Among the three Cayman Islands, Grand Cayman is overwhelmingly the largest, the most visited, and offers the most variety of activities. Where the two smaller islands mainly cater to diving connoisseurs and nature enthusiasts, Grand Cayman welcomes a diverse crowd of people. The local absence of taxes and many of the controls other nations place on their banking systems makes Grand Cayman one of the world's largest offshore financial centers, attracting an international set easily identified by their cell-phones and suits. But by far the larger group is the tourists: Club-goers, beach bums and diving devotees all call the island their paradise. You'll find it easy to enter whichever atmosphere pleases you, whether it's hectic tourist hotspots or remote island hideaways. Choose to spend all your time on the beach and in the nightlife, or use every day to explore one of over 250 diving sites in the island's crystal-clear water.
Nearly everyone arriving, whether by plane at Owen Roberts International Airport or by cruise ship, will end up in the same locale: George Town. That name encompasses both a district, which includes the airport, and the actual capital city of the island. After checking into your accommodation, head to the city's waterfront shopping area. All the shopping here is duty-free, so take a little time to check out stores like
Seven Mile Beach
Once you've taken the edge off your hunger, head northwards while staying on the waterfront. Soon you'll hit the coral sands of
There's no need to walk all five and a half miles of the inaccurately-named beach right now, so once you're tired of it, catch a taxi northward to
You've seen much of what the western side of the island has to offer, now. But, you may ask, what about the much larger eastern section? With nearly deserted beaches, parks and bays, Grand Cayman's North Side and East End districts offer the island seclusion that many crave. Start heading that way, but don't let yourself skip over the former capital, Bodden Town. Historic buildings and graves in this sleepy town hearken back to the days of pirates and slaves on the island.
Head straight north away from Bodden Town to reach
You've made your way across most of the island now, with only the eastern-most beaches left. If all you wanted in the first place was peace and quiet, maybe the place to stay would be one like
Around the Island
Speaking of diving, there's an entire sea away from the shores to explore, with some of the world's clearest water and best reefs, walls and wrecks waiting for you to discover them. Listing all of the excellent spots for diving or snorkeling around Grand Cayman would be a truly monumental task, but fortunately much of the island's best diving can be identified by the side it's on. The
Whatever you're looking for in a Caribbean island, Grand Cayman has it on offer. So grab your beach towel, or dive tank, or club outfit, or even your cell phone and suit, and get ready to relax in a special sort of paradise.
With the warm Caribbean sunshine pouring onto the sandy shore of Grand Cayman, you might find it quite difficult to come up with a reason for getting out of your hammock. For those beachcombers who don't find themselves magnetically glued to a beach towel by their Serotonin-soaked bliss, here are some of the other activities (besides sunbathing) that make the Grand Cayman such an exciting island paradise.
Grand Cayman is a formation of a high lying limestone reef, which has no fresh water source whatsoever on the island. The lack of rivers and lakes may seem like a disadvantage, but the non-existence of fresh water is responsible for the crystal clear ocean that surrounds the island. This, of course, is what makes Grand Cayman a favorite destination for divers. The island is literally covered with world class dive walls and reefs, and more than enough dive schools to choose from. The oldest established dive school on the island is Peter Milburn's Dive Cayman, which offers years of diving experience to ensure that your dive, whether it's your first of fiftieth, is unsurpassed. If you're looking for the full on diving experience, you can stay at one of the islands' specialized accommodations such as the Compass Point Dive Resort, which offers secluded beaches with emphasis on adventure.
Dry yourself off and take a break from the beach as you discover Grand Caymans' historical side. The island is home to the St. James Historic Site, a 19th century plantation that has been restored and well kept to preserve a part of the island that existed many years ago. A look into the history of the island continues at the Cayman Islands National Museum. The museum is dedicated to the preservation of the wonderful heritage of Grand Cayman, so that present and future inhabitants and visitors can appreciate its rich history. The museum's collection spans over 4000 artifacts which includes the tiny pieces of the past such as gold coins, all the way to a 14-foot catboat.
As one would imagine, there is a great presence of wildlife throughout the island, and the local Caymans place a good deal of importance on the preservation of these creatures. Grand Cayman is home to the world's only Green Sea turtle farm, Boatswain's Beach Turtle Farm. Every year thousands of tourists make this aquatic nursery one of their vacation destinations when visiting Grand Cayman. The Green Sea turtle is so important to the people and culture of Grand Cayman that its image appears on the island's currency, flag and crest.
Even the smallest of animals are not forgotten by the people of Grand Cayman. You'll notice this when you step into the lush tropical sanctuary at the Butterfly Farm, which houses hundreds of species of butterflies. Providing great opportunities for rare photographs, the Butterfly Farm is a one of a kind experience for people of all ages.
