Grand Cayman, West Caribbean
Seven Mile Beach, possibly the Caribbean’s best large beach and certainly Grand Cayman’s finest marching powder.
Vacations in Grand Cayman
The Caymans are unusually efficient for the Caribbean, have the region’s best beach, some of the best food and brilliant diving/snorkeling.
The largest of three Cayman Islands in the west Caribbean, Grand Cayman is the undisputed population and tourist hub of the Caymans, even if it is only 22 miles long and 8 miles wide.
Known for years as a tax free island and offshore banking location – some disturbed folk whisper money laundering – Grand Cayman manages to squeeze over 600 banks into this tiny space, so changing money here should not be a problem.
Grand Cayman is a British dependency and famous tax-free zone hosting wealthy expatriates including – admittedly 400 years ago – the brutal pirate Blackbeard.
Geographically dreary Grand Cayman offers visitors the massive white stretch of 7 Mile Beach on the west coast, a good selection of activities and watersports – especially snorkelling and diving – and plenty of action after dark. Food can be surprisingly good, it helps to have a demanding, affluent, expatriate population!
And if you ever wondered what Hell is like you can find it in the West Bay district. Spoiler alert! It’s a cluster of black limestone spikes. Yawn.
Little Cayman and Cayman Brac, the other two Cayman Islands, are worth visiting is you need to escape the madding crowds of bankers, lawyers, tax-exiles and cruise ship offloads. And escape their prices!
Little Cayman is just 10 miles long by 1 mile wide, offers basic eating, drinking and sleeping amenities and the diving is apparently incredible – Bloody Bay Wall has a famously long drop from 18ft to 1, 000ft – and it’s very laid back, not much happens there apart from diving, beach flopping and fishing.
The distance between Grand Cayman and Little Cayman is about 58 miles (93 kms), a 20 minute flight or long boat ride. The distance between Little Cayman and the third and Cayman Brac is 5 miles (8kms).
On the downside
• local buildings are colourfully painted to conceal the drab architecture, apart from a couple of historic buildings, now museums.
• inland is pancake flat and devoid of interest.
• limited activity options out of the water.
• budget accommodation is in short supply.
• life’s necessities, such as groceries, tend to be expensive.
• avoiding bankers, lawyers, tax-exiles and mooing herds of cruise ship passengers is not easy.
Things to Do
…apart from swimming, snorkeling and diving. . .
Rigs and boards are for rent in many locations, including Seven Mile Beach, but the best location for steady wind is in the East End district of Grand Cayman, near Colliers.
Skate and surf park
Here’s another experience unique to the Caymans, Black Pearl Skate & Surf Park in Grand Harbour. It’s a humongous concrete park, the world’s largest, with challenging courses for all levels of skateboarder or inline skater. Tuition is an option. The park also contains a massive surf machine with waves up to 3. 4m high (11ft) that really tests the surf dudes.
It is an option though not very serious in the Caymans, more of beach-hire and paddle to the reef experience than travelling some distance.
Cayman specialists offers fishing tours ranging from bottom-fishing along the reefs to bone fishing, sport or deep-water fishing for tuna, marlin and wahoo, boats/yacht operations suited to differing budget levels.
A pricey option courtesy of at least four stables though there’s something of a shortage of spectacular landscapes so most riding is done on beaches, early or late in the day, and swimming with the beasts is a possibility for an extra fee. Spirit of the West in West Bay is highly recommended.
Available on three courses, all 9 holes but you can double up if you feel energetic. Britannia Golf is the boss club, course designed by Jack Nicklaus and an excellent restaurant. The North Sound Club has the most challenging course in the Caymans with plenty of wind, water and sand to stir it up. The Blue Tip course is only for the use of Ritz-Carlton residents.
Take the kids to the Dolphin Discovery Aquarium or Dolphin Cove
The latter has better reviews as it’s in a natural lagoon, staff are friendly and deals are good.
Swimming with dolphins is always a popular experience if you don’t mind seeing them in captivity. The Ultimate Swim includes a dorsal tow, foot push (superman), kisses with the dolphin, belly rub and back rub. Admission fee is reasonable but photo CD prices are extortionate!
Cayman Turtle Farm
Email: KHunter_12, December 2012: The Turtle Farm is not very interesting, there isn’t much there to see. Once you have looked in the main tanks at the turtles and held the baby turtles, you have seen almost all of the attractions there. There is an education center and a pool for the kids, as well as a ‘snorkeling’ area where you can swim with the turtles.
Let me first say our main reason for going to the turtle farm was the snorkeling that sounded neat. What it ended up being was a dirty fake reef with lots of fish and two little sea turtles which took us about 20 minutes of swimming to find. It was nowhere near as nice as reviews and photos made it seem. All the fish can be found in one area, where other visitors are throwing food into the fake lagoon. If you want snorkeling and turtles, just snorkel around the island in the beautiful CLEAN clear waters!
