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 Caymania Duty Free and De Sunglass Man & De Watch Man . More importantly, though, you can nosh on one of the island’s famous rum cakes here, at Tortuga Duty-Free Liquors & Bakery .
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 Seven Mile Beach , often called the “Best Beach in the Caribbean.” This is where the majority of the island’s tourists end up, and you won’t be able to dispute their taste once you see the white sand and turquoise waters. Dining and nightlife can both be found along the beach, mostly attached to large resorts like the Westin Casuarina and the Hyatt Regency . Some of the better restaurants that aren’t part of a resort are the Copper Falls Steakhouse , the Reef Grill , and the whimsically named Chicken! Chicken! Caribbean Wood Roasted . Various nightclubs beckon during the evening hours, but one of the best places to kick back with a pint is the Lone Star Bar .
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 Boatswain’s Beach and visit the Turtle Farm where, aside from some turtles ranging up to 600 pounds, you can also see crocodiles and native Cayman parrots. By crossing the isthmus, on the way avoiding the tourist-trap town of Hell (unless you really can’t resist sending a postcard “from Hell”), you can reach the world-famous Stingray City . This “city” is one of the island’s main draws and famous world-wide for the masses of tame stingrays who nuzzle up to divers and snorkelers in hopes of getting a bit of squid to eat. West Bay is also home to some of the best diving charters on the island, including the popular Quabo Dives .
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. ”Pedro Castle,” a large, lovingly restored historic home used as an early meeting place for democrats, commemorates the birth of the Cayman’s modern government, and the subsequent change of the bad old times to the romantic past.
Head straight north away from Bodden Town to reach Rum Point , which has all the beauty of Seven Mile Beach with only a fraction of the human traffic. If you prefer beaches that have relatively few people on them, but still have places like The Wreck Bar nearby to eat at, this is one spot at which you may find yourself spending a lot of time. If you should decide to move on, the next spot in your line of attack is the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park , where you can see what Grand Cayman is like away from the beaches. Floral gardens, woodland walking trails and wildlife are all present in this beautiful park.
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 Morritt’s Grand Resort , where you can be pampered or just wander off for some intimate time with the sun and sea. Many people stay on the East End to dive, basing themselves at The Reef Resort or Compass Point Dive Resort . Be warned, there’s none of Grand Cayman’s vaunted duty-free stores here and even fairly few places to eat.
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 West Wall encompasses over 50 dive sites. The South Wall offers shallow diving in coral playgrounds – just be careful not to touch anything. The North Wall features spine-tingling drops that may induce panic, until you recall that you’re floating, not falling. Finally, the East End contains many of the island’s least-explored sites, a fact stemming more from its distance than relative interest to divers.
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.