Grand Cayman is the largest of the three Cayman Islands, all located in the western Caribbean. With infinite sunshine and abundant coral reefs in the surrounding sea, the island offers an array of watersports, white sand beaches and delicious Caribbean cuisine served against a resplendent backdrop of sea views.
The night of 8th February 1794 was stormy, the flagship of an English fleet consisting of 11 vessels ran aground on the reef off the East side of Grand Cayman. A warning shot fired by the flagship was fatefully misinterpreted and the other vessels drew closer; nine ran aground. Caymanian inhabitants from the East coast of the island rescued the men. The shipwreck is now known as the Wreck of the Ten Sails but nothing remains of these wooden ships, broken down over time by salty water and currents. However, the notion that the King bestowed the tax-free legacy as a result of the Caymanians’ bravery remains to this day.
Thanks to the emission of taxes, Grand Cayman has become a financial and shopping hub. With the influx of wealthy people came the discovery of the natural beauty of the island, with its verdant interior, mixture of sandy and rocky coast and the myriad colours and life lingering below the surface of the sea. This beauty has encouraged a constant stream of tourists.
The Capital and Main Port on Grand Cayman
George Town is the capital and main port on the island. Cruise ships dock allowing visitors to stroll the shop-lined streets, selling everything from fresh coconuts to Rolex watches. From here you can also embark on various day trips or tour the whole island.
East and North of the Island
Rum Point is North-east of George Town. Along the jagged coastal road, which winds around the Eastern edge of the island, there are various places to stop for views out to sea. At one such stop saltwater gushes into the air from a hole in the rocky shore creating a blowhole effect. When you get to Rum Point you can opt to snorkel from the beach, relax on the sun loungers or hire a jet ski and tour the mangroves and Star Fish Point.
The road running though the centre of the island, connecting Rum Point to the coastal road on the South of the island, passes the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park. A wonderful array of plants is on display, along with naming plaques and a little history. A traditional Caymanian cottage shows a complete kitchen garden full of medicinal herbs and spices.
West of the Island
The main coastal road north from George Town passes luxury resorts lining Seven Mile Beach with its crystal clear water and milky white sand with a gentley shelf, allowing the Caribbean Sea to wash over it. This road continues through Hell and up to West Bay where the beaches have a lot less bathers and more vegetation occupying the sand.
Other Tours and Events
Other popular tours that are available on Grand Cayman include snorkel or dive trips to see the USS Kittiwake: An ex-US submarine rescue vessel that was scuttled on 5th January 2011 off the northern end of Seven Mile Beach to create an artificial reef.
Another short boat ride will take you to Stingray City, a sandbar off the northern coast of the island where hundreds of stingrays gather in the hope of being fed. It is possible to stand in waist-high water and allow the stingrays to massage your legs as they glide past.
Pirate Week is the island’s most celebrated festival. Every year a stage is put up in the centre of George Town for live local performances and competitions. The Governor of the island is abducted by pirates in a staged kidnapping and whisked off onto a wooden sailing ship. People dance among the food stalls throughout the evening as fireworks paint the sky in flurries of sodium and copper. Although the date varies each year, the festival usually takes place in November.
Restaurants and Bars
The ultimate beach bar, Calico Jacks (On the beach, off West Bay Road), has alternate green and blue picnic benches on the sand, metres away from the crystal clear Caribbean Sea. The bar is situated in an open Cayman Cottage style building with plenty of bar stools to rest on and ceiling fans to cool off under. Light meals such as Caesar salad or more fulfilling pizzas and ribs are available in this pirate-themed restaurant. It’s perfect for a quick lunch on a beach day or for grabbing a refreshing drink during a break from the midday sun.
An open-sided, waterfront restaurant near the main port, The Wharf (43 West Bay Road, George Town) has an extensive dining area, with tables spread across two levels to enhance views across the ocean. A variety of meat and fish dishes are available, all presented in an artful way and accompanied by an extensive wine, cocktail and beer list. There is a large bar and dancefloor for salsa nights every Tuesday inclusive of free lessons. Diners can also partake in tarpon feedings, which make for an unusual spectacle.
