Grand Cayman travel guide
Most of the population of the Cayman Islands live on the 78 square mile (202 sq km) Grand Cayman, the largest island in the chain, and every day thousands of visitors arrive, many of them on cruise liners, to besiege the narrow streets of the island capital, George Town, and delight in the beautiful beaches. The busy little colonial capital also draws its fair share of wheelers and dealers, being a major offshore investment centre with more than 500 banks.
The banking business has made Grand Cayman an affluent society, but decadence has not accompanied the wealth. There are no glitzy casinos and wild club venues here, and nudity on the beach is frowned upon. The natural attractions are enough to draw the crowds, however, with the coral reefs, clear waters and sandy beaches offering the chance to try out any watersport imaginable. The tourist infrastructure on Grand Cayman is very good, providing anything travellers might need; the other islands are far less developed, making Grand Cayman the natural hub for all activities and amenities.
Seven Mile Beach
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 town.
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.
Address: 825 Northwest Point Road, West Bay
Pedro St James Castle
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
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: Frank Sound Road
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
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.
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.
Address: West Bay
Pirates Week Festival
The Pirates invade George Town each November for a fiesta of music, dancing, costumes, food, drink and fireworks. Pirate Week is a one of a kind occasion and really the only place to celebrate these colourful characters of the past is in the warm sun of the Caribbean. The 'Pirates' land in George Town Harbour in renovated pirate ships, hoisting their Jolly Rogers high to the delight of thousands of families who gather to enjoy the Islands' roguish heritage. A variety of parties, sporting events and cultural heritage celebrations take place throughout the week and leading up to it. There is something for the whole family.
Venue: George Town Harbour; Date:10 - 20 November 2016; Website: www.piratesweekfestival.com
Intertrust Cayman Islands Marathon
The Intertrust Cayman Islands Marathon - including a full marathon, a half marathon, a team relay race and a kids' fun run - gives runners the opportunity to run a race on a beautiful, fast and very flat course, one loop for half marathoners and two for the marathoners, with the option to extend the trip into a relaxing post-marathon island holiday. The race has been rated as very well organised, with plenty of special touches and freebies such as greeters at the airport, free shuttle services to and from the start and finish, a carb-loading dinner included in the cost, and more. It is also a Boston qualifier for those aiming for the prestigious marathon the following year. Local crowd support for the races is inspiring, with people crowding onto sidewalks to watch the runners and cheer them along. With the early start time, runners avoid the worst of the day's heat and have the opportunity to start running under the clear starry skies, and watch the sunrise as the run continues.
Date:4 December 2016; Time:5am; Website: www.caymanislandsmarathon.com
Owen Roberts International Airport
Location: The airport is situated two miles (3km) east of George Town on Grand Cayman.
Time: Local time is GMT –5.
Contacts: Tel: +1 345 943 7070.
Getting to the city: Taxis are available and many hotels offer courtesy buses.
Car rental: Major car hire companies operate from the airport. Visitors are advised to book well in advance during peak-season.
Facilities: Airport facilities include an outgoing duty-free shop, restaurants and bars. There are also ATMs and currency exchange facilities in the terminal building, as well as a tourist information help desk. Facilities for the disabled are good; passengers with special needs are advised to contact their airline in advance for further information.
Parking: Short and long-term parking is available.
Departure tax: CI$20 or US$25.
Grand Cayman experiences good weather all year round, with the trade winds keeping the climate temperate. Peak season runs between December and April while the rainy season runs from May to November, which also happens to be hurricane season. Many visitors still choose to travel during the rainy season as prices are cheaper, the beaches are less crowded, and the rain generally comes in short, sharp bursts and clears relatively quickly.
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