Things to do
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Kick off your shoes on Seven Mile Beach
You'll find heavenly, sugar-white sand on all of Grand Cayman's beaches but Seven Mile Beach is best known for offering the ultimate in relaxation. Uncrowned and peaceful (there's a no selling anything on the beach policy), Seven Mile was named the Caribbean's best beach by Caribbean Travel and Life magazine and continues to win awards every year.
Parasailing, windsurfing, kayaking, aqua trikes, paddle boarding and more all beckon the active visitor. Book with any number of watersports operators that are available along the beach.
Snorkel with wild stingrays at Stingray City
Get up close and very personal with Atlantic southern stingrays at Stingray City, Grand Cayman's most famous wildlife attraction. It’s the only place in the world where you can hand feed more than two-dozen wild (but harmless) stingrays. The “city” is a 3.6-metre-deep dive site in calm, protected North Sound. Divers settle on the sandy seafloor to observe the gentle fish naturally, as they effortlessly glide through the water.
If you’re a non-diver, you can get a similar experience nearby at the Sandbar, a shallower site in North Sound. In waist-deep water, rays and yellowtail snappers surround you. Your boat crew demonstrates how to feed the rays pieces of squid (their favourite food). Almost all dive and water sport shops offer trips to Stingray City and The Sandbar.
Sip a Mud Slide at Rum Point
For a relaxing day and change of scenery, Rum Point is where the locals go. It’s located across North Sound on Grand Cayman’s northernmost tip. Before relaxing on the beach, if you have time along the way, take a sightseeing trip to the island’s east end.
Once you reach Rum Point, you’ll see the calm, shallow water lapping the shore of this sheltered small beach – perfect for families. Fringed with casuarina trees, Rum Point evokes the natural Cayman of yesteryear.
Visit the Rum Point Club Restaurant for lunch and the always-lively Wreck Bar & Grill. On weekends, it’s a hive of action. Relax, chill out and sip a local Caybrew beer or their famous Mud Slide from a picnic table on the sandy beach.
Take pictures with the turtles at Cayman Turtle Farm
The Cayman Turtle Farm breeds green sea turtles, which were once so plentiful, Columbus named the islands ‘Las Tortugas’. Spread over 22 acres, this marine theme park is the only one of its kind in the world. There’s so much for the whole family to do, you’ll can easily spend a half or full day here.
The breeding pond is rimmed by a sandy nesting beach where you can watch scores of huge green sea turtles, the farm’s breeding stock. Some weigh in at more than 270 kg. Not surprisingly, turtles are the stars here and the turtle tanks house Kemp’s Ridley, loggerhead and hawksbill varieties. At the touch tanks, get a photo taken while you hold a young green sea turtle. You can also sponsor a turtle to be released into the wild during the annual turtle release event.
Smell the flowers at Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park
At this 64-acre park, you’ll find around 55 per cent of the 700 or so plant species native to the Cayman Islands on display here. Roam the grounds and you may also see native birds and wildlife, including the Cayman Islands’ rare blue iguanas. With their ruby red eyes and a beautiful, startling sky-blue body, the “blue dragons” make for delightful photos.
Take a stroll through the park’s four areas and keep an eye out for the silver thatch palm, the national tree, and the national flower, the wild banana orchid. The Floral Colour Garden features hundreds of plants fashioned into a colourful rainbow. The focal point of The Heritage Garden is a traditional Caymanian house (circa 1900) and its sand garden of ornamental plants. The many medicinal and vegetable gardens on the grounds demonstrate how early settlers depended on the land for survival. The Lake at the Park is a natural wetland area that attracts birds, including the rare West Indian whistling duck. To explore Grand Cayman’s natural forested interior, make sure you check out the 1.2-km Woodland Trail.
The National Trust runs blue iguana safaris from Monday to Saturday, starting at 11 a.m. The 1.5-hour guided tour takes you behind the scenes of The Blue Iguana Habitat, the breeding facility working to repopulate the critically endangered reptile.
