Cayman Islands Overview

The Cayman Islands are a British Overseas Territory. The islands are self-governed but are under the direct protection of the United Kingdom; and the Queen of England is depicted on Cayman Islands currency and postal stamps.

The people here speak English, although there are many other languages spoken by its inhabitants. Christopher Columbus first sighted Cayman Brac and Little Cayman on 10 May 1503 during his fourth trip to the New World. Columbus was en route to Hispaniola when his ship was thrust westward toward "two very small and low islands, full of tortoises, as was all the sea all about, insomuch that they looked like little rocks, for which reason these islands were called Las Tortugas." Grand Cayman soon became an important port of call for seafarers to restock on fresh meat, water and the silver thatch palm used for rope making.

One of the favourite meat sources of these early visitors was the caiman, a small crocodilian creature that inhabited the mangroves and from which Cayman was renamed. Unfortunately, an early taste for these reptiles was so great that they were hunted to extinction. There are no caimans, crocodiles or alligators here now. Although in 2007 a large crocodile was caught in the mangroves, the mystery of where it had come from has never been solved.

The early seafarers carried valuable cargoes and pirates were soon drawn to the islands. Two of the most notorious pirates, Captain Blackbeard and Calico Jack, remain intricately linked with modern Cayman - as trade names and some of the smaller streets have distinctly pirate-sounding names. To this day there are tales of buried pirate treasure in the interior of Grand Cayman and in the caves of Cayman Brac. Spanish bullion has certainly been recovered from the seabed and you can buy coins from specialist stores in George Town. The Cayman Islands welcome would-be pirates each year for a week of fun and festivities in the annual Pirates Week Festival held in November.

There is a myth that there is no agriculture here, and this is misguided. The flora on the island does need to fight for survival; and coconuts, mangoes, papayas, guava, ackee, jack fruit, avocados, June plums, bread fruit, yam, sugar cane, bananas, plantains and sea grapes all thrive here. There is also an abundance of mangroves that play a vital role in the ecosystem of the islands – and the world. A variety of livestock is raised on the island including chickens, cattle, goats and pigs. The turtle farm fulfils the local desire for turtle meat and the seas are home to healthy stocks of fish, lobster and conch; contact the Department of the Environment for further details on fishing laws.

Ask people what they know about the Cayman Islands and most of them will mention its reputation for ‘funny money’. There are untold millions in the banking systems of the Cayman Islands but, like piracy, any untoward dealings are very much in the past. However, it is interesting to note that Grand Cayman is currently rated as the worlds’ sixth largest financial centre and it is currently home to more than three hundred banks. With a resident population in the region of just 50,000, this is really quite staggering.

Despite the enormous wealth and the high standard of living enjoyed by most of its inhabitants, it is misguided to presume that there is no poverty in Cayman. Many families, local and expatriate, struggle to cover the basic cost of living here - which is high. In this proud nation you are unlikely to see the blatant needs of humanity on the streets of Cayman; children are fed, clothed and attend school, and you are very unlikely to encounter a beggar. There are a number of charities and government bodies dedicated to lessening this burden. Many people are still recovering from Hurricane Ivan, which hit the island hard in 2004 leaving many people homeless and their worldly possessions destroyed.

Grand Cayman is famous for its Seven Mile Beach. But this is a misnomer - there is an expanse of white sand being lapped by azure waters, but not seven miles of it. The beach is closer to six miles than seven, but ‘almost six mile beach’ doesn’t have quite the same allure. Regardless of the actual length, it is a beautiful beach that stretches from just outside George Town almost to the tip of the island in West Bay. It is this pristine beach that is the most visible sight to greet cruise ship passengers as they come in to George Town in the early mornings.

Come and discover for yourself the myths and facts of this glorious Caribbean nation, and have an amazing time in paradise while you do so.

Discover Grand Cayman

Grand Cayman island, the largest and most cosmopolitan of the three Cayman Islands, is about 22 miles long with an average width of four miles. George Town, the capital, is on the western shore of Grand Cayman. The wide diversity found in Grand Cayman is a blend of rich local tradition with international influences resulting in a truly unique atmosphere.

