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  • Cayman Islands

    Cayman Islands travel guide

    Overview

    Renowned for beautiful beaches, excellent diving, andoffshore banking, the Cayman Islands is made up of three islandssituated between Cuba and Jamaica, only a 90-minute flight fromMiami. Grand Cayman is the largest and most developed of theislands and the location of the capital, George Town. It is hard tobelieve that among the buildings that line George Town's harbourare more than 500 banks making up one of the world's largestoffshore financial centres.

    It was not until 1670 that the islands came underBritish rule, and remain a British territory to this day. TheQueen's picture is still displayed proudly, but the US exerts a lotof influence over what it considers its backyard.

    For years the islands were a base for pirates whodelighted in the remoteness of Grand Cayman. A bonus was theisland's absolutely flat topography, which ensures that its profileis practically invisible against the horizon, making it the perfecthideaway for nefarious characters.

    While some people are still looking for a safe placeto hide their treasure, these days most visitors to the CaymanIslands are after a relaxing getaway. The Islands are a beachparadise with great swimming, snorkelling, scuba diving, fishing,and other watersports.

    Little Cayman and Cayman Brac are 70 miles (113km)northeast of Grand Cayman and are much smaller and even morerelaxed than the main island. Visitors don't come to these islandsin suits; the little business that goes on revolves around divingand catering for the world's best bone-fishing.

    The most popular things to do in the Cayman Islandsrevolve around the three islands' attractions of sun, sand, andblue water. Unsurprisingly, the Cayman Islands are a watersportsparadise. Around Grand Cayman alone there are more than 150 scubadiving sites and the coral reefs of the Cayman Islands arecelebrated for their health, despite the overall degradation ofcoral in the Caribbean.

    The islands are also a prime destination for fishingand the resorts offer all the usual fun recreational sports.Lounging on the beautiful beaches is also a favoured pastime.Indeed, Seven Mile Beach, on Grand Cayman, is said by many to bethe best beach in the Caribbean.

    Colourful and rare wildlife is found in abundance inthe Cayman Islands, both in the water and on land. Little Cayman,the least visited of the islands by tourists, thrives with visitingred-footed boobies. Dive sites like the aptly names Stingray Cityare home to surprisingly friendly stingrays that are a delight tosnorkel with, while Boatswain's Beach on Grand Cayman is home tothe famous Cayman Turtle Farm.

    Landlubbers will do well inland visiting the historicsites of George Town and Pedro St James Castle or walking throughQueen Elizabeth II Botanic Park. The rainy season, from May toNovember, staves off tourist crowds and is a good time to soak inthe Cayman attractions despite a bit of rain.

    Seven Mile Beach

    Just north of George Town, Seven Mile Beach is a beautifulstretch of white sand that curls around the west of Grand Cayman. Abit of a misnomer, Seven Mile Beach is actually only five and ahalf miles (8.8km) long, and is slowly shrinking due to erosion. Areef protects the coast and ensures that the water is blissfullycalm and ideal for swimming and snorkelling. This is the mostpopular beach on the island and is bordered by dozens of hotels,but it is large enough to ensure sunbathers do not end uptowel-to-towel. For day-visitors there are plenty of restaurants,beach bars, and even grilling facilities to relax at after a day ofwatersports. The calm and safe swimming conditions and ample spacemake Seven Mile Beach a great option for families with children.North of Seven Mile Beach is West Bay, the country's second largesttown.

    Seven Mile Beach, Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach, Grand Cayman Judith Duk
    Boatswains Beach

    Boatswain's Beach is Cayman's premier attraction.It features the famous Cayman Turtle Farm, an Education Centre, aswell as a one of a kind marine park, with 23 acres of reef lagoonin which guests can snorkel. When Christopher Columbus arrived atthe Cayman Islands in 1503, he named them Las Tortugas, meaning'The Turtles'. According to legend, there were so many turtles thatthe islands looked like they were covered with rocks. They are nowa protected species and the Cayman Islands Turtle Farm is home tothousands of turtles ranging in size from six ounces (170g) to 575pounds (261kg) each. The priority of the farm is to maintain anideal breeding environment for the turtles. Guests at Boatswain'sBeach can tour the Turtle Farm, and enjoy other attractions: CaymanStreet, which showcases a bit of the Cayman Islands' culture andhistory; a nature trail with colourful flowers and butteflies; afree-flight bird aviary; Boatswain's Reef, with a viewing panelinto the Predator Reef; the Breaker's Lagoon swimming pool; andup-close-and-personal animal encounters at the touch tanks.

