Why the Cayman Islands are One of a Kind
It’s a familiar saying “Caymankind”. However, it’s only after rubbing shoulders with the friendly locals, absorbing the history and indulging in gourmet farm-to-table cuisine that you come to understand its meaning.
These islands, and their inhabitants made up of more than 100 nationalities, are exceptional. One of a kind, you could say.
The Cayman Islands, a British Overseas Territory situated just south of Cuba and north west of Jamaica, is made up of three bodies of land, all of which can be reached from each other via a short regional flight.
Grand Cayman, the main tourist destination, is packed with restaurants, bars and water sports activities; rugged Cayman Brac is popular for scuba diving; and Little Cayman is home to diverse wildlife.
For Cayman’s many British expats and holidaymakers, British Airways operates flights four times weekly with a short stop in Nassau – a 12-hour journey in total.
The Ritz-Carlton, is one of Grand Cayman’s high-end hotels, situated on Seven Mile Beach. It’s a key area for tourists and home to many of Grand Cayman’s best restaurants, beach bars and water sports facilities.
There are more affordable properties on offer, however, such as the Westin hotel – also on Seven Mile Beach – plus self-catering apartments and condos.
Despite being the most developed of the islands, Grand Cayman is blessed with beautiful beaches and natural attractions.
The Crystal Caves opened in 2016 with guided tours through three of its 175 underground caverns. These limestone caves are found once you have made your way through the surrounding forest and see beautiful endemic bird species, medicinal herbs and the Caymanian national plant, the Silver Thatch Palm, once used to make rope for export.
The caves were formed millions of years ago by tidal and tectonic activity and are named after the crystals that form on the stalactites and stalagmites.
One of the tour highlights is the light show in Lake Cave. Beams of colour bounce off the water to create ethereal effects on the cave’s roof and walls and sources say more caves will be opened up to accommodate ATV tours and a zip line is being installed too.
Another experience for those with a sense of adventure is the Mastic Trail – a three-hour trek through an inland forest that can be done independently or with a National Trust for the Cayman Islands guide ($29).
A favourite nature experience is Stingray City. Hosted by Red Sail Sports, this is bookable through any hotel concierge and at the operator’s beach hut at the Westin hotel. The family-friendly activity sees you take a catamaran cruise to a sand bar just off Grand Cayman, where the water is less than a metre deep.
A 20-minute drive from the capital George Town takes you to Pedro St James Castle, the oldest building on Grand Cayman (entry from $12).
First constructed by Englishman William Eden in 1780, the house is the birthplace of Caymanian democracy, with political meetings and court sessions often held in its dining room. Pedro St James was also where the Slavery Abolition Act was first read to the public, signifying an end to the barbaric practice.
In the 1990s, restoration work began and the site was eventually restored to its former glory. You can explore its history and learn about the life of the owners and their slaves through authentic 18th-century tools, cooking utensils and mahogany furniture.
Here they have an onsite rum shop and miniature distillery is home to a variety of spirits the company’s practices are unique in that they produce the world’s only rum that is aged underwater. The tide’s ebb and flow helps the rum to interact with the wood of the barrel – in turn giving it a much richer flavour, it’s very distinctive and they are very proud of it.
Guests can pay $5 for a tasting session that allows them to sample coconut, banana and the dark rums of the Governor’s Reserve range and the Seven Fathoms brand that is sold in the UK. One of the favourites is the 1780 Rum. This darker tipple is aged in port barrels underwater and has a treacle-like taste. It’s extremely rare and only available at this location.
Cayman Spirits Co. may only be 10 years old, but it is bringing a thriving craft rum scene to the island. Co-owner Walker Romanica admits that this was lacking before it began operations.
“I found that there wasn’t an authentic Caymanian rum and we wanted to create that. But really it all started as a bit of fun,” he says. The Seven Fathoms tour at the main distillery is priced from $15 and includes the same tasting session as the one available at Pedro St James Castle, with a guided factory walk.
Guzzling all that rum calls for a hearty meal to soak it up and when it comes to food, the Cayman Islands has an impressive range to choose from. For gourmands looking to try true Caymanian cuisine, there is a host of local eateries. The Blue Marlin, Bananas Restaurant & Lounge and Welly’s Cool Spot, which serves up a “mean” curried goat.
But with the islands’ clientele including wealthy British expats and celebrities it’s unsurprising to find plenty of high end options too. These include the Grand Old House, The Lighthouse, Lobster Pot and Cracked Conch, all of which specialise in serving fresh seafood in oceanfront locations and all within a 40-minute drive of the main Seven Mile Beach properties.
Rum Point Club, on the north of the island, is a relaxed beach bar and restaurant with food, drinks and water sports. I while away an afternoon lounging by the ocean, sipping Mudslide cocktails – a Caymanian take on the White Russian made with Baileys, vodka and Kahlua.
Cayman Brac – a half-hour flight from Grand Cayman famous for its majestic limestone plateau The Bluff, diving spots and a range of caves. This smaller island is ideal for clients looking to get away from the crowds. For hiking and nature enthusiasts, Cayman Brac has 15 walking routes and can be traversed from tip-to-tip in four hours.
History buffs may enjoy visiting the Cayman Brac Museum (free admission), which houses a range of domestic artefacts and insights into the island’s past.