Shopping in the Cayman Islands is duty free and this means that prices are discounted as much as 30 per cent on perfume, watches and luxury items like china, crystal and jewelry. The majority of duty-free shops are along George Town’s main street, Church Street.
Cayman Craft Market
Cayman Craft Market is located in a seaside park in the heart of George Town. It is the place to find all kinds of locally made crafts and souvenirs. Look for vendor demonstrations as they make hand-crafted items such as silver thatch rope. The rope is made from the dried tops of the national palm tree and was once a major export.
The Town Centre at Camana Bay
The Town Centre at Camana Bay is Grand Cayman’s newest shopping destination. It is part of the town development of the same name and adjacent to capital George Town. It has a stunning modern design and contains the most upscale shops on the island. You’ll find here’s a nice mix of international brands and local retailers here, some rarely seen in the Caribbean.
Get a taste of Grand Cayman on Market Street. At the farmers market at Camana Bay, you can sample or purchase fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs, locally made sausages and hot local foods. Go on Wednesdays from noon to 7 p.m.
Gift shops at the Cayman Turtle Farm and National Trust Visitors’ Centre
Gift shops in some of the Grand Cayman’s major attractions are good spots to do your souvenir shopping. At the Cayman Turtle Farm’s huge gift shop Splash, look for fun Christmas tree ornaments like one of Santa riding on a turtle’s back.
The gift shop in the National Trust Visitors’ Centre is a great place to pick up nature-themed and cultural items, like Blue Iguana T-shirts, Caymanian souvenirs and beautiful books and art.
Local arts and crafts
The best locally made items are the creations of Caymanian artists and craft makers. Traditional crafts are made of leather, thatch, wood or shell. Make sure you check out art and jewelry made with Caymanite. The country’s semi-precious indigenous stone makes for a beautiful gift.
Food and rum
Island-made food and alcohol products are another great bet, like Tortuga or Blackbeard’s oh-so-delicious rum cakes, made in an amazing variety of flavours. Tortuga also sells different kinds of coffee and flavoured rum fudges. If you’re after the hard stuff, both Tortuga and Blackbeard’s has a nice selection of rums. How about banana or mango rum for a sip of the tropics when you’re back home?
Cayman Sea Salt and Icoa chocolates
Locally produced Icoa chocolates make a nice gift. Cayman Sea Salt makes both table salts and bath salts which are used in fine restaurants and by The Ritz-Carlton spa in its salt glow treatment. Cayman Sea Salt’s newest product is a barbecue rub. You can find the company’s products at many island retailers.
So You Want to Live on an Island boook by author Gay Morse
If you’re dreaming of never going home, or are looking for a laugh, pick up the book So You Want to Live on an Island by Gay Morse. It’s a collection of stories from the author’s years of working in tourism and diving at Pirate’s Point on Little Cayman.
The Lighthouse (Seafood, $$$)
It won’t be a surprise that The Lighthouse restaurant is located in a white lighthouse. It’s located in Breakers on Grand Cayman’s quiet south shore. Watch for the roadside flags, including Canada’s own, to direct you there.
Ignite your romantic dinner by starting with The Lighthouse’s passion fruit mojito and fritto misto appetizer, a finger-licking combination of calamari, coconut shrimp and conch fritters.
If you love seafood, the fresh-out-of-the-sea platter piled with lobster, shrimp, mahi mahi and wild salmon is a must. With more than 150 bins of wine from around the world, The Lighthouse has earned the award of excellence from Wine Spectator since 1997.
Finish the night with a cinnamon-dusted beignet (deep-fried pastry), served with white chocolate truffle and strawberry coulis. For a romantic evening, ask for the single outdoor cliffside table.
The Wharf (Seafood, $$$)
The Wharf is located at the start of Seven Mile Beach. It is a great spot to dine in the evening. The beautifully lit terrace with its sea view is a romantic spot for dinner. You may want to bring the kids, however, for the fun spectacle of the tarpon feeding at 9 p.m.