    Address: 825 Northwest Point Road, West Bay.
    Website: www.turtle.ky
    Cayman Turtle Farm, Grand Cayman Cayman Turtle Farm, Grand Cayman Lhb1239
    Pedro St James Castle

    East of George Town is Pedro St James, the islands'oldest surviving building, originally built by an Englishman whoarrived here on Grand Cayman in 1765. Local stories also associatethe house with the pirate Henry Morgan and a 17th-century Spaniard,Pedro Gómez. The house is touted as the islands' 'birthplace ofdemocracy' because it was here in 1831 that the decision was madeto vote for elected representatives, and four years later theSlavery Abolition Act was also read here. Constructed around 1780from quarried native stone, the house has been restored by thegovernment as an historic site. Behind a traditional coral stonewall rises an authentic, three-storey early 19th-century greathouse, and assorted outbuildings, with traditional grounds plantedwith pineapple, banana, and other provisions. The adjacent acresare covered with luxuriant tropical plants, palm-lined walkways,and a splendid manicured Great Lawn sprawling to a fantastic viewover the Caribbean. A new 3D multimedia theatre shows a 20-minutefilm of the history of the castle, and there is a memorial to thevictims of Hurricane Ivan.

    Pedro St James Castle, Grand Cayman Pedro St James Castle, Grand Cayman Lhb1239
    Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park

    The Cayman Islands are better known for their sea life thanflora and fauna on land, but for keen botanists or those who wouldsimply like a pleasant walk, the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park ishard to beat. A well-marked mile-long (3km) trail winds throughlush and easy terrain, featuring almost 300 native speciesincluding roses, hibiscus, lilies, and orchids (which bloom in lateMay and June). The park and lake is home to the endangered andelusive Blue Iguana, as well as a fascinating array of birdlifeincluding parrots, herons, coots, and the rare West IndianWhistling Duck. The nearby Mastic Trail meanders through theold-growth forest that once supplied early settlers with timber onGrand Cayman. The 26-hectare (65 acre) park is in the district ofNorth Side, and is a 45-minute drive from George Town.

    Address: Frank Sound Road
    Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Garden Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Garden Lhb1239
    Rum Point

    Rum Point Beach consists of hundreds of yards of crystal-clearshallow sand flats, perfect for snorkelling in a conservationmarine park. It is a tranquil retreat where hammocks slung undershady trees, picnic tables, a sandy beach, and warm shallow watersprovide a relaxing haven for the day. Many watersports are offered,with easy access to North Sound, including jet-skiing, sailing, andkayaking, and snorkellers can explore the coral formations just offthe beach. The shore is dotted with ultra-casual beach bars, andslipping into a hammock with a cocktail is the perfect way torelax. Rum Point is a good option for families on Grand Cayman asthe shallow waters are calm and safe and there are plenty ofdiversions for kids.

    Rum Point Rum Point Judith Duk
    Stingray City and Sandbar

    Stingray City and the Sandbar are snorkelling siteslocated in the North Sound, and are a must-visit for watersportsenthusiasts. The clear shallow waters are frequented by friendlystingrays that come to find out what titbits visitors have broughtthem. Boat tours take snorkellers and divers to swim with and feedthe stingrays on bits of squid. They will brush against swimmersand allow themselves to be touched. This famous Cayman attractionwas accidentally created by fishermen who used to clean their catchin the calm waters, casting bits overboard, and so attracting theSouthern Stingrays to the area. Swimming with the stingrays is aremarkable experience. Travellers should do their best to ensure,however, that they use only reputable tour operators who haverespect for the environment and the animals.

    Stingray City, Grand Cayman Stingray City, Grand Cayman Kfulgham84
    Hell

    A popular and slightly bizarre stop on any tour of Grand Cayman,Hell is a tiny village that features strange black limestone rockformations that are said to resemble the Underworld. Though Caymanresidents are generally religious, residents of Hell show theirsense of humour to tourists with a bright red post office thatsends 'Postcards from Hell', and a gift shop where 'Satan' passesout souvenirs and inquires of visitors. The village, home to only60 people, also features a restaurant and bar. The natural rockformations, comprised of the spiky Ironshore limestone foundelsewhere on the island are interesting, and the residents haveturned Hell into a quirky island attraction for those exploringbeyond the beaches and resorts.