Situated along the main beach road Peppers Bar and Grill (426 West Bay Road) is the best place to sample local cuisine: BBQ chicken and ribs, beans and rice with a side of plantain. Other options include pasta, pizza and a variety of Jamaican Jerk meats. The décor is classic Caribbean: an open-sided cabana with a palm-thatched roof supported by thick, round wooden beams. There is an indoor bar and eating section for those who prefer air-conditioned dining. Entertainment is provided Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
Walk into a world of white linen drapes billowing in the sea breeze as they hang from the dark wooden roof beams in this large tiki structure. At Tiki Beach (Off West Bay Road) wooden tables are lit by tiki torches burning along the deck edge, which abuts the sandy Seven Mile Beach. For cocktail lovers, try the mudslide, the island is famous for them. Listen to the gentle waves of the Caribbean Sea crash on the shore as you browse the extensive menu which offers everything from salads to surf and turf.
Macabuca (857 North West Point Road, West Bay) offers an all you can eat Caribbean BBQ every Monday night and snack food every other day. Think conch sandwiches and fish tacos followed by their signature ice cream sandwich for dessert. The restaurant is located on a wooden pier with lights and candles illuminating the thatched-roof tiki bar, dining area and view over the water. The bar serves up a variety of cold beers, bottled and draught, and colourful fruity cocktails.
For some of the best, authentic Indian cuisine, spend the evening at Sunset House’s My Bar (390 South Church Street), located on an open-air patio along the iron shore of the Caribbean Sea. Sample the dish of the day or choose from a mixture of classic Indian or Caribbean options including conch fritters. The indoor restaurant at Sunset House, SeaHarvest, serves a similar menu but with air-conditioned surrounds. As the name might suggest, this is a great spot to watch the sunset.
The Westin Grand Cayman (30620 Seven Mile Beach) offers luxury accommodation at a fantastic location. Situated on the idyllic Seven Mile Beach, this resort offers ocean or island view rooms and suites. The two palm-fringed pools are surrounded by numerous sunbeds; an ideal location for relaxing. Keep cool at the bar in the main pool where you can sit on submerged stools while sinking an ice cold beverage. Water sports such as paddle boarding, snorkelling, diving and jet skiing are all available; the Governor’s reef lies just offshore, great for snorkelling, and more varied sites lie a short boat ride away. The hotel also includes a luxury spa and numerous restaurants and bars, from the Pool Bar to the indoor Ferdinand’s restaurant.
For those who live and breathe diving, Compass Point Dive Resort (346 Austin Conolly Drive) is a popular place to stay; it is the only dive resort located on the east coast of the Island. One-to-three bedroom rooms and suites, two pools, a Jacuzzi, free bike and kayak hire and a few eating options, including DIY BBQ pits are on offer. However, the best feature for divers is the twice-daily boat trips to the wealth of reefs off the East coast. Waters can be slightly choppier than off Seven Mile Beach but on decent days you will have this wide expanse to share with only the divers on your boat.
Located just off West Bay Road Sunshine Suites Resort (1465 Esterly Tibbitts Highway) is a cheaper option for those who want pleasant accommodation with all the amenities, near Seven Mile Beach. Facilities include a large pool laced with sun loungers, gym, beach cabanas, spa and childrens’ club. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are all served at the laid-back Sunshine Bar and Grill. Studio, deluxe and one bedroom suites are available, sleeping between two and four people. All have fully equipped kitchens. Dive and sightseeing tours are bookable through the hotel.
The Holiday Inn Resort Grand Cayman (278 Crighton Drive, Crystal Harbour, Safehaven) is located on the east side of the narrow northerly section of the Island, looking towards Rum Point. The resort has its own private palm-lined beach on the North Sound Ocean, a large pool and gym facilities. The Iguana Grill offers breakfast, lunch and dinner, comprising a mixture of Caribbean and American favourites. Accommodation includes a selection of rooms and suites, all with a microwave and small fridge. Suites have a full kitchen. The hotel offers free transfers to Fosters Grocery store, Camana Bay, Seven Mile Beach and George Town.