As you might guess, the menu here focuses on fresh local fish and seafood. Try the signature basil and pistachio-crusted Chilean sea bass. If you’re in the mood for meat, The Wharf imports Australian steaks and lamb. Choose the perfect wine from The Wharf’s cellar of 400 vintages, a consistent Wine Spectator award-winner. Then, top it all off with tart Cayman lime pie.
On Fridays and Saturdays, guests are serenaded tableside by a harpist. Don’t miss the free salsa lessons Tuesday at 9:15 p.m., followed by salsa night. Reservations recommended.
Grand Old House (European, $$$$)
Grand Old House is a classic restaurant set in a former Caribbean great house, constructed in 1908 by a Bostonian. It has weathered the years and now houses one of the finest restaurants on Grand Cayman.
Located south of George Town Harbour, the seaside veranda is a nice spot for lunch or a romantic dinner.
Chef Thushara Jayalath Siriwardana recommends his gorgonzola-stuffed locally grown baby eggplant to start, followed by the seafood symphony – the three freshest catches of the day.
For dessert, try the mango and papaya bread pudding with tropical fruit granitee. “Granitee is a delicate, shaved ice that melts instantly in your mouth and simultaneously explodes with the flavour of the fruits,” Thusara explains.
Grand Old House boasts an award-winning wine list. It also has one of the largest vintage Armagnac (a type of French brandy) collections, dating to 1888. At this restaurant, you will enjoy classy, impeccable service accompanied by live music Monday to Saturday. Reservations are recommended.
Vivine’s Kitchen (Caribbean, $)
If you’re looking for Caymanian fare by the sea that is also easy on your wallet, head for Vivine’s Kitchen in the quiet Gun Bay area of East End. The excellent chef of this homey restaurant is Ms. Vivine Watler herself.
Grab a table outside or indoors in the breezy dining room and order the local specialties. The stewed beef is a favourite, and folks rave about the fresh catch of the day.
Meals range from CI$7 to CI$15 with few dishes costing more than CI$10. While you’re waiting, enjoy the tropical view from shaded hammocks. Vivine’s doesn't sell alcohol and does not take credit cards.
Roland’s Garden (German, $)
Enjoy a unique new dining concept in this lovely little secluded garden in the heart of Seven Mile Beach. The chef here cooks up four or five courses of whatever he wants, so you never know in advance what’s for dinner.
What’s also unique about Roland’s Garden is that you don’t receive a bill, and instead you pay whatever you think the meal was worth. Although it sounds like a bizarre concept, it works! (If that seems confusing, keep in mind that CI$50 to CI$60 iis fair.)
Reservations are required and vegetarians need to give plenty of advance notice. You can bring your own wine (no corkage fee), or buy wine or draught beer from the bar.
Afterwards, relax around the campfire at the adjoining new beer garden. You can get bratwurst and all the fixings here. If you’ve been to Roland’s in the East End, take note it has moved.
Deckers Grille & Lounge (Caribbean, $$$)
You can’t miss this fun, Caribbean-inspired grill on West Bay Road at Seven Mile Beach. Look for a bright red, authentic British double-decker bus and phone booth out front.
If you love lobster, try Deckers’ signature dish, a divinely rich lobster mac ’n cheese, baked golden brown with four types of cheese. Tuesdays and Saturdays are all-you-can-eat lobster nights. If seafood is not your thing, Deckers also grills great steaks. You can dine indoors or outdoors on the lovely terrace. Reservations are recommended.plan on visiting the resort’s à la carte restaurants.
Golf and spa
Silver Rain (The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman) ($$$$)
With a focus on water-inspired therapies, this luxurious La Prairie spa is the only one of its kind in the Caribbean. You’ll begin to relax as soon as you walk through the stunning floor-to-ceiling crystalline entranceway that simulates the sound of falling rain.
Treat yourself to the signature Silver Rain Body Treatment, which breaks La Prairie’s premium fragrance, Silver Rain, into its core elements. Can you say bliss?