From the crystal blue water and powder-white sand of Seven Mile Beach and the shopping and financial hubbub of George Town, to the quiet, undeveloped expanses of East End, Grand Cayman offers something for everyone. Dive, snorkel or simply splash in the warm, crystal-clear waters that are the islands' hallmark. Considering the size of the island, Grand Cayman provides a dizzying array of activities to sustain a huge range of interests. Whether you're looking for the adventure of a lifetime or just a few days of respite, Grand Cayman is the quintessential "place to be."

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Water Sports

The Caribbean is famed for the beauty of its iridescent seas and there are innumerable trips and tours available on the water. Scuba diving and snorkeling lure many visitors to the island but there are many, many more adventures to be had on the open seas! No trip to Grand Cayman would be complete without a visit to the sublime Stingray City sandbar. There is a range of trips and tours that will include an encounter with these gentle creatures, so try to combine it with another stopover, perhaps to Rum Point or Kaibo.

The deep waters surrounding Grand Cayman provide exhilarating opportunities for deep-sea fishing; wahoo, tuna, mahi-mahi and marlin are just some of the big catches you could make. Join a trip or charter your own boat with friends for a day that perfectly combines relaxation and adrenaline.

For non-divers there are two fabulous options operating out of George Town harbour offering a glimpse of ‘what lies beneath’. The Atlantis Submarine descends along the coral reef and journeys to the edge of the wall that drops to thousands of feet. While the pilot navigates the submarine through the underwater treasures, a trained guide will give you an informative commentary on the coral, sponges and wildlife you see along the way. The Nautilus is a semi-submersible submarine that glides across the reef in George Town. A diver feeds fish from the side of the boat and then passengers have the opportunity to snorkel in the crystal clear waters themselves.

With a history of piracy on the island, it is no wonder that there is the chance to re-enact your pirate fantasies with a tour on the ‘Jolly Roger’ or the ‘Valhalla’. These beautifully crafted replica vessels run trips from the South Terminal in George Town. You can choose a daytime encounter with our very own ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’. The crew will greet you dressed as pirates and you can either be a spectator or choose to get involved with the crew and be tied to the mast, scrub the decks, walk the plank or fire canons at the cruise ships moored in the harbour. The companies also run sunset cruises with an open bar. The Jolly Roger and the Valhalla play a key role in the festivities and recreation of the 'trial of the pirates' during Pirates Week held each November.

Sightseeing and Historical Landmarks

Many people come to Grand Cayman and spend all their time on the cerulean seas. While this is a worthy use of vacation time, you may also want to hire a car and leave the azure waters behind to discover the green interior of the island. Leave George Town and take a journey across the island. Visit the home of Caymanian democracy, just past Savannah, at Pedro St. James – a delightfully restored traditional West Indian great house. Before wandering through the house take the time to watch the informative video tour, it is a digital masterpiece. In Bodden Town itself, the recently restored Mission House has an interesting selection of historical artefacts and provides another insight in to the history of Cayman. There are many sign-posted areas of interest along the way.

The Botanic Park is located along Frank Sound Road that dissects the island. There are new treats here throughout the year and it is always wonderfully maintained. The Botanic Park is one of the few places on the island where you are guaranteed a sighting of the rare blue iguana. Walk quietly through the park and you may also be rewarded with a view of an agouti. For keen hikers, the Mastic Trail is a must. Continue through the island towards Northside, Old Man Bay and then on to Rum Point or Kaibo. The Over the Edge restaurant is a scenic stopover and a chance to sample local dishes with an unbeatable view; spotted eagle rays and manta rays are often seen in the waters here. Adventuring ‘off the beaten track’ of the main roads provides an interesting insight to the stark interior of the Cayman Islands and a chance to see many plants and birds in their natural habitat.