The Cayman Islands are up there as one of the best places to dive on earth. A rainbow of colours is produced by the blanket of reef which is seen through the endlessly clear water. Water temperatures of 32 degrees make for easy diving; with no wetsuit required you can feel unrestricted, free to move, under the ocean surface. Add to this the numerous points at which you can enter the water from the shore and dive virtually head first into a coral reef; this really is some of the easiest, cheapest and most varied diving available.
Take a long stride off the iron shore into the blue and descend into a patchwork of large coral islands at Sunset Divers (390 South Church Street, George Town) on the South side of Grand Cayman. Dive between 15-20 metres in depth, spotting eels as they poke their heads from rocks, following the fish that pass by or the hawksbill turtles as they glide over the coral, occasionally dipping to feast on it. Small reef fish are in abundance here, Sargent Majors and fairy bassiet swarm, as larger snapper and rainbow parrotfish swim by. There is also Amphitrite, a mermaid statue to discover, hidden among the islands, perched on a rock.
Stride in from the wooden pier or walk down the stairs into this maze of coral tunnels and caves at Devil’s Grotto (124 South Church Street, George Street). This shore dive can be slightly more difficult to navigate so be sure to get a good briefing before heading into the water. Swim into entrances in the coral where you will find tarpon and lionfish lurking along the edges. Glide over the sandy floor, heading towards the light, straight ahead, upward or round a bend. Watch, when you emerge from the tunnels, as your exhaled bubbles escape through the porous rock. At a shallow average of five metres and a max of 15 metres you can take your time discovering this underwater landscape and the unique coral formations.
On the west side of the island at Dive Tech Lighthouse Point Dive Resort (278 Crighton Drive) you will descend to see the guardian of the reef. A four-metre bronze structure, half man half fish, was placed here in 2015 to raise environmental awareness. The reef beyond is deceivingly deep. Reach it by swimming over a large sandy area. From where the reef starts it gently shelves; the slope allows you to observe the giant corals which cover the ocean floor out of the recreational diving depth. Swarms of fish such as queen angelfish and snapper pass below. Swim along the edge of the reef, looking out and down into the depths until, at half tank, you start to work your way back.
Descend the stairs into the protected inlet at Macabuca (857North West Point Road, West Bay) for a shallow sandy start. Swim out past the shoreline where the sand shelf disappears and you can drop a further 15 metres in depth. There are two options at this mini wall; left or right. Go left to be enclosed in an open-top tunnel. Coral grows all along the wall and on the rocks which rise from the sandy surface. A cave in the wall houses scores of tarpon which eerily linger at its entrance. Swim through, above or below the school. The wall comes to an end this side, making for a good point to turn back. Should you pick the right side of this wall, undercuts in the rock await, as well as large grouper, which sit on the small coral banks. This side continues on, so make the turn back when you are at half tank. In order to explore both sides, buy two tanks here, one for each.
Shop the amazing variety in The Cabana (10 Market Street, Camana Bay). From seasonal candles to casual beachwear, you can find a number of treasures in this colourful store. The black and white checkerboard floor offsets the all-white walls and furniture with the colour coming into the mix from the items on sale. Multi-coloured stripes and print adorn the clothes, from dresses to shirts to beach bags.
Kirk Market (413 Eastern Avenue) is an immaculately laid out grocery store with a market vibe. Seasonal displays are held in the fruit and vegetable section where you can find some interesting local produce. The bakery sells freshly baked cakes and cookies and the food counter, great for a takeaway lunch, serves local cuisine as well as pastas, soups and a daily variety of meat dishes.
With Grand Cayman’s duty and tax-free shopping Island Jewellers (Island Plaza, George Town) has become one of the best places to purchase high-end jewellery. The extensive shop sells a variety of brands from Seiko to Hermes and a variety of products from watches to rings and necklaces. The vast amount of glass display counters, organised by brand, will keep you busy browsing for hours before choosing the perfect memory of your Caribbean holiday.
Pure Art gallery and gifts (5 Denham Thompson Way, George Town) offers good value holiday gifts. Buy anything from local spices, soaps and sauces, locally made accessories such as bracelets, sun hats and rings, and locally produced art including paintings and sculptures. There’s a satisfying jumble of goodies displayed in this traditional Cayman cottage.