Another good option is a relaxing salt glow treatment, using locally produced Cayman sea salt. If you can’t bear to go inside, enjoy treatments in a beachside cabana. It’s no wonder Caribbean Travel & Life’s readers recently voted Silver Rain as the best resort spa in the Caribbean.
La Mer Spa ($$$)
La Mer Spa operates four unique hotel boutique spas in Grand Cayman. The Marriott’s La Mer Spa features a hair and nail salon and a couples’ room. Get a couples’ massage followed by a bath in the private Jacuzzi tub, with a glass of Champagne.
Check out Le Mer at Rum Point and get a beach massage while you’re there. Grand Cayman Beach Suites’ La Mer location is home to an intimate spa with a relaxing outdoor deck. If you’re with a group of girls, rent the entire facility. Finally, if you like Vichy shower body wraps, head to La Mer Spa at the Morritt’s Tortuga Club. All treatments use Parisian YonKa skin care products, based on aroma, plant, fruit and marine therapy.
Hibiscus Spa (The Westin Casuarina Resort & Spa) ($$$)
The heavenly Hibiscus Spa features 15 treatment rooms. Treat your body to a taste of the tropics with a mango-papaya body scrub, one of the signature treatments here. Your body glows after this full-body polish which uses micronized grains of rice. If you’re looking for a little TLC for your face, indulge in the caviar facial, the spa’s most popular treatment.
Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands golf
Britannia Golf Club (Grand Cayman Beach Suites)
This Jack Nicklaus-designed course at the Grand Cayman Beach Suites resort is a great option in the Cayman Islands for golfers. It’s a good spot to golf if you’re looking to get in a few holes without spending too much time away from the white-sand beaches.
The course, a nine-hole routing with two sets of tees per hole, can be played twice for a par 70 at 5,829 yards. Nicklaus designed the links-style course to be as versatile as any. On just 37 acres, the course can be played twice at full length off different tees or, thanks to another additional set of tees, the nine-hole routing can be played as a full 18-hole executive course.
Either way, the traditional par-3 5th hole (the 10th hole on the executive routing) offers a memorable shot opportunity forcing you to hit straight into the wind in order to carry the aquamarine water hazard in front of the green. As of June 2011, green fees started at CI$62 for non-Grand Cayman Beach Suites guests.
North Sound Club
Previously known as The Links at Safehaven, North Sound Club is the only championship-length, 18-hole course in the Cayman Islands. The course has received new life under its new ownership and association with The Ritz-Carlton’s management.
The once-erratic greens are now lush, and visible improvements to the fairways and tee boxes have been made. What hasn’t changed at North Sound Club is the laid-back atmosphere. You can start a round with little advance notice required and finish your round even more expediently.
As of June 2011, North Sound Club offered tee times to non-members at a rate of CI$131 per player.
Go on an underwater trip in a submarine (for Atlantis, children must be at least three feet tall; Nautilus is good for all ages)
Hop aboard one of Grand Cayman’s submarines. For non-divers, it’s the best way to see what scuba divers see, from the teeming reefs and shipwrecks of George Town Harbour to deeper coral canyons that are home to tropical fish and marine life.
Atlantis Submarines’ Atlantis XI takes visitors on day and night dives up to 30 metres. If that is too deep, you may be more comfortable on the Seaworld Explorer. The moored semi-submarine is a floating observatory. From your vantage point two metres below the surface of the Caribbean Sea, you can view reefs and shipwrecks through its wall-to-wall glass viewing chamber.
The Nautilus semi-submarine offered by Nautilus Cayman is another shallow-water option. Rather than a stationary experience, the glass-hulled craft (billed as the world’s largest and most luxurious) cruises two metres below the sea’s surface. Snorkel tours are also available.
Glow in the dark on a kayaking tour at Rum Point (age 10 and up)
Head to Rum Point at sunset and join in Cayman Kayaks Bio-Bay tour. It’s so cool, it amazes both children and adults. The “bio” is bioluminescence. It’s the light created by plankton called Pyrodinium bahamense. This bay in Grand Cayman is one of the few places in the world where you can see these creatures year-round.
