Caymen Islands Travel Guide
Discovered by Columbus in 1503 and explored by Sir Francis Drake in 1586, it was not until 1670 that the islands came under British rule. They remain a British territory, and the Queen's picture is still displayed proudly, but the US exerts a lot of influence over what it considers its backyard. For years the islands were a base for pirates who delighted in the remoteness of Grand Cayman. A bonus was the island's absolutely flat topography, which ensures that its profile is practically invisible against the horizon, making it the perfect hide-away for nefarious characters.
While some people are still looking for a safe place to hide their treasure, these days most visitors to the Cayman Islands are after a relaxing getaway. The Islands are a beach paradise with great swimming, snorkelling, scuba diving, fishing and other watersports.
Little Cayman and Cayman Brac are 70 miles (113km) northeast of Grand Cayman and are much smaller and even more relaxed than the main island. Visitors don't come to these islands in suits; the little business that goes on revolves around diving and catering for the world's best bone-fishing.
Seven Mile Beach
Address: Grand Cayman
Just north of George Town, Seven Mile Beach is a beautiful
stretch of white sand that curls around the west of Grand Cayman. A
bit of a misnomer, Seven Mile Beach is actually only five and a
half miles (8.8km) long, and is slowly shrinking due to erosion. A
reef protects the coast and ensures that the water is blissfully
calm and ideal for swimming and snorkelling. This is the most
popular beach on the island and is bordered by dozens of hotels,
but it is large enough to ensure sunbathers do not end up
towel-to-towel. For day-visitors there are plenty of restaurants,
beach bars, and even grilling facilities to relax at after a day of
watersports. The calm and safe swimming conditions and ample space
make Seven Mile Beach a great option for families with children.
North of Seven Mile Beach is West Bay, the country's second largest
Address: 825 Northwest Point Road, West Bay Grand Cayman
Boatswain's Beach is Cayman's premier attraction. It features
the famous Cayman Turtle Farm, an Education Centre, as well as a
one of a kind marine park, with 23 acres of reef lagoon in which
guests can snorkel. When Christopher Columbus first discovered the
Cayman islands in 1503, he named them 'Las Tortugas,' meaning The
Turtles. According to legend, there were so many turtles that the
islands looked like they were covered with rocks. They are now a
protected species and the Cayman Islands Turtle Farm is home to
thousands of turtles ranging in size from six ounces (170g) to 575
pounds (261kg) each. The priority of the farm is to maintain an
ideal breeding environment for the turtles. Breeding season runs
from May to October, during which time the turtles dig their nests
on the beach and produce their eggs. The eggs are immediately taken
to the hatchery, where staff monitor the hatching process.
Guests at Boatswain's Beach can tour the Turtle Farm, and enjoy other attractions: Cayman Street, which showcases a bit of the Cayman Islands' culture and history; a nature trail with colourful flowers and butteflies; a free-flight bird aviary; Boatswain's Reef, with a viewing panel into the Predator Reef; the Breaker's Lagoon swimming pool; and up-close-and-personal animal encounters at the touch tanks. Boatswain's Beach also has gift shops and restaurants to shop and relax in.
Pedro St James Castle
Address: Grand Cayman
East of George Town is Pedro St James, the islands' oldest
surviving building, originally built by an Englishman who arrived
here on Grand Cayman in 1765. Local stories also associate the
house with the pirate Henry Morgan and a 17th-century Spaniard,
Pedro Gómez. The house is touted as the islands' 'birthplace of
democracy' because it was here in 1831 that the decision was made
to vote for elected representatives, and four years later the
Slavery Abolition Act was also read here. Constructed around 1780
from quarried native stone, the house has been restored by the
government as an historic site.
Behind a traditional coral stone wall rises an authentic, three-storey early 19th-century great house and assorted outbuildings, with traditional 'grounds' planted with pineapple, banana and other provisions. The adjacent acres are covered with luxuriant tropical plants, palm-lined walkways and a splendid manicured Great Lawn sprawling to a fantastic view over the Caribbean. A new 3D multimedia theatre shows a 20-minute film of the history of the castle, and there is a memorial to the victims of Hurricane Ivan.
Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park
Address: Frank Sound Road Grand Cayman
The Cayman Islands are better known for their sea life than
flora and fauna on land, but for keen botanists or those who would
simply like a pleasant walk, the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park is
hard to beat. A well-marked mile-long (3km) trail winds through
lush, easy terrain, featuring almost 300 native species including
roses, hibiscus, lilies and orchids (which bloom in late May and
June). The park and lake is home to the endangered (and elusive)
Blue Iguana, as well as a fascinating array of birdlife including
parrots, herons, coots and the rare West Indian Whistling Duck. The
nearby Mastic Trail meanders through the old-growth forest that
once supplied early settlers with timber on Grand Cayman. The
26-hectare (65 acre) park is in the district of North Side, and is
a 45-minute drive from George Town.
