Cayman Islands, Caribbean
“We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.” Pascal Mercier
What a box of tricks the Cayman Islands are. Perhaps most famous as a tax haven, they are also deservedly renowned for their beautiful beaches, superb diving and world class dining. Collectively with their status as one of the safest islands in the Caribbean, this affords them the highest standard of living in the region.
Beyond that, the Caymans are delightfully friendly. On arrival the immigration officer noted I had been to the islands before and welcomed me “home”.
I first moved to the Cayman Islands 20 years ago and immediately felt as though I’d landed in Disneyland for adults. Aside from the beauty of the islands, there’s a vibrant local community that welcomes all, with a very active social life. I always knew I’d return, and enjoyed myself just as much as a 40 something with discerning tastes as I did in my younger days.
What sets the Caymans apart is the variety of activities – it’s unusual to find an island with such great watersports that also offers plenty of activities for landlubbers.
The rich history of the islands is on display at several museums and historical sites, the shopping options are abundant and varied, and you’ll find fine dining or laid back local cuisine all across the island, with more sea and marina views than you can shake a stick at.
The Cayman Islands are situated in the western Caribbean between Cuba and Jamaica. A British overseas territory, they consist of Grand Cayman, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac, totalling 102 square miles. Their strong finance industry and high standard of living makes them as popular with expats as tourists, one of the attractions for me is the easy blend of locals, expats and tourists wherever you go.
The last 20 years has seen a lot of development on Grand Cayman, not least because of the devastation caused by hurricane Ivan in 2004. The island has bounced back remarkably, the old favourites are back in business and the new resorts and developments are state of the art, catering to the current expectations of their predominantly North American and European tourist visitors.
I took a drive around the island (two hours driving out of rush hour) and noted that George Town has grown with larger offices, mainly servicing the local business community and cruise ship visitors. Seven Mile Beach (6.3 miles long) is predictably lined with hotels, while the adjacent Seven Mile Beach corridor district has become a focus for entertainment and high end property.
West Bay has gone a bit upmarket with some great restaurants and property, my old neighbourhood of South Sound has also upped its game, but is still home to Sunset House, one of my favourite waterfront bars. Bodden Town has local village charm, East End is still sparsely populated with beautiful coastline. Rum Point and Kaibo are picture perfect with a calm vibe that seems to slow the clock down, lined with beautiful beach houses, any one of which would be my dream retirement home if I ever win the lottery.
The heat in late July was intense, so there was nothing for it but regular swims at Governer’s Beach on Seven Mile Beach or Smith’s Barcadere in South Sound, always with my snorkel gear to hand. Never too crowded, they are the perfect spot for a bit of sunbathing and swimming to cool off in the perfectly clear, aqua water.
There’s enough to see and do to keep anyone occupied for a couple of weeks at least, longer for the many expats who call it home. For a visually stunning, high quality, safe holiday, the Cayman Islands are right up there.
There are several great diving spots around the islands, Wall to Wall Diving has been operating since 2001 and is highly rated. The Kitiwake wreck in West Bay is an ever popular spot, with several great dives on the west, south and north of the island.
There are good reef and turtle spots around the island, a map is attached advising of the best locations.
An ever popular tourist spot. Back in the day, fishermen used to gut fish on their way back to shore, throwing waste overboard which over time attracted stingrays. Now several boats visit daily giving an opportunity to interact with them in water shallow enough to stand in.
Sail Cayman are highly rated for day or sunset cruises, Stingray City and snorkelling.
Pedro St James Historic Site
This site features a restored 18th century house with artefacts and historical information set in manicured grounds.
Tropical gardens with a lake, tea house, iguanas and rare plants.
Yep, there’s a place called Hell up in West Bay, so named because of the jagged black limestone. Perhaps not worth a special trip, but if you’re in the area…
Cayman Spirits Company offer a guided tour of their distillery, showcasing their signature Seven Fathoms rum, so named because it’s matured in barrels in the sea. It’s a short, informative tour which starts with tastings, so designate a driver or make use of the spittoon!
Little Cayman and Cayman Brac
An island hopper plane flies all day between the islands, the half hour flight costs around £100 return. These islands are tiny and unspoilt, with superb diving, notably Bloody Bay marine park on Little Cayman. Cayman Brac offers a lighthouse, parrot reserve and Russian warship artificial reef. Day trips are possible or to really get away from it all take an overnight visit.