Fifteen minutes after sunset, you set out on the guided eco-adventure expedition in a tandem sit-on-top kayak. Paddle through tranquil lagoons and protected mangroves. Stick your paddle or your hand in the water and see the water light up in the arc you create with your motion. The sparkling, iridescent blue is truly awe-inspiring!
The evening tour only takes place during the darkest nights of the month when the bright moon doesn’t interfere with the spectacular display of colour.
Try go-kart racing at Cayman Karting (age 14 and older)
The teenagers in your party will get their hearts pumping at the Cayman Karting go-kart park. This brand-new karting facility in Grand Cayman is already a hit with visitors.
Cayman Karting uses top-of-the-line, high-performance Sodikart RX7s on a floodlit asphalt track with more than 300 metres of chicanes, hairpins and straight lanes. Up to 10 drivers can race together at a time.
Each session includes the mandatory headsocks and helmets and optional suits and gloves. There’s also a five-minute warm-up and qualifying time, a 10-lap race and a printed result and lap time sheet. You can drive every day from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. No reservations are necessary.
Try skateboarding and surfing at Black Pearl Skate and Surf Park (age four and up for surfing; age six and up for skateboarding)
Another new Grand Cayman attraction is the Black Pearl Skate and Surf Park. The park is lit at night and always supervised.
With its concrete bowls and half- and quarter-pipes, Black Pearl is the largest outdoor concrete skate park in the world. The park offers expert, intermediate and beginner courses, each with a flow and street course. Lessons are also available.
The Waveloch Surf Machine creates a standing wave generated by a flow of fresh filtered water. It makes different size waves up to 3.4 metres – the world’s largest freestanding wave. If you don’t know how to surf, try the park’s learn-to-surf experience.
Gear and mandatory protective equipment are available for both skating and surfing. Camps and visiting pros also make the Black Pearl an appealing attraction for teens.
See the natural landscape at Hell (Grand Cayman’s West Bay) (all ages)
Once you have paid a visit to the village of Hell in Grand Cayman’s West Bay, you can honestly tell your friends you’ve been to Hell and back. This half-football field-sized tourist attraction is comprised of 1.5 million-year-old jet-black jagged shards of ironshore (limestone coral and dolomite). Small tropical organisms that caused extreme erosion produced this geological phenomenon.
Devilish caricatures set amidst the surreal landscape add to the theme. Be sure to pop into the onsite post office to send postcards stamped with the infernal postmark.
Ports of Call (The Wharf) (Bar, $$$)
Ports of Call seaside bar in the popular The Wharf’s restaurant is located in Seven Mile Beach. Hit happy hour between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. daily to enjoy tropical drink specials (and free appetizers on Fridays) on the outdoor terrace. Try a refreshing Cayman Lemonade (vodka, peach schnapps, cranberry juice and sweet and sour mix), or Cayman Sunset (coconut and gold rum, orange juice and grenadine).
If you come on Tuesday nights, you can get free salsa lessons under the stars starting at 9:15 p.m., followed by salsa music and dancing until closing. On Friday evenings, there’s live entertainment outdoors by musical acts like the favourite local band, Los Tropicanos.
On the second and last Friday of the month, Ports of Call hosts Glory Days, an old-school dance party. DJ Ben spins the best of the 1970s through the ’90s from 9 p.m. onward.
The Reef Grill (Royal Palms) (Bar, $$)
The Reef Grill is the place to go for live entertainment. Local musicians play a range of popular Caribbean musical genres including calypso, soca and reggae.
It is located in the heart of Seven Mile Beach. Come here Wednesday through Saturday to dance to live music on the beach under the stars, or on the large, oceanfront-elevated deck.
Osetra Bay (Morgan’s Harbour) (Lounge, $$$$)
In Morgan’s Harbour, Osetra Bay is a new, very chic waterside dining experience with flowing white linen gazebos. Its hip White Lounge makes you feel like you could be in South Beach, Miami but in a more relaxed, Caymanian way.