Address: Grand Cayman
Rum Point Beach consists of hundreds of yards of crystal-clear
shallow sand flats, perfect for snorkelling in a conservation
marine park. It is a tranquil retreat where hammocks slung under
shady trees, picnic tables, a sandy beach and warm shallow waters
provide a relaxing haven for the day. Many watersports are offered,
with easy access to North Sound, including jet-skiing, sailing, and
kayaking, and snorkellers can explore the coral formations just off
the beach. The shore is dotted with ultra-casual beach bars, and
slipping into a hammock with a cocktail is the perfect way to spend
a relaxing hour or 10. Rum Point is a good option for families on
Grand Cayman as the shallow waters are calm and safe and there are
plenty of diversions for kids.
Stingray City and Sandbar
Address: Grand Cayman
Stingray City and the Sandbar are snorkelling sites located in
the North Sound, and are a must-visit for watersports enthusiasts.
The clear shallow waters are frequented by friendly stingrays that
come to find out what titbits visitors have brought them. Boat
tours take snorkellers and divers to swim with and feed the
stingrays on bits of squid; they will brush against swimmers and
allow themselves to be touched. This famous Cayman attraction was
accidentally created by fishermen who used to clean their catch in
the calm waters, casting bits overboard, and so attracting the
Southern Stingrays to the area.
Swimming with the stingrays is a remarkable experience. Travellers should do their best to ensure, however, that they use only reputable tour operators who have respect for the environment and the animals.
Address: West Bay Grand Cayman
A popular and slightly bizarre stop on any tour of Grand Cayman,
Hell is a tiny village that features strange black limestone rock
formations that are said to resemble the Underworld. Though Cayman
residents are generally religious, residents of Hell show their
sense of humour to tourists with a bright red post office that
sends 'Postcards from Hell', and a gift shop where 'Satan' passes
out souvenirs and inquires of visitors: 'How the Hell are you?' The
village, home to only 60 people, also features a restaurant and
bar. The natural rock formations, comprised of the spiky
'Ironshore' rock found elsewhere on the island are interesting, and
the residents have turned Hell into a quirky island attraction for
those exploring beyond the beaches and resorts.
A breath-taking variety of marine life, year-round warm and calm
water, and great visibility, make the Cayman Islands one of the
world's best scuba diving destinations. There are more than 40 dive
operators on the island and more than 200 reef and wreck dive
sites. The abundance of fish, marine and coral life is protected by
On the main island, Grand Cayman, the best dive sites include Victoria House Reef, just off Seven Mile Beach, and along the reefs at the mouth of North Sound. Eden Rock and Cemetery Beach Reef are also popular for snorkellers. Nearby at Sandbar and Stingray City there is the unique opportunity for snorkellers and scuba divers to feed and stroke the stingrays. Sandbar is a pure white sand ridge in just three feet (1m) of water. Stingray City is slightly deeper at 12 feet (4m). In Cayman Brac the most famous dive site is the Russian built Cuban destroyer, which was purpose-sunk in 1996 to form an artificial reef. Little Cayman also boasts some first class dive sites including the North Wall and Bloody Bay Wall off Jackson Point. Non-divers can enjoy the reefs from the Atlantis Submarine, which offers hour-long underwater trips for up to 46 passengers.
Scuba diving is possible and enjoyable all year in the Cayman Islands. Many people prefer to avoid the hurricane season, which runs from August to October, but if the storms don't hit this is in fact a wonderful season for diving. The water is warm enough to dive without a wetsuit, or in a short 1.5mm wetsuit, although technical divers going to greater depths may want something a bit warmer.
Watching the sun set spectacularly over the sea while sipping
rum cocktails is an understandably popular way to spend an evening
in the Cayman Islands, as it is in most of the Caribbean. A number
of tour operators offer sunset cruises, including the Jolly Roger
which is a replica of a 17th-century galleon and takes one back to
the days of Tortuga and the Caribbean pirates, offering cocktails,
snacks and a well-stocked bar, as well as music. Sunset cruises are
usually available all year round, unless the weather is stormy.
Hurricane season in the Cayman Islands runs from August to October,
but some people prefer to risk the chance of storms to enjoy a more
peaceful off-season holiday. Trips are usually about two and a half
hours long and leave from George Town on Grand Cayman at about 5pm
in winter and 5:30pm in summer.