pirates Week Festival happening every November.
As a very popular destination for American visitors, you will find lots of direct flights to Grand Cayman from as many as ten US cities. The three airlines with majority of the flights are Delta, JetBlue and Cayman Airways. However, many of direct flights occur only once or twice a week so its worth checking out your flight options before booking a hotel. If your final destination is Cayman Brac, you can get there directly via Cayman Airways on a once-a-week flight from Orlando and Miami. If you are travelling from Canada, you can get to Grand Cayman on a direct Air Canada flight from Toronto. And, if you are visiting from Europe you will need to plan for at least one stop-over, most likely in a US destination.
With well-marked roads in good condition, plentiful taxi operators as well as a reliable and cheap bus service (especially on Grand Cayman), traveling around the islands is not difficult. Although renting a car is easy and there are lots of locations where you can do it, keep in mind gas on the islands is very expensive (+30% more than in the US) and the rentals themselves are also pricey compared to other Caribbean destinations. Hence, do consider sticking to using the bus service as tickets cap at CI$3 and you can catch a ride pretty much every 15 minutes on most routes. You may have less luck with taxis as most operate on advanced bookings only and may ignore you if you hail them.
If you are thinking of hopping between the three Cayman Islands you may be surprised to learn there are no official ferries connecting them. Instead, your options for water travel are private boat rides or your own charter. Most of the private companies operate from Seven Mile Beach and will charge you between CI$20 and CI$30 for a one-way ticket to Cayman Brac or Little Cayman on a group trip. The ride itself is pleasant and short, not exceeding 30 minutes. Of course, if you rather fly, all three islands operate and an airport and Cayman Airlines flies between all three of them daily.
Things to explore
Of the three Cayman Islands, the Grand Cayman is bigger than the other two islands combined and its here where large majority of Cayman residents live. Hence, it is also here where you will find majority of the hotels and activities. And, on the island itself, the most concentrated area with attractions is the capital town of George Town. Here, you can learn about the islands’ history from the National Museum and National Trust, both of which showcase historical artefacts as well as information about geography, geology and fauna and flora of the islands. Keep in mind, both of these are only open on weekdays. Walking around George Town you will likely come across Elmslie Memorial United Church, which stands out for its architecture and beautiful wooden arches inside. Once you get out George Town, you will most likely head north towards Seven Mile Beach. As you head this way, you will struggle to miss a 75 foot Camana Bay Observation Tower, which offers fantastic views miles out into the low-lying island. A climb to the top is free and after this little exercise you can relax in the neighbouring cafes and shops of Bay Market.
Once you pass all the resorts of Seven Mile Beach and continue to head north you will eventually get to West Bay, where you can find three attractions, which are of every kid’s dream. First, there are two dolphin centers, which let you observe, touch or swim with dolphins: Dolphin Cove and Dolphin Discovery. Second, right next to Dolphin Discovery is the Cayman Turtle Farm, where you can observe hundreds of turtles and other water creatures as well as snorkel with many of them in Boatswain’s Lagoon. Also while here, check out “Hell” located on Hell Road – it is a landscape of charred brimstone, which can be observed from a deck and truly looks like another planet altogether. Finally, while in West Bay, consider visiting Barker’s National Park, which has a set of nature trails on or along a beach and touching into marshes where you can spot many types of bird and parrots.
In the center of Grand Cayman is where you can find the true wilderness. Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park is less a park and more of a jungle with hundreds of species of trees and plants, insects and small animals. Here also you will find lots of wetlands with their own large communities of turtles and birds and endangered blue iguanas. And, if blue iguanas are really your thing, you will not want to miss out visiting Blue Iguana Nature Reserve, where you will find tens of them within just a short hike. For even more beautiful hiking, check out Mastic Trail near Breakers, where you can walk for miles on top of a protected marsh and take some stunning photos of impressive trees and plants. If you are visiting the other two islands some key attractions there are: Parrot Preserve on Cayman Brac where you can meet tens of species of colorful birds, some of which cannot be found anywhere else in the world as well as National Trust Visitors Centre on Little Cayman, which operates as a natural history museum and an educational center.