The Gold and Silver “Champagne” lounges complete the scene. Sip the signature sparkling wine, Gold Cuvée, which is laced with 22-karat gold flakes.
Tiki Beach (Bar, $$$)
The owners of Osetra Bay have also recently opened Tiki Beach on Seven Mile Beach, a cosmopolitan bar featuring Champagne service, private cabanas and elegant beach cuisine. You can see the bar’s thatched roof for miles around. Like Osetra, Tiki has a chic, South Beach vibe.
O Bar (Queens Court Plaza) (Dance club, $$$)
The O Bar on the second floor of Queens Court Plaza in Seven Mile Beach claims to be Cayman's hottest nightclub. It’s a fun place to have a drink and join locals and visitors alike on the always-packed dance floor. Resident DJs spin the top tunes of the day.
Deckers Grille & Lounge (Bar, $$)
You can find Deckers across from Grand Cayman Beach Suites in Seven Mile Beach. The bar has a fun atmosphere and a lively local band named Hi Tide that plays on the outdoor terrace Thursday through Saturday evenings. It’s usually not long before people are up dancing.
If you’re a bit shy, sip a signature blood orange mojito and hang out by the original English double-decker bus, incorporated into the unique bar. Deckers hosts a happy hour everyday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. with CI$6 mojitos, CI$6 wine, CI$3 beer and inexpensive appetizers.
The Silver Palm Lounge (The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman) (Lounge, $$$$)
This is the premier Friday-night place for the sophisticated crowd. Join the locals from about 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. at The Silver Palm Lounge for martinis, special mojitos, classic cocktails and a wide selection of wines and Champagne by the glass. Kick up your heels to tunes spun by a well-known radio DJ popular in the Cayman scene. There is also live entertainment Saturday until midnight.
Little Cayman is the kind of little island you might imagine being marooned on. It’s a sliver of white sand floating in a clear, turquoise sea. There’s not too much to see or do on Little Cayman, and that’s the real beauty of it.
Only 150 people make this tiny neighbour of Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac their home. Many of the eclectic expats living on Little Cayman – they run resorts, tend bars and cook your meals – are divers. If you love small resorts, serenity and serious scuba diving, this is the island for you.
Relax on the quiet and peaceful island of Little Cayman
Fly into the tiny airport on Little Cayman from Grand Cayman. It’s a 40-minute flight on a 19-passenger Sea Otter and you’ll arrive at a one-room clapboard “terminal” dwarfed by the attached carport sheltering the island’s lone fire truck.
Most of the accommodations and services are found around Blossom Village along the south shore. The handful of small, casual resorts here are all-inclusive, complete with beachfront cottages, daily diving tours and home-cooked meals. You can also choose to stay at a Conch Club condo.
Enjoy ice cream at the tiny Cayman National Trust Museum and watch the rare West Indian whistling ducks dotting the brackish ponds at dusk. Then, grab a bar stool at the Hungry Iguana, which hosts satellite NHL hockey nights. Or just comb the long white beaches for shells.
Explore one of the world’s best dive sites at Bloody Bay Wall
Bloody Bay Wall is one of the top dive sites in the world. It is a submerged coral cliff located at the edge of Little Cayman, just beyond the shallow reef. Bloody Bay Wall is a vertical vision of multicoloured marine life. You’ll see spectacular chimneys and arches sprouting electric yellow tube sponges, red basket sponges, trees of black coral and all types of fish.
Divers say it feels like you’ve stepped off the edge of the earth. That’s not surprising. In some places, the cliff begins only six metres below the surface and drops more than 1.8 km. It’s all part of the Cayman Trench which is more than 6.4 kilometres deep and the deepest part of the Caribbean Sea.
Discover fun non-diving activities in Little Cayman
If you don’t dive, try your hand at fly-fishing for feisty bonefish in the clear shallows, or snorkelling at Little Cayman’s South Hole Sound or Point of Sand. Dive operators also offer “learn to snorkel” boat trips and there are various dive programs for beginners. Kids can even join their diving parents with special SASY (Supplied Air Snorkelling for Youth) units.