    Address: West Bay
    Hell Hell Maxws2

    Phrase Book

    English Pronounciation

    In general, the weather in the Cayman Islands is good all yearand the trade winds ensure it doesn't get too hot. The peak touristseason in the Cayman Islands runs between December and April. Therainy season runs from May to November and visitors are advised tokeep an eye on the weather reports in the days before arrival, asthis is also hurricane season. Many regard the wet season as thebest time to visit the Cayman Islands as room rates are cheaper,the beaches are less crowded, and the rain comes in short, sharpbursts that don't usually impact too much on holiday fun.

    Owen Roberts International Airport
    Location: The airport is situated two miles (3km) east of GeorgeTown on Grand Cayman.
    Time: Local time is GMT –5.
    Getting to the city: Taxis are available and many hotels offer courtesy buses.
    Car Rental: Major car hire companies operate from the airport. Visitors areadvised to book well in advance during peak-season.
    Fascilities: Airport facilities include an outgoing duty-free shop,restaurants and bars. There are also ATMs and currency exchangefacilities in the terminal building, as well as a touristinformation help desk. Facilities for the disabled are good;passengers with special needs are advised to contact their airlinein advance for further information.
    Parking Short and long-term parking is available.
    Gerrard Smith Airport
    Location: The airport is situated five miles (8km) from West End onCayman Brac.
    Time: Local time is GMT –5.
    Getting to the city: Taxis are available. Scooters can be rented from B&S MotorVentures.
    Car Rental: Avis and Hertz have cars available for hire at the airport.
    Money:

    The Cayman Islands Dollar (KYD) is the official currency, whichis divided into 100 cents. It is fixed to the US dollar at US$1.20.Currency can be exchanged at the banks, bureaux de change and manyhotels. Banks are open Monday to Saturday. US Dollars are acceptedas payment in most establishments and are the preferred currencyfor exchange as both cash and as travellers cheques. ATMs arewidely available and major credit and debit cards are accepted.

    Language:

    English is the official language. Spanish is also widelyspoken.

    Electricity:

    Electrical current is 120 volts, 60Hz. American styletwo-pin plugs are standard.

    Entry Requirements:

    United States passport holders must have a valid passport or agovernment-issued photo ID, such as a driver's license, as well asproof of citizenship, such as an original or certified birthcertificate. No visa is required for stays of a maximum of 6 monthsfor tourists, or 10 days for business travellers. However, thelength of visa-free allowance varies depending on the endorsementon the passport.

    UK nationals require a valid passport or proof of citizenship,such as a birth certificate or naturalisation certificate,accompanied by an official photo ID (e.g. driver's licence), fortravel to the Cayman Islands. No visa is required for stays up to amaximum of 6 months for tourists, or 10 days for businesstravellers. However, the length of visa-free allowance variesdepending on the endorsement on the passport.

    Canadian nationals do not require a passport for travel to theCayman Islands providing they hold a government-issued photo ID,such as a driver's license, as well as proof of citizenship, suchas a birth certificate. Canadian citizens can stay in the CaymanIslands visa-free for a maximum of 6 months as tourists and 10 daysas business travellers. However, the length of visa-free allowancevaries depending on the endorsement on the passport.

    Australian nationals must have a valid passport beyond theperiod of intended stay. No visa is required for a maximum stay of6 months for tourists or 10 days for business travellers. Thelength of visa-free allowance varies depending on the endorsementon the passport.

    South African nationals require a passport valid beyond theperiod of intended stay in the Cayman Islands. No visa is requiredfor a maximum stay of 6 months for tourists or 10 days for businesstravellers. However, the length of visa-free allowance variesdepending on the endorsement on the passport.

    Irish nationals require a passport valid at least beyond theintended period of stay. No visa is required for a maximum 6 monthstay for tourists or 10 days for business travellers. The length ofvisa-free allowance varies depending on the endorsement on thepassport.

    United States passport holders must have a valid passport or agovernment-issued photo ID, such as a driver's license, as well asproof of citizenship, such as an original or certified birthcertificate. No visa is required for stays of a maximum of 6 monthsfor tourists, or 10 days for business travellers. However, thelength of visa-free allowance varies depending on the endorsementon the passport.

