This spectacular destination offers gorgeous beaches and resorts, diverse outdoor activities, high-end and casual dining and shopping
The Cayman Islands may bring forth visions of offshore banking and tax evasion, further perpetuated by the 1993 movie “The Firm” starring Tom Cruise, but in reality, banking is highly regulated and the Islands offers much more than the financial industry to both visitors and residents. British Columbians can travel to Toronto and then onward to Grand Cayman directly via WestJet and enjoy one or all of the three Cayman Islands located on the summits of an underwater mountain range in the western Caribbean.
Grand Cayman is the largest of the Islands and is full of options for outdoor activities, beaches, high-end and casual dining, gorgeous resorts and shopping.
The Island is approximately 22 miles long and at some points six miles wide, has over 50,000 residents and is divided into Bodden Town, East End, George Town, North Side and West Bay, each region offering unique experiences.
Where to Stay
The ultimate in accommodation on Grand Cayman can be pricey depending on the time of year, but is well worth saving for. The Ritz Carlton is located on Seven Mile Beach and offers everything from a tennis center to floating Aqua Lounge dining tables. Dining on site could be at any of five restaurants.
There’s a fully stocked daily breakfast buffet, poolside bar and celebrity chef Eric Ripert’s AAA Five Diamond award-winning restaurant – Blue – is located on the property. The Ritz Carlton’s La Prairie spa is immaculate and there are two outdoor pools, an oceanfront Jacuzzi and guests can snorkel and take complimentary sailing classes.
If your group prefers a larger area and requires a kitchen and an in-suite dining room, then the Caribbean Club is ideal. This luxury home away from home houses 37 three-bedroom villas complete with a fully stocked kitchen and ample living and dining room space and offers golf, tennis, diving and a pool on Seven Mile Beach. More cost-conscious travellers should consider the still stellar Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort, also on Seven Mile Beach, and home to many weddings, business meetings and family getaways.
There are many musts when in Grand Cayman, the most memorable being swimming with the stingrays and diving one of the many coral reefs in the Caribbean Sea. The friendly stingrays have been trained to come toward the sound of a boat’s motor. Take a ride on a catamaran out to the Stingray City Sandbar and swim amongst these creatures in some of the bluest seas you’ll experience. That same sea offers diving and snorkelling opportunities; one of the top being the tour of marine life and the sunken ship, The Kittiwake, that rests on the ocean bottom just off Seven Mile Beach.
Nature lovers will find the Queen Elizabeth II Botanical Park a delight to spend a few hours or entire afternoon enjoying. Wander through the flora and fauna native to the Cayman Islands and catch a glimpse of the endangered Blue Iguana.
Do also check out “Hell,” a group of black limestone formations in the Island’s West Bay that resemble what a place like hell in fact may look like. Car buffs will flip over the Cayman Motor Museum, full of over 80 exotic and classic motorcars and motorbikes including the original 1960’s Batmobile and a dozen classic Ferraris. History advocates will appreciate a visit to the reconstructed 1780 Great House on the Pedro St. James Historic Site known as the ‘Birthplace of Democracy’ in the Cayman Islands and the oldest existing stone structure in the Islands.
Those who can’t avoid the chance to find that perfect outfit or perhaps are in the mood for a farmers market or wine shop will enjoy the town of Camana Bay, a 500-acre community with everything from dining to computers. George Town is where the cruise ships pull up and also home to many stores, but these are more touristy-type stores showcasing t-shirts and rum cakes, although it is an interesting walkabout and there are a few notable art installations and galleries.
There is everything from roadside cafes to restaurants where the service and cuisine is more like theatre than dining. Stop in for some real Cayman Island cuisine at Heritage Kitchen and try the conch fritters or some local fish stews. The Brasserie is worthy of both a dinner and breakfast visit.
They have spectacularly fresh fish sourced from their own fishing boats and source their produce from their farm. Osetra Bay is a gorgeous spot with an innovative cocktail program, absolutely amazing rooms and stellar cuisine. If you time your visit right, you can catch the Cayman Island Cookout, a yearly celebration of food and wine held at the Ritz Carlton hosted by Chef Eric Ripert. Dates for 2014 are January 16-19.