For a real educational holiday, visit the Little Cayman Research Centre, a non-profit project of the Central Caribbean Marine Institute, with a field station dedicated to protecting marine ecosystems and coral reefs. Advanced divers can even sign on to dive with a researcher.
You can’t miss the big 1.5-metre-long green rock iguanas that populate this island and, with luck, you may encounter a wild Hawksbill turtle, or an endangered Cerion snail. And keep on the lookout for bigger wildlife such as whale sharks, manta rays and humpback or even killer whales.
To see the Caribbean’s largest colonies of red-footed boobies and some rather impressive Magnificent Frigate Birds, herons and West Indian Whistling Ducks, visit the mangrove-lined Booby Pond Nature Reserve. It is a 200-acre wetland area with observation platforms and spotting scopes for birders.
Chill out on the beaches of Little Cayman
You might also simply go to Little Cayman for the beaches. Swaying in a hammock under a shady palm tree and contemplating the many shades of blue water at Howard’s Pirate Point Resort is a perfect pastime on this sleepy little island.
Try the daily catch, cooked “Cayman style” (baked in foil with tomatoes, onions, bell peppers and thyme) and Gladys’ famous desserts. After a communal dinner of coconut conch chowder, grilled trigger fish, wahoo or mahi mahi, join in your fellow travellers’ daily digital show and tell of their diving experiences.
With 75 per cent of visitors to Little Cayman being repeat customers, you’ll soon feel like part of the extended island family. It’s all part of the charm of this friendly little paradise.
The Cayman Islands are actually the tips of an underwater mountain range, and it’s what’s underwater here that most visitors come to see and photograph. With major barrier reefs fringing the islands, the islands are recognized as the birthplace of recreational diving. When you visit, plan to strap on a tank, or at least a snorkel and flippers, and experience this underwater world.
Snorkelling and scuba diving in the Cayman Islands
The Cayman Islands are known for plenty of water sport activities in the underwater playground of the warm, clear Caribbean Sea. But none attracts more acclaim than scuba diving and snorkelling.
With more than 250 sites, you can explore pristine walls, shallow coral reefs, fascinating shipwrecks and an unrivalled array of marine life. Not surprisingly, divers make up a significant chunk of Cayman’s tourism market.
Divers come to the Cayman Islands for the impressive quality and diversity of dive sites, coupled with the thriving marine ecosystem. Although plenty of sites are notable for one thing or another, a couple of them grab plenty of attention.
Stingray City in Grand Cayman’s North Sound is a huge draw, as is Bloody Bay Wall off Little Cayman.
Scuba diving for beginners in the Cayman Islands
Cayman’s aquatic wonders are not just for experienced, certified scuba divers. Even families can go snorkelling in the magical marine world located just off the shores of all three islands.
Snorkelling, especially at Stingray City, is one of the most popular activities in the Cayman Islands. Swimming in the calm waters with friendly southern stingrays is a memory your family will cherish.
If you’ve never tried it before or don’t know the basics, there are plenty of Cayman Island water sports operators that can assist first-timers. They will help you master basic skills to safely enjoy the sport. Several dive operators offer good learn-to-snorkel boat trips with instruction, equipment and several stops.
For those who want to go the next step and go under, learn how to scuba dive. Dive instructors can teach children as young as four the dive basics in a SASY (Supplied Air Snorkelling for Youth) pool class. (For adults, it’s called SASA.)
Folks eight and older can take a SNUBA class, which combines scuba diving and snorkelling in one exciting sport. You and the teens in your group can take a full dive course and get certified before trying your new skills out in some of the islands’ plentiful dive sites. Shallow, safe Stingray City or Coral Gardens is the perfect place to start.
Go underwater at Stingray City and USS Kittiwake in Grand Cayman
Grand Cayman boasts 175 or so dive sites, many less than a kilometre from shore, with approximately 96 km of drop-offs.