    New Zealand nationals must have a passport valid beyond theperiod of intended stay. No visa is required for a maximum 6 monthstay for tourists or 10 days for business travellers. The length ofvisa-free allowance varies depending on the endorsement on thepassport.

    Passport/Visa Note:Visa:

    All visitors are required to hold sufficient funds for intendedperiod of stay in the Cayman Islands, as well as a return or onwardticket and documents required for further travel. Tourist visas cangenerally be extended for stays of up to six months. As part of theWestern Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), all travellerstravelling between the United States and Canada, Mexico, Bermuda,and the Caribbean region are required to present a passport orother valid travel document to enter or re-enter the United States.If departing from the USA a valid passport will be required byimmigration authorities. We recommend that passports be valid forsix months after intended period of travel.

    Travel Health:

    There are no specific health risks associated with travel to theCayman Islands and food and water are generally considered safe. Novaccinations are required, but vaccination for hepatitis A isrecommended and travellers should always be up to date onvaccinations for MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) andtetanus-diphtheria. Dengue fever has been reported in the Caribbeanregion and insect protection measures should be taken. Medicalfacilities are relatively good in the Cayman Islands, with two goodhospitals, but serious illness or injury may still requireevacuation. Visitors should take out adequate travel and travelinsurance to cover the possible need for an air ambulance. There isa decompression chamber available in the Cayman Islands.

    Tipping:

    Most restaurants and hotels automatically add a 10 to 15 percentservice charge to the bill, otherwise a gratuity of the same amountis expected. At hotels, a 10 percent government tax is also usuallyadded to the cost of your room. Taxi drivers expect a 10 to 15percent tip as well.

    Safety Information:

    The Cayman Islands has a relatively low crime rate.Nevertheless, visitors are advised to take the usual sensibleprecautions they would anywhere else in the world to prevent beingthe victims of petty crime. Do not leave valuables lying about:keep them in a hotel or other safety deposit box. Visitors shouldbe aware of the risk of flooding during hurricane season (June toNovember) and follow local advice with regards to leaving theisland in the event of an approaching hurricane.

    Local Customs:

    The culture of the Cayman Islands is a blend of American,British, and West Indian traditions. The churchgoing Caymaniansappreciate politeness and modesty - topless bathing and nudity isillegal and beachwear in not acceptable off the beach.

    Business:

    The Cayman Islands are one of the principal financial centres inthe world. The hub of business and banking is in George Town onGrand Cayman. Business dress within the financial industry isformal, but other businesses may have a more relaxed protocol.After hours meetings are usually fairly casual. Handshakes onintroduction are followed by the exchange of business cards.General business hours are 8am to 5pm, while banks open at 9am andclose at 4pm Monday to Friday.

    Communications:

    The international access code for the Cayman Islands is +1, incommon with the US, Canada, and most of the Caribbean, followed by345. International direct dialling is available. Internet cafes andhotels and restaurants with free wifi are widely available.

    Duty Free:

    Travellers entering the Cayman Islands may take 200 cigarettesor 250g of tobacco, as well as one litre of alcohol, without payingduty on these.

    Useful Contacts:

    Cayman Islands official tourism website:www.caymanislands.ky

    Cayman Islands Embassies:

    British Embassy, Washington DC, United States (also representsCayman Islands): +1 202 588 6500.

    Cayman Islands Government Office, London, UnitedKingdom: +44 20 7491 7772

    British High Commission, Ottawa, Canada (also represents CaymanIslands): +1 613 237 1530.

    British High Commission, Pretoria, South Africa (also representsCayman Islands): +27 12 421 7500.

    British High Commission, Canberra, Australia (also representsCayman Islands): +61 2 6270 6666.

    British Embassy, Dublin, Ireland (also represents CaymanIslands): +353 1 205 3700.

    British High Commission, Wellington, New Zealand (alsorepresents Cayman Islands): +64 4 924 2888.

    Foreign Embassies in Cayman Islands :

    United States Consular Agent, George Town: +1 345 945 8173.

    UK Embassy in the Cayman Islands, George Town: +1 345 2442434

    Canadian High Commission, Kingston, Jamaica (also responsiblefor Cayman Islands): +1 876 926 1500.

    Cayman Islands Emergency Numbers : Emergencies: 911
    Cayman Islands