Rebooting your zen in the Cayman Islands
The water in Cayman has this way of making you instantly relax.
Maybe it’s the vibrancy of the colours, which make it feel like an Instagram filter come to life, or simply that it’s everything you imagine paradise to be – neatly laid out, begging for you to dip your toes in.
I do exactly that my first day on Seven Mile Beach. In seconds my 4 a.m. wake-up call, two flights and the general stress caused by a day of travel slip away with the gentle lap of the waves. With the seemingly never-ending Canadian winter back home, being here is exactly what I need.
My first home in Cayman is the Westin Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach Resort & Spa, a 343-room hotel along the picturesque stretch of Seven Mile Beach.
To start my reboot, I hook up with Chantelle from Bliss Yoga, who offers private sessions in the sand. Under the shade of nearby palms we do our sun salutations to the sound of crashing waves, letting the sea breeze and coolness of the sand awaken our senses.
After yoga, I grab a juice from Jessie’s Juice Bar in Camana Bay, which serves a healthy selection of cold pressed juices, smoothies, cold brew coffee and kombucha. I opt for a Pink Panther with watermelon, strawberry and banana, to help cut the humidity that’s slowly building as the sun continues to rise.
Later that afternoon, I rent a paddleboard from Red Sail Sports and head out to the ocean to get better acquainted. The water is so unbelievably clear here. You’ll seriously spend hours simply marveling at it. After a few runs up and down the beach, I find myself laying down on the board, closing my eyes and just drifting.
While the beach is certainly one of Cayman’s biggest draws, there are also some really great ways to spend time out of the sun.
Natalie Urquhart, the gallery’s director and curator makes sure that the collection at The National Gallery of the Cayman Islands, established in 1996, features a good mix of emerging and established Caymanian art. You’ll find great pieces from local eccentric Miss Lassie, as well as pieces from the Native Sons art collective – a Caymanian version of the Group of Seven. The collection is housed in a bright and airy contemporary space just off the main road, which is surrounded by a pretty garden filled with sculptures, an outdoor cafe and a labyrinth to help you pass the time.
Along with art, Urquhart has established an extensive education program with lectures, workshops, professional development and fun holiday activities for kids. On my visit, a group of kids – both local and visiting – are making Valentine’s Day cards using finger paint.
With free admission, it’s a great way to break from the mid-afternoon sun and get a hint of the island’s rich artistic culture.
Day two has me out on a yacht with Cayman Luxury Charters, headed for Stingray City. While I’ll be the first to admit this was probably one of the most stressful parts of my relaxing itinerary, I couldn’t miss the unique opportunity to swim with stingrays out in the middle of the ocean.
Southern stingrays have been gathering on the sandbars in the north sound of Grand Cayman for years. Attracted by fisherman who used the stop as a place to clean fish before coming into port, it now serves as a place where visitors can interact with hundreds of the diamond-shaped creatures.
When we first pull up, I’m panicked. Every where I look I can see dark bodies gracefully gliding just beneath the surface of the water. Out in the ocean the water is choppy and I worry about keeping my feet firmly planted on the ground to avoid stepping on one of the rays.
Eventually, I’m coaxed into the water and am immediately greeted with a “massage” as two rays shimmy up the back of my neck rippling their sides. They’re not slimy like I expected but instead have a thick, muscular skin similar to a dolphin. Next thing I know, I’m cradling one in my arms, face to face as it comes in for a kiss – it’s seven years of good luck, apparently!
The rest of the day is spent relaxing on the hood of the yacht, soaking up some much-needed vitamin D and stopping every so often to cool off in the crystal clear water. We visit Starfish Point and Kaibo on Water Cay, where I recharge with a fresh kale, pear and goat cheese salad.
Similar to Seven Mile Beach, this side of the island boasts some of the clearest waters. And because it’s quite shallow, it’s feels just like a warm bath.
The next day has me up before sunrise to explore Grand Cayman’s sister islands, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman. I hop on a tiny propeller plane operated by Cayman Airways and in 40 minutes I’ve arrived in Cayman Brac.
Le Soleil D’Or Golden Sun
Tiny in comparison to Grand Cayman, Brac is only about 19 kilometres long and two wide. Here the coast isn’t lined with flashy resorts and there’s an all-around rugged feel thanks to the limestone cliffs. We make our way to Le Soleil D’Or Golden Sun, a stunning collection of properties spread out across the island focused on healthy living, relaxation and adventure.
Our first stop is the 20-acre farm where they offer a garden-to-table dining experience. Because a lot of produce relies on a cold season, which is pretty nonexistent here, our brunch is filled with tropical alternatives like star apple fruit, coolie plum and wild cherries. They also serve up spring rolls filled with vegetables from the garden and wrapped in crepes made from the eggs in the hen house.
Next, we heade down the hill to the water for an aquafit class in the hotel’s pool. With a view of the ocean, you can also have yoga, pilates and weight training sessions outdoors. There’s also an air-conditioned fitness centre if you’d prefer to keep your sweat sessions indoors.
The resort offers a variety of accommodations, including fully furnished villas, cottages and lodges. There are also four suites available at the picturesque main house, which has its own sunny pool.
After another incredible farm-to-table meal at the farm – this time with freshly caught fish and squash grown steps from where I’m sitting – I make my way back to the airport to fly over to Little Cayman.
If Cayman Brac felt small, Little Cayman is minuscule: you can ride a bike around the entire island in just over an hour. The biggest draw of the island is definitely the diving – Bloody Bay is consistently ranked as one of the world’s top dive sites – but I come here for the laid back vibes.
If you’ve ever met a diver, you’ll know that they’re a pretty chill group of people. They get their kicks in the deep depths of the ocean so when they’re above water, they like to focus on good food and good company.
I head to Pirates Point for dinner, where we’re served an incredible family-style meal made from scratch. I can still taste the freshly baked wild mushroom and Gruyère bread the chef whipped up that night. Drinks are self serve from the fully stocked bar where a pad of paper on the bar serves as your “tab.”
Like I said, it’s super chill here.
Grey skies the next morning lead to some choppy waters that prevent us from kayaking out to the uninhabited Owen Island just off the coast, where I’m told the sand is littered with enormous conch shells. Instead, I borrow a bike from the hotel and make my way along the one road that circles the island – and also serves as the airport runway.
My hosts seem disappointed by the weather but it’s nice to discover the island on two wheels, breaking for a crab as it slowly meanders across the street or pausing along on of the rocky edges to watch the powerful swells crash into the shore.
I’ve only been away from home for five days and it already feels like an eternity.
After my ride I head back to the airport and bid farewell to this lesser known, quiet side of the Cayman Islands.
Back in Grand Cayman I check into the Caribbean Club, a luxury resort boasting one, two and three-bedroom apartment-style accommodations. The sun is just peeking above the horizon so I take the opportunity to go for a long walk alone along the beach.
One of the great things about Cayman is how safe it is. Long after the sun sets and well into the night, the island is a safe place for anyone – even a woman – to wander freely. Unlike in other islands in the Caribbean, I don’t worry about my purse or whether I’m wearing any jewellery that may be deemed flashy. It’s a nice feeling.
My last day, I head to the Ritz to indulge in a signature facial at the in-house La Prairie spa. Everything about the treatment is customized, from the products on my face to the music being played and the scented candles in the room.
By the end, layers of stress have literally been stripped from my face leaving me looking just as relaxed as I feel on the inside and ready to face the snow that awaits me at home.