Cayman Islands have so much to offer we have not even mentioned yet all the amazing beaches three islands are worth visiting for! The most well known and busy is the several times mentioned Seven Miles Beach. It offers the longest stretch of uninterrupted smooth sand and calm waters in the whole Caribbean. It also has some of the best diving in the region with expansive coral reefs and up to ten sunken ships to explore. In addition, you will find plenty of amenities along the coast here with variety of bars, restaurants and shops. Of course, Seven Mile beach is only one of tens of fantastic sandy spots across the islands. Here are three other beaches that we like, but you not necessarily learn about them from an official guide:
- Spotts Public Beach on Great Cayman – a stretch of about 300m long beach that remains deserted on most days and has its own parking located right on Shamrock Road (providing easy access).Waters here are very calm and snorkeling is great.
- Sea Feather Bay on Cayman Brac – despite being close to a road, this beach feels very far away from everything. There are few amenities and the water can become rough, but you can take a lovely up to two miles walk on the soft sands and won’t be disturbed by much, but waves
- Oliver Kirk Drive Beach on Little Cayman – although this beach doesn’t even have an official name, you can find it by driving Oliver Kirk Drive all the way towards the north coast. You will encounter a dirt path that will take you to a long stretch of beautiful, wild and empty beach.
Although you can find good accommodation on all three of the Cayman islands, Grand Cayman’s offering is significantly more varied and sophisticated than on the other two islands. And, even on Grand Cayman majority of the resorts and large hotels are located on the west coast near George Town and along Seven Mile Beach. It is here that you will find the big chain hotels such as Ritz-Carlton, Westin and Marriott. All of these feature lots of amenities as well as here. Of course, expect to find a matching price tag for it all here too. Besides the big resorts, both the capital and Seven Mile Beach are also littered with smaller hotels and condos. Our own favourite accommodation close to town and the airport is called Caribbean Paradise, a set of private villas and condos lining up a beautiful stretch of beach. You can get a whole family here for a complete privacy with easy connections to most important attractions. For a similar experience, but closer to Seven Mile Beach check out Seascape Luxury Villas.
If you are on a budget (though it is hard to be here!), you can still find great options along Seven Mile Beach. Comfort Suites Grand Cayman and Sunshine Suites Resort are both great value for money with great reviews and decent amenities. You can find a similar great value suites-only hotel on the other side of the island in Bodden Town called Turtle Nest Inn and Condos. And, if you go to Cayman Brac or Little Cayman check out Brac Caribbean and Carib Sands condos as well as Paradise Villas, both of which offer beachfront suites at very acceptable prices.
Finally, it is worth mentioning the unique type of accommodations on Cayman Islands, which cater specifically to divers. There are at least ten such hotels throughout the islands and they are characterized by being close to well known diving locations, having in-house diving experts and equipment and offering diving trips and tours. Couple of such hotels with highly positive reviews are: Cobalt Coast Resort and Suites and Lighthouse Point in West Bay on Grand Cayman as well as Cayman Breakers condos on Cayman Brac.
Food & restaurants
No matter what you like to eat, you should be able to find it on Cayman Islands! Part due to its tourism know-how and part due to the fact its population is vastly multicultural, the islands host a large variety of restaurants with menus from all over the planet. You will find that some of the world’s most renown chefs cook here and you can also find many very casual eateries attended mostly by friendly locals. No matter what you go for, you will always want to book ahead and take a good look at the prices as they can often times come as a surprise if not a shock (and not a positive one unfortunately). You should also be mindful that service charges are usually added automatically to a bill.