Stroll around the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Garden
Looking for blue iguanas, green birds (actually many kinds of tropical birds), giant brown rats, and plants of course. The park contains a Floral Colour Garden, Heritage Garden, Woodland Trail, lake and no shortage of mosquitoes in summertime.
This is not a world-class botanic gardens, but it is one of the few things to do on Grand Cayman that is not in or by the water. You can see most of what there is in an hour-or-so, though it would take longer to do the whole ‘forest’ loop. Most interesting is the animal life, the occasional blue iguanas and the tropical birds, in particular. The colorful gardens with flowers and flowering trees are nice as is the walk along the pond amid the variety of palms.
Meagre Bay Pond or Michael Gore Bird Sanctuary
Bird watchers can also visit those nature area to get their avian thrills in addition to QE II Botanic.
Visit Cayman Motor Museum
80 vehicles making a historical tour of global motoring, beginning with the first automobile ever produced, an 1886 Benz, an exact model of the first car ever driven in the Cayman Islands – a 1905 Cadillac, the original ‘Batmobile’ and a replica of the ‘Batcycle’ are just a few of the displays, along with classic muscle cars, sports cars and vintage cars.
Hiking the Mastic Trail
Email Carol D, August 2012: Hiking the Mastic Trail is a wonderful way to see a side of Grand Cayman that you might miss if you stick to the more touristy destinations. The Mastic Trail goes through a 2 million year old forest, and is the place where many of the Cayman Islands’ native species evolved. The hike itself is relatively easy, and we spotted lizards, snakes, hermit crabs, and a variety of beautiful birds, including the Grand Cayman Parrot.
email DMSO107, November 2012: My wife and two young daughters walked the trail for about 2-3 hours on our own. The trail is secluded and we didn’t see any other people the entire time. We saw plenty of native trees and vegetation, a good number of birds and lizards, but not much other animal life. If you’re looking for challenge or adventure, this isn’t the place to look. But we found it to be a pleasant, interesting, and relaxing change of pace from beaches and more touristy activities.
Best Beaches on Grand Cayman
Seven Mile Beach (also known as West Bay Beach)
This is a big beach that everyone wants to shuffle their toes in en route to the clear, tranquil water above the gently shelving sandy bottom. It’s a magnificent stretch of groomed, powder white sand that, if you can afford it, you should hug close and never let go. Oh, that’s too bad, can’t stay for ever? Never mind. Back to work after a quick snorkel.
Seven Mile is lined with mega resorts that will be happy to keep you fed and watered at a price and crowd the beach with loungers in some sections. Once past the resorts, there are a couple of public beaches with picnic tables, watersports rental shops and beach bars. At the north end of the beach is a section called Cemetery Beach which has superb snorkeling just 100 yards offshore.
The beach’s final asset is that, unlike most of the Caribbean, there are very few hawkers, and those that make an appearance keep a low profile.
Other than Seven Mile beach there are some decent little white beaches on the island’s east and north coasts that are protected by a barrier reef and have calm waters. Here are some possibilities:
Just north of Seven Mile, Cemetery Beach is a brilliant spot for snorkeling off the reef about 150m out.
Smith Cove Public Beach
West of George Town, it is small but perfectly formed, with more of the white stuff, good shade, showers and restroom facilities and fine snorkeling.
25 miles (40kms) north of Georgetown on the north coast, Rum Point offers the same useful facilities, a watersports activities hut, calm waters and natural shade. The sand is white but not groomed, the swimming safe and comfortable and when you’re ready for some input the Wreck Bar & Grill is ready to provide.
An email from KevinR, December 2012: On the plus side, Rum Point is lovely. There’re great views, lots of local wildlife, nearby reefs for snorkeling and plenty of activities to do.
On the minus side, the food and drink is awful and over-priced. Because of it’s remote location, it feels like you’re at a service station. You’re forced to pay more than you would anywhere else on the island for school cafeteria food and tiny drinks.
Also, the place is a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde. It will be idyllic and practically empty one moment, then one of the tour boats will arrive and flood the place full of cruise ship passengers trying to fit everything into a 2 hour window.
Cayman Kai Beach
On the north coast running from the resort of the same name to Rum Point, Cayman Kai is coated with the same dazzling sand, public facilities and backed by shady palms. The water’s usually calm and clear and snorkelling excellent.
East End beaches
If you dislike the chaos of Seven Mile Beach but enjoy the Caymans then perhaps the East End is for you. The beaches are pristine and uncrowded, the lagoon is reef protected, there are no cruise ship hordes, and there are a number of good restaurants, attractions and private vacation rental properties, so this is a great, relaxed base for families on a budget with with young kids.
Grand Cayman’s best windsurfing is also in the East End near Colliers.
Grand Cayman has a good reputation among the Caribbean islands but still requires an application of common sense. Don’t leave valuables unattended in your room or car.
Cruise visitors should beware of pickpockets in crowds and not leave bags unattended. Don’t walk alone late at night in deserted areas, don’t take valuables to the beach and don’t leave windows/doors open or unlocked when you’re asleep.
In case of an emergency, dial 911, Grand Cayman’s emergency line.