Although Grand Cayman is only 196 square kilometers, it can still be a challenge to navigate through all the activities that the island has to offer and get the most out of your visit. Luckily, the island is in no short supply of tour options to ensure that you get to experience Grand Cayman to it's fullest. For a birds eye view of the island and it's surrounding waters, look into the Cayman Island Helicopter Tours, which will take you high above for a "Grand" Cayman time. If you feel the only time to experience the island from above is when you're either landing or taking off on a plane, then stick to a tour that brings you a little more down to earth. Mainstay Sailing offers one of the best ways to see the island; from the ocean. Hop aboard and set sail for the tropic waters that surround Grand Cayman, taking in the island experience by sailing around it.
The warm Caribbean sun may be one of the biggest draws to the island, but when that sun sets and the stars begin to twinkle above the island, Grand Cayman goes into island party mode. Raise the bar of clubbing as you enter The Next Level, Grand Cayman's chicest nightclub and lounge. State-of-the-art sound and lighting make this a high tier club experience, offering a variety of entertainment throughout the week. Separate lounge areas allow the atmosphere to shift gears (if that's what you want) into a more low key spot for relaxing and socializing.
When it's all said and done, no one entertains better than mother nature. So grab a towel and a sandy piece of beach and get yourself into the island state of mind.
Legend has it that Christopher Columbus found the Cayman Islands on May 10th, 1503 after his ship was blown off-course by strong winds. While this is known to have happened to Columbus on many previous occasions, this serendipitous discovery put the Caymans, first known as Las Tortugas, on the map. In the years to come, these islands would know the rule of many foreign countries, host notable noblemen, change names, and evolve into the bustling vacation destination that they are today.
Early Life on the Caymans
By the late 1500s the islands' name had been changed to Caymanas. Both Sir Francis Drake and William Dampier visited the islands and recounted stories of the many marine and land crocodiles that inhabited it. Just as 'Las Tortugas' was derived from the oversized turtles that were spotted on the islands, 'Caymanas' is derived from the Caribbean word for 'crocodile'. These animals were not only important for providing the islands' name, but their presence also did much to shape the early evolution of the islands. The rich sea life attracted pirates, sailors, and soldiers looking to stock up on fresh meat before continuing their long journeys.
In 1655, the Caymans became British entities, and for the first time settlers attempted to live on Cayman Brac and Little Cayman. Many soldiers, veterans of Oliver Cromwell's army stayed on the islands after having defeated the Spanish in battle, and it is thought that Isaac Bodden, the first person born on Grand Cayman, was the son of a soldier in Cromwell's army. Today, Bodden is a popular district on Grand Cayman.
Even though the islands were under British rule, both Spanish and British privateers freely attacked many of the first settlers. Because privateering was legal, pirates would raid the towns and enemy ships to take goods back to their countries, and there was little help from the governing bodies who saw it as a way of seizing back captured wealth. This all ended with the Treaty of Utrecht (1713-1714), and conflict between France, Spain, and Britain ceased shortly thereafter, leaving many out-of-work pirates seeking refuge on the islands.
There is a legend that in 1788, shortly before government was established, these pirates came together with ship-wrecked sailors, Spanish refugees, British settlers, and slaves in an effort to save ten stranded merchant ships that were traveling from Jamaica to Britain. After the ships were caught on the reef around the east end of the island near Gun Bay, locals went to great measures to be sure that no lives were lost (including the life of a member of royalty who happened to be on one of the ships). Because of this, the island was allegedly given freedom from conscription and taxation.
A Government is Formed
With 1832 came a representative government system, and in 1863 the island was annexed to Jamaica, thereby allowing the development of an appointed commissioner office and a functional mail system. This began the construction of a hospital, schools, banks, and paved roads. For the first time, the islands were functioning within an ordered society and becoming commercially reliable. During this period, many of the natives took jobs as sea fisherman, sailors, and even captains. Finally, enough structure was in place to actively be a means of rebuilding after the occurrence of natural disasters. In 1932 a hurricane took the lives of 69 people and created 32-foot waves on Cayman Brac, while also causing extensive damage on the neighboring islands. It was a few years before everything was completely rebuilt and functioning as it had before.
As the islands' popularity and prosperity grew, a constitution was inaugurated bringing in elected officials to govern and coordinate the islands' growth. This was a major stepping-stone for the islands in their path to becoming independent and self-sustaining.
A Thriving Tourist Destination
When Jamaica became independent in 1962, the Cayman Islands chose to remain under British rule. A governor was installed on the island, along with an elected body under a constitution. Soon thereafter, an airfield was also constructed. While the government continues to evolve, the islands remain politically independent of Jamaica, but they are heavily influenced by their neighbor's culture. Almost half of the population comes from Jamaica, and Jamaican banks and churches operate on the islands, closely connecting the neighboring lands. In 2004 Hurricane Ivan struck, again demolishing many properties and top hotels. However, with a thriving tourist industry that has visitors from all of the world arriving on cruise ships daily, the industry quickly recovered, and has taken the opportunity to construct new and improved lodgings and entertainment.