It would be impossible to list all the fantastic restaurant of the islands, so instead we will only mention three located on Grand Cayman that we think showcase some of the best of the Cayman dining experience:D
- Da Fish Shack – located in George Town in an authentic “shack” very much in a Caribbean design, expect great seafood dishes at reasonable prices. Everything is super fresh and comes straight from the ocean
- Blue by Eric Ripert – expect true sophistication and very creative seafood menu from one of the best chefs in the world. Bring all your money though, this is one in a lifetime experience and it shows on your bill
Like everything else in Cayman Islands, the nightlife here is of high quality and everyone can find something for themselves. However, there are only two places where the fun goes on extensively and into late morning hours. These are the capital of George Town as well as the long stretch of Seven Mile Beach. In George Town you will find such classic chains like Hard Rock Café alongside a unique ice bar called Minus 5, where as the name suggest is the temperate, at which you will be sipping your drinks. For a more club like experience, you can find a good dance floor and a DJ every Friday night at South West Collective.
Despite great many fun places in the capital, their quantity pales in comparison to the great many bars and clubs lining up the coast of Seven Mile Beach. There are at least fifteen bars and five clubs spread out here with many open until 3am and beyond on the weekends. For proper dancing you will want to visit “O” Bar, which is fancy venue with artistic performers assisting the DJ every Saturday night. On Saturdays you can also dance in the open air at Calico Jack’s, a relaxed beach bar that hosts many local bands on weekdays. There are also lots of sports bars all over Seven Mile Beach with some of the most recognizable ones being the Attic and Legendz. Lastly, If you are a wine connoisseur, you will definitely enjoy visiting West Indies Wine Company located in Camana Bay. This wine bar is a great destination for a unique romantic date as you can try out tens of wines in one session while learning much about wine types and their origins.
Sports & adventure
What can you not do here?! We already mentioned many of the varied activities available to visitors, lots of them aren’t very different to what can be done on majority of other Caribbean islands. Therefore, we will focus particular on these activities, which are either unique to Cayman Islands or they are simply better here than almost anywhere else. It is probably necessary to start with diving here – Cayman Islands are ranked in top five diving destinations, by pretty much every respectable travel guide. The most accessible locations are around Seven Mile Beach including several fantastic shipwrecks to explore such as USS Kittiwake just 15 to 64 feet below the surface as well as Oro Verde cargo vessel and Balboa, both of which are 40-50 feet below so considered a relatively easy dive. Besides shipwrecks, Seven Mile Beach is surrounded by stunning reefs like Cemetery Reef, Eden Rock and Paradise Reef. Near by in West Bay you will also find two diving spots that are considered to be some of the best in the world – 12-foot dive of Stingray City and 60-foot dive of Turtle Reef.
Changing topics, but still speaking of West Bay, this area hosts several stables offering leisure horseback rides like Pampered Ponies, where you can get your whole family on horses of different sizes and enjoy a beach/water ride with a trained guide. As mentioned earlier, West Bay is also where you will find two dolphin centers as well as Cayman Turtle Centre opened every day from 8am to 5pm. Besides dolphins, a popular attraction on Gran Cayman is Stingray City, where you can swim with actual stingrays! Alternatively, if you rather not get wet, but still be able to explore the depths of Cayman coastlines on a submarine such the Atlantis Submarines.[embedyt]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RImmx0xi2ro[/embedyt]
For keen golfers, you have two options on Grand Cayman only as there are no gold golds on Cayman Brac or Little Cayman. North Sound Golf Club is the only 18-hole course on the island and its located on Seven Mile Beach. Close by is a 9-hole course of Britannia, which hosts a superb restaurant of Golf Grille. If golf playing takes a significant toll on your budget, you can always opt in for a much less expensive activity of hiking. In fact, Cayman islands have many stunning hiking trails to explore, which you can visit for free or a very small entry fee. On Grand Cayman check out the Mastic trail, a 2-mile jungle trek rich in impressive fauna and flora and located near Breakers’ East End. While on Cayman Brac do visit the Christopher Columbus Gardens, which hosts hundreds of species of plants whereas on Little Cayman you can take a hike around Booby Pond Nature Reserve where you will see thousands of red-footed boobies as well as tens of other bird species living around the wetlands.
Safety and security
Cayman Islands are one of the safest if not the safest islands in the Caribbean. A wealthy and small population means crime rates are very low and the most busy activity for police is giving out parking tickets and traffic control. Hence, as long as you drive safely and within speed limits, you should be safe on the road as well as off it.
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