Luxury life in Grand Cayman – condos and beach resort hotels – is mostly based along Seven Mile Beach so if you’re looking for budget accommodation look elsewhere. Web search for guest houses, cottages or condos. West Bay and George Town are the most likely places to find a low cost place to stay or if you’re ready for more isolation try Little Cayman or Cayman Brac (especially if you’re a diver/snorkeler) though you’ll probably need to fly there.
We easily found a double room in a three star hotel on Seven Mile Beach (yay! ), in 2013 at €150 per night including all taxes.
A 10% government tax is not included in most quotations.
Winter high season prices are almost double summer season prices.
Most up-scale Grand Cayman restaurants are found in luxury hotels, but there are a some independents such as Grand Old House, The Lobster Pot and The Wharf.
Locals however, know of places where the food is as good but the prices way lower, such as Champion House II on Eastern Avenue in George Town, Luz’ Restaurant on Smith Road in George Town and Welly’s Cool Spot on North Sound Way in George Town.
Some items on the menu may be alien to tourists, such as Akee and Saltfish, Stewed Conch, Stewed Turtle, Curried Goat and Jerk Chicken. They’re delicious and the waiter will be happy to explain what they are.
For the budget minded visitor various global brand fast food chains are established in Grand Cayman including Burger King, Wendy’s, Subway, KFC and Popeye’s, as well as Pizza Hut and Domino’s Pizza.
18 is the legal minimum for consuming alcohol.
Water from taps is perfectly safe to drink.
Tips: Most restaurants will add a 15% service charge to your bill but smaller places may leave it to you. If your server has provided you with exceptional service, you may decide to give them an extra, separate tip.
Grand Cayman Seasons
Hurricane signs, Grand Cayman
The high and dry season is December – April, when it’s slightly cooler and less humid than the rest of the year, with winter temperatures running from mid 70F to low 80F, low humidity, low mosquitoes, low rainfall and sea temperature around 80F. The very driest months are March and April while the wettest are September and October.
The rainy season is May-November and hurricanes, or at least storms that bring cloud, mosquitoes, rough murky waters and seaweed onto the beach, are most likely to appear September-November.
The last three hurricanes to seriously damage Grand Cayman were in September 2004, November 2001, October 1998.
Buses: Grand Cayman operates a well-organised public bus service with 5 basic routes covered by different coloured buses. Buses run from 6. 0am – 9pm/11pm or midnight depending on the route and day. One fare is US$2. 50.
Taxis can be found at the airport, outside hotels and at taxi stands. Rates are fixed from point-to-point so check the charge before lift-off.
Car/scooter rental is good value, probably because the roads are in good shape and you can’t drive very far before falling into the sea. Minimum driver’s age is 21 and a visitor’s driving permit is required at a cost of US$20; this can be acquired from the car rental agency. Car rental costs about US$40 a day or less depending on the season. Vehicles drive ON THE LEFT as in Britain, and you will encounter roundabouts that are common in Europe. Be careful, especially when pulling out onto an empty road after stopping somewhere.
Cycles are also quite useable as the island is very flat and small. Hotels usually offer them to guests but shops also make them available for a fee.
International flights land at Grand Cayman’s recently upgraded Owen Roberts International Airport or Cayman Brac’s Gerrard Smith International. Domestic flights also go to Little Cayman’s Edward Bodden Airstrip.
Grand Cayman receives non-stop air services from U. S. airports in Miami, New York, Houston, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, Tampa and Canada’s Toronto. Flight time ranges from Miami at just over 1 hour up to 3 hours from Houston or 4 hours from Chicago/Toronto.
From the UK British Airways takes about 10 hours with a short stop in Bahamas.
An airport taxi to Seven Mile Beach will cost about $15, fixed fee.
Most tourists (e. g. from USA, Canada, Mexico, Europe, Australia, New Zealand) may enter Grand Cayman and stay for up to 6 months if they have a valid passport.
Also possible (but unlikely) visitors may have to show sufficient funds for accommodation and necessary documents for returning to the country of origin, or further travel elsewhere.
The Cayman Islands uses its own currency, the Cayman Islands dollar which roughly exchanges at $8=US$10, but US dollars are accepted just about everywhere, though change may be given in Cayman dollars. ATMs are found all over the island, as are banks (no surprise there! ), though there are no US banks. Major credit cards are accepted widely.
Grand Cayman uses a 120v/60hz system with US/Canadian style plugs. U. S. appliances should work fine.
Visitors from Europe will need a voltage adapter for their plugs. These can be found on the island and most hotels keep them in stock, even in the rooms as well. Only dual-voltage appliances from Europe can be used on the island.
English speaking, though with varied accents, few of them American!
Visitors during the rainy season from May to November may want to bring a bug spray including DEET in its ingredients.
Sand flies as well as mozzies come out at sunset and are able to penetrate patio screens so this is the time to apply repellent or to dine/drink inside. Pity to be inside at this wonderful time of day though! More mosquito/sand fly information.