Noted for its spectacular diving and bleached beaches, Grand Cayman has lots to offer with a variety of places to bunk, from resorts to condos, apartments to private beach homes. They're all here, dotted across the delightful beaches and towns, waiting for your arrival.
When in West Bay you'll really feel like you've come home. Unlike the touristy area of Seven Mile Beach just south of it, this community is truly unique and will give you a feeling of warmth, and not just from the Caribbean sun. There aren't many hotels or condos here, but you'll have fun in one of the bed & breakfast or private homes. Some places to keep in mind are Cobalt Coast Resort & Suites a moderately priced "Grand Home" that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner while offering dive and honeymoon packages. For an even more private experience stay at Coconut Bay. Here you will have a three bedroom townhouse with ocean views, beach access and pools, perfect for a family or group vacation. Villa Bellagio, a five bedroom, four bathroom villa, is pricey but comes with all the seclusion, adventure and relaxation you are searching for. Hang out in a hammock, then chill on the beach right outside your door. Later, watch the sun paint magical colors in the sky.
Seven Mile Beach
Compared with the tranquil nature of other areas on the island, there is a major change of scenery when you come to Seven Mile Beach. If you enjoy the commotion of groups and electric Caribbean nights you will not be disappointed here. There are plenty of water sport shops, resorts, family hotels and restaurants to satisfy every taste. For a deluxe stay choose Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort and enjoy poolside service, a top quality meal in the elegant restaurant and a relaxing house spa. Another upscale lodging is Casa Caribe where you can enjoy activities from golf to windsurfing. For a more conservative hotel take up residence at The Reef Resort. Here you can relax in your beach front room, watch the sunset or take a nighttime stroll along the water. After resting in your deluxe suite you can join one of the resort's diving or snorkeling tours to Stingray City. If you want the beach and the town, stay at Grandview Condo. Here you are only one mile away from the shopping and entertainment of George Town, but you get the almost never ending view of the beach. These condos are perfect for any traveler. Cool off in the beachfront gazebo with a cocktail or head to the private beach for a peaceful walk. Play a game of tennis or be picked up at the onsite dock for a dive trip. For the more cost conscious vacationer there are plenty of choices. Just two blocks from the beach Annie's Place, is close to all the excitement but maintains a peaceful atmosphere. Keep in shape with the onsite volleyball and tennis faculties.
Find movie theaters for the kids, shopping for you, all the sports rental equipment for the family and dinning of all kinds in George Town. The hub of the islands, this town offers a great lodging selection. Finger Tip has beach access along with a pool and garden view. If you've got company or are traveling with family try Ecstasea a five bedroom villa with views of the beach and a quick drive to everything you need. However, if a decent price is more your thing stop in at Sunset House, a place where you can dine, sleep and have access to all the amenities you need. Use the wireless Internet from the poolside then take one of the many dive courses available. Want some privacy and a friendly, personal atmosphere? Reserve a room at Eldemires Guest House B & B where you'll have access to kitchen facilities, wireless Internet, a swimming pool, barbeque area and snorkeling trips.
Take a tour at one of the top landmarks on the Cayman Islands and see a pirate's cave along with local wildlife and Amazon River stingrays. You can find this activity in Bodden Town, a family oriented area with many services and amenities at your reach. Located in the South central part of the island stay on the beach at Turtle Nest Inn. Take up snorkeling for a day and try your luck at seeing one of the island's large, famed turtles. At Caribbean Paradise you can rent a guest house for two to six people. Share a unit with friends or family, take advantage of the oceanfront view and beach, or rent a car and drive to all points of the island.
This part of Grand Cayman is very quiet, typically rural, it has great farmland and very little roads and is close to Rum Point, supposedly the most beautiful point on the island. Visit North Side for the perfect day trip by car or if you find the right accommodation this could be your vacation base. Look for The Yellow House a perfectly priced, three bedroom home that overlooks the beach, and offers free use of their kayaks. The all inclusive Spanish Bay Reef is another great choice where your room, all meals, drinks, biking, snorkeling, and dive lessons are taken care of in one price, dive and non-dive packages are available for your convenience.
If you're searching for solitude, East End is where you want to be. While you have far fewer choices, all of your daily needs will be met. Home to the famous blowholes where water, forced through the coral shoreline, shoots up into the sky like a geyser. As long as you have a rental car or are staying at a resort you don't need to worry about a thing. Compass Point Dive Resort is a tranquil area, lovingly hugged by the sea, all rooms have patio or balconies so you can absorb in the fresh ocean. Feel like its your home with a furnished beachfront apartment at Mahogany Cove just minutes from the town of Breakers, restaurants and sport shops.
No matter what part of the island you plant your feet you'll have all you need, just take a rest, watch the sunset and dream.