The most famous shallow dive in the area is Stingray City, called the “world’s best 12-foot dive.” Stingray City in the North Sound attracts divers wanting to observe the gliding stingrays. It’s a thrilling dive and you can feed the southern stingrays. If luck is with you, you may even get to pet velvety Little Psycho, a 1.5-metre green moray eel.
The USS Kittiwake, a decommissioned naval ship, is Grand Cayman’s newest underwater attraction. For the islands’ dive industry, its sinking in January 2011 off Seven Mile Beach was the most significant event in a decade. The historic, 76.5-metre ship creates an artificial reef in less than 20 metres of water, so both divers and snorkellers can easily get to it.
Budget-friendly shore diving in Grand Cayman
Several dive operators in Grand Cayman participate in Dive Around Cayman: Shore Diving Express. The program’s VIP card provides a 10 per cent discount off buddy team or guided shore dives and other services. This program is available September through April.
Go diving at Bloody Bay Wall on Little Cayman
One of the Caribbean’s legendary dive sites and best wall diving is found in Bloody Bay Marine Park. It stretches north of Little Cayman less than a half kilometre from shore. Its sheer drop-off begins just 5.5 metres below the surface, plunging to 366 metres.
Bloody Bay Wall is thick with coral and sponges and features many formations like chimneys, canyons and coral arches. Delight in juvenile spotted drums, spotted moray eels and bizarre-looking honeycomb cowfish.
Find the Lost City of Atlantis in Cayman Brac
Cayman Brac has more than 50 prime dive sites. Of its four shipwrecks, the 99-metre Russian frigate, the M/V Captain Keith Tibbetts, is the most famous. It was deliberately sunk in 1996 and is a now an attraction that draws many visitors.
If you go diving and snorkelling, don’t miss the Lost City of Atlantis, the brainchild of Cayman Brac sculptor “Foots.” This underwater attraction is his rendering of the famed mythological city. More than 70 sculptures, each weighing more than 135,000 kg, have been sunk near Radar Reef off the north coast so far. Foots continues to add new sculptures.
Calendar of events
Cayman Cookout (January)
Cayman Cookout is one of two major events highlighting January’s Cayman Culinary Month, a celebration of food and wine. Each year, top international chefs join Michelin chef Eric Ripert, creator of Grand Cayman’s premier restaurant, Blue by Eric Ripert.
Food & Wine magazine sponsors part of the four days of culinary experiences, including demonstrations, tastings and excursions, and opportunities to meet world-class chefs and sommeliers. Past participants have included chef Anthony Bourdain.
Taste of Cayman Food & Wine Festival at Camana Bay (January)
Coinciding with the Cayman Cookout, Taste of Cayman events include wine dinners at hotels and restaurants around town, a charity wine dinner, and a festival of food in Camana Bay’s Town Centre.
The huge venue is filled with tasting booths offering local delicacies and samples from fine dining restaurants. There are also VIP Champagne lounges, wine tasting opportunities and live entertainment.
Cayfest (March to May)
The Cayman Islands National Festival of the Arts is the premier showcase of local and visiting artists. It features an eclectic mix of visual arts, music, theatre, dance, fashion design and cultural discussion.
Highlights include the Fresh! Cayman Couture fashion show, with clothing by local designers and Culture Jam, featuring musical performances and open mic nights. There’s also a photography competition and exhibition and the Praise gospel concert.
Cayman Carnival Batabano (April or May)
Like most Caribbean countries, Cayman Islands has an annual carnival celebrating Caymanian and Caribbean culture through cuisine, music, dance and other arts.
With events for adults and children, the street parade is most popular for its colourful costumes, rhythmic soca music and energetic bands. Kids get their chance to party in the children’s parade. Many events take place in George Town, including a food festival, street party and concerts starring well-known Caribbean performers.
Pirates Week (November)
This 11-day Pirates Week festival is an exciting time to visit Grand Cayman. Whether you’re young or young-at-heart, don’t miss the mock pirate landing. Traditional sailing vessels packed with pirates land at George Town Harbour to kick off a float parade, street dance and food festival. There’s even an underwater treasure hunt. Most activities are held in the core of George Town, and most are free.