You feel like you’ve “arrived” when you have friends to visit in the Caymans! My friend, Nadia, invited me to tag along to visit her friend, Flip. They are both South African, which is the fourth largest expat group on the island—preceded by Jamaicans, British and Filipinos. Locals will tell you the 54,000+ island residents are 50% Caymanian and 50% expats. Knowing a local made this gorgeous, expensive Caribbean paradise accessible to a budget traveler like me.
Grand Cayman, the largest of three Cayman Islands, offers water sports galore. As long as the rain stays away, you can keep busy from morning til night. We enjoyed morning paddle boarding along Seven Mile Beach and nighttime paddle boarding in the bioluminescent bay on the North Side. Ahhh-mazing! (Thank you, Flip!)
Around three islands, there are 365 dive sites, one for each day of the year. On this trip, I learned about wreck diving. The most popular wreck is the decommissioned USS Kittiwake which was sunk in 2011 to become an artificial reef. At present, it has precious little marine growth. I did, however, see incredible marine life while snorkeling at a wreck in South Sound. A school of a hundred fish were hanging out beneath a capsized vessel decorated with yellow, purple and rust-colored coral. Afterwards, I walked north to swim and snorkel at the picturesque Smith Barcadere. Some of the best snorkeling on the island is said to be north of Seven Mile Beach at Cemetery Beach, just south of Boggy Sand.
Our best afternoon was with Fat Fish Adventures. We played on jet skis for four hours, zipping from Georgetown to Rum Point. Everald was an amazing guide and led us through Starfish Point and Stingray City. We also snorkeled in the bay and snacked at KAIBO before cruising back home into the sunset.
Thanks to Flip’s video talent, you can actually see what I saw at Stingray City:
Camana Bay is a new(er) hotspot in town, courtesy of Dart Realty (founded by Ken Dart who has a curious backstory). I was initially skeptical that an outdoor mall would be worth my precious time on the island, but it actually was!
Here’s how I recommend enjoying Camana Bay: order a custom sandwich at Bay Market and a beverage from Jessie’s Juice Bar. Then head to one of many shaded outdoors spots or the expansive waterfront to enjoy a lunch with a nice view.
Jessie’s Juice Bar is run by a lovely Kiwi couple, Jessie and Lachie, who make mind-blowingly good blends. Upon Lachie’s recommendation, I tried the Tiramisu (espresso, milk, avocado, maca, vanilla stevia, banana). DELISH! I came back the next day for Chunky Bob (milk, peanut butter, banana, chocolate chunks). MMM! They also run a restaurant in Georgetown called South West Collective where one can watch the cruise ships roll in or listen to live music on Friday nights.
After lunch, head up to the observation tower where walls four stories high are colored with Venetian glass mosaics.
From Camana Bay, head south to Cayman Spirits Co. to taste Seven Fathoms Rum. I found the premium rum, spiced rum and dark rum to all be delicious—and I don’t hand out such compliments easily! In addition to tastings, they offer tours.
Like most tourists, I spent an afternoon strolling along Seven Mile Beach. Ironically, the beach is only 5.5 miles long, but that is still more than enough to enjoy. The sand was so plush and soft, I felt like I could play in it all day!
Luxury hotels and condos line Seven Mile Beach. I stopped in a few because I always love checking out the decor. The Ritz Carlton Grand Cayman has a beautiful art gallery inside of the overpass that leads to the outdoor pool.
The sleek, geometric decor of the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort matches my design tastes to a T. Outdoor orchids were a nice touch since the island is home to 26 orchid species.
There’s an Orchid Boardwalk at Queen Elizabeth II Royal Botanic Park in the East End; but the plants only bloom during North American summer months. I thought it was worth a visit anyhow to check out the endangered Grand Cayman Blue Iguanas since the park offers tours Monday through Saturday at 11 am. When I arrived, I learned that the day’s tour was canceled due to the morning rains. Without sun, iguanas are gray instead of blue!
Wandering along the botanic garden trails, three trees stood out to me: Black Mastic, a critically endangered endemic tree which is the namesake of the nearby Mastic Trail; Red Birch, nicknamed the “Tourist Tree” because the bark is red and peeling (haha!); and Logwood, an invasive tree with strong, winding branches that grows quickly in wetland areas.
The best part of the park is the Colour Garden where over a dozen types of tropical flowers line the walkways. The flowers weren’t labeled, so I couldn’t learn their names; but I did enjoy looking at them!
If you make it to the Caymans, enjoy food like the locals: fresh fish, conch fritters, or ideally, a beach BBQ with friends!
- Pack mosquito repellent. You’ll need it!
- If you’re wanting to bring in food or alcohol, check out the baggage allowances.
- If you’re renting a car, you’ll need to pay for a visitor’s permit at the car rental agency.
- Plus, everything else you need to know in these Fast Facts by Frommer’s.
- Read up on local news and politics at Cayman Compass.