Having spent three months hopping about from island to island in the Caribbean, Grand Cayman (the largest of the Cayman Islands) is one place that stood out as being somewhat different from the rest of them…for reasons which I’m about to reveal, don’t you woz. My time there was centred around George Town, the capital city, as this was where my ship laid anchor every few weeks to deliver it’s passengers via tender boat to find out what the island had to offer them.
Unlike other island nations I visited like Antigua, St Kitts and Jamaica, the Cayman Islands had nobody living on them when Westerners arrived (apparently the first settler was a Welsh bloke who had fought for Oliver Cromwell), and in actual fact there’s no evidence to suggest that they’d ever had a human being step foot on them right up until the 16th Century, when a whole rag-tag band of people began showing up mainly because of the abundance of turtles to be found on the islands. (And just to avoid any confusion, pals- it wasn’t because they thought the turtles were cute- they wanted to eat the poor things.) Most Caymanians are descendants of Africans, Englishmen, shipwrecked sailors, slaves and pirates…it was all a bit Pirates of the Caribbean around those parts from the looks of it, although these days it’s known more as a tax haven for the wealthy (no taxes ya see), and is technically a British Overseas Territory rather than a pirate hideout and last frontier location.
Visit 7 Mile Beach
This badboy beach is what everyone comes to Grand Cayman for. A seven mile stretch of white sand and turquoise sea! Like a true beachy paradise! And when I say seven miles what I really mean is approximately six and a bit miles of beautiful beach. But ‘Six-and-a-bit Mile Beach’ doesn’t really have the same ring to it, does it?
The best thing about it is that although there are resorts dotted along the six-and-a-bit mile length of glowing white sand, the beach itself is public, meaning that if you felt like it you could walk freely from one end to the other.
If you fancy a more luxurious time than just strolling up and down the beach and jumping into the sea for a laugh, you could head to one of the beach clubs sitting on the sand…some of which are part of the hotels, and others which are just cool places to hang out in their own right. One that I particularly appreciated was the Royal Palms Beach Club, partly for it’s relaxed vibe and mega friendly staff and partly because the food was full on LOVELY.
Entry to Seven Mile Beach: technically free as the whole place is technically public.
Entry to Royal Palms: $2 per person (plus food/drink/lounger hire etc). Free entry plus a few cheeky discounts for crew.
Spot the Reptiles (Especially the Blue Iguanas)
Blue Iguanas are a species of iguana endemic to Grand Cayman, and until recently they were on the world’s Critically Endangered list, partly due to the destruction of their natural habitats, and partly because of the abundance of hungry cats and dogs on the island who were quite up for a bite or two of a Blue Iguana. Thanks to the National Trust for the Cayman Islands’ breeding programme and general talent for conserving the livelihoods of these brilliant blue creatures, the population numbers have gone from as low as ten in 2002, to over 750 in 2012 (who knows how many there are now, but the point is that they’re no longer ‘Critically’ endangered…just a simple ‘endangered’ and that’s that). Colonies of Blue Iguanas now live down at the Queen Elizabeth II Botanical Park and the Salina Nature Reserve,which I think is just bloody fantastic. Well done those people. I am in awe of their good work.
Entry to Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Gardens: $10 per adult.
Seeing an extremely rare blue iguana going for a casual stroll: priceless
Say hi to the stingrays
Many years ago (presumably before the main source of income for the Cayman Islands turned to financial-type industries), fishermen apparently used to drop in to this sheltered spot on the North side of the island to clean their catch of the day. Stingrays began to realise this was prime time for getting some scraps of food and decided they might as well drop in to the sandbar at the same time as the fishermen, who began feeding them by hand. These days this is a major tourist attraction- a whole load of stingray flock to the area to see what the boats have to offer them, and are generally so used to humans that they’re full on fine about being in very close proximity to them. What good lads!
To reach Stingray City’s sandbar you pretty much have to go by boat. There are a whole load of companies offering tours but I fo sho am not going to advise on one as I never got to visit the stingrays at all. Sad times, guys, sad times.
Check out the capital city
George Town is home to the Cayman Islands National Museum, a whole load of tax-free shops selling Rolex watches and diamonds, and if I’m honest, reminded me a little bit of Pleasantville- you know, the Toby Maguire film set in a TV show in the 1950s? Everything has an extremely polished look to it; I wouldn’t have been surprised if someone had told me they work as a ‘street polisher’ if such a job actually exists, as the roads and buildings quite literally appeared to gleam. Even the traffic warden waving people across a zebra crossing wore white gloves- White Rabbit style- as if he was trying not to get anything dirty, and the buildings and roads are generally so well-maintained that I felt as if I was walking in a model of a town, not a real-life one. Also I thought it was all very interesting that on the Queen’s birthday these guys have a parade, so you’re in luck if you visit at that time of year.
The upside of this Utopian-appearing location is that in comparison to the capital cities of some of the neighbouring islands, George Town’s atmosphere is an overwhelmingly safe one. The downside is that it seemed so pristine that it was trickier to find the real character of the city aside from the ‘rich people live here’ aspect. (Don’t get me wrong, poor people live here too, but the overwhelming image this place presents is that of FULL ON WEALTH) In actual fact pals, after I looked into it a bit, it turns out there are twice as many companies registered on Grand Cayman as there are people living there. Now that is mental. But…the best thing of all about this very strange and intriguing location…was the gangs of chickens hanging around on all the street corners amongst all the bankers and Ferraris. (Alarmingly they even congregated outside KFC, the poor unsuspecting little buggers)
Entry to Cayman Islands Nation Museum: $8 adults/ $3 children
Go underwater and discover buried treasure
The crystal clear water around Grand Cayman makes it perfect for a spot of snorkelling; even from a boat it’s possible to look down into the sea and spot a whole load of colourful fish darting about. Pretty. Full on. Cool. Coral reefs lie just beneath the surface of the shallow water- as well as a whole load of shipwrecks. Back in the day Caymanians used to enjoy a spot of ‘wrecking,’ i.e. intentionally causing ships to sink by distracting them in these unfamiliar waters, and then robbing them of all their cargo, and as well as these wrecks there are a whole load of more recent sinkings- some of them completely on purpose as a way to create a new reef for marine life. What a brilliant plan!
Antique shops in George Town claim to sell treasure found on shipwrecks, and in the 70s a young American couple discovered a 450 year old Spanish ship whilst diving that was heaving with a whole load of gold from Mexico, so who knows what you might find if you look hard enough!
If you don’t have snorkelling equipment it’s possible to hire some from various restaurants and bars, although bear in mind it’s best to head away from the location of the cruise terminal for better prices.
For a list of the best snorkelling spots around the island, head Here. (The most intriguing one on the list is called Cheeseburger Reef, basically because it’s located directly opposite Burger King. What a full on laugh!)
- As a British Overseas Territory, the official language is English, so no need to brush up on a new language for visiting this one.
- Accepted currency is either Cayman Island dollars or US dollars (though bear in mind prices on menus will often be shown in local CI currency and therefore working out what you’ll pay in USD is a very tricky ballgame. I have a card which doesn’t charge hefty conversion rates so found this far easier to pay with in terms of headaches and hidden charges.
- A lot of restaurants include the tip in the bill- normally around 15%. Make sure you check before adding your own tip on unnecessarily.
- The Cayman Islands May well be tax free at face value, but in general things are full on expensive compared to other islands in the Caribbean, as a hefty tax is put onto every day items. Fine if you live there and are used to it, not fine if you’re a visitor unexpectedly forking out $9 for a tube of toothpaste.
- It’s hot hot hot! Packing-wise bring plenty of bikinis and a whole load of sun cream.