The Cayman Turtle Farm

At the other end of the island in West Bay the Turtle Farm at Boatswains Beach is distinctly Caymanian. There are nature trails, an aviary, restored Caymanian cottages and a predator tank, and that’s before you have even seen the turtles! You will have the opportunity to handle turtles of various sizes and this is also a working farm where turtles are farmed for commercial sale – principally to local restaurants. A trip to “Hell” is extraordinary. Take the postcards you have written and send them from the Hell Post Office having met the devil himself. This is a truly quirky trip - take your sense of humour and a camera and have a ‘helluva’ good time.

In addition to its many natural wonders, Grand Cayman also has a very active arts scene. The National Gallery always has interesting exhibitions as do the ever-increasing number of commercial galleries and they are certainly worth a visit. Many hotels and restaurants also showcase local art and much of it is for sale. Check local press for current listings.

The only real choice is what to do in so little time. Many people return year after year to take advantage of the innumerable activities available on the island, to try out new trips and tours, to revisit old favorites or to discover a whole new side to this remarkable island.

Cayman Weather

The Cayman Islands is in the northeast trade wind belt of the Caribbean and enjoys a stable climate. Cool winter nights and hot summer days are the year-round norm, influenced only occasionally by winter storms known as Nor'westers, or, a tropical storm or hurricane threat every few years.

Summer humidity can be uncomfortable, but the cool sea breezes at night usually bring relief. The Cayman Islands bask in tropical warmth year-round. While much of the Western Hemisphere is blanketed by snow, dark clouds or persistent rain, the islands are bathed in warm sunshine and cooling breeze. There are two seasons; the ‘wet’ (June-November) and the ‘dry’ (December – May). Luckily for the flora and fauna on the island, it does rain occasionally, especially in May and October, the first and last months of the “rainy” season, otherwise these islands would be a barren waste. However, showers are usually brief, and the sky remains gloriously blue for most of the time.

What about hurricanes?

Tropical storms and hurricanes are a fact of life in the Caribbean, but large storms are infrequent and the weather is constantly monitored. So, don’t let the remote chance of a hurricane stop you from coming, but be wise and purchase travel insurance just in case. This will ensure that, if the worst comes to worst, you don’t lose the money for the whole trip and it will also cover you if you are forced to evacuate. Bear in mind that you won't be able to make a claim if you purchased travel insurance after a hurricane was already forecasted and named, so get it when you make your travel plans. If you want to keep informed on possible storms approaching, visit CaymanPrepared.ky or check the local online news.

When to travel?

The simple answer to this is - anytime!

There are two principal seasons; the ‘rainy’ season, or summer (June – November) and the ‘dry’ season, or winter (December - May). There isn't a bad time to come to the Cayman Islands, unless you happen to encounter a hurricane. However, you can minimize the chance of that happening by visiting outside hurricane season, which runs 1 June to 30 November. Visitors are willing to pay premium prices to flee the cold back home in the winter months, and a nice warm Christmas and New Year are always popular, and therefore more expensive. During the summer months you’ll find bargain airfares and cheaper accommodations, and the Islands are only slightly hotter. September and October are the slowest months of the year for tourism – and some people like to travel then precisely because everything is less crowded. The weather is generally very humid in the rainy season, and can at times be quite muggy. Expect to sweat a lot, especially in Little Cayman. The rainy season also encompasses the months when hurricanes and tropical storms have a greater chance of forming and possibly hitting the islands. Do not be fooled in to thinking that the dry season will be completely rain-free! There is always a chance of rain, but it seldom lasts more than an hour. Water temperatures are also slightly cooler in the dry season. In terms of the tourism trade - the dry season is the high season.

Caribbean Sunshine

The temperature here varies little throughout the year, averaging 75 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter and 85 degrees in the summer, and generally stays within the range of 70-90 degrees. Most visitors remember to wear sunscreen when the sun is out or if they’re spending time on the beach, but the time most people get burned is when there is a little cloud cover, or when they’re out and about shopping or sightseeing. To avoid painful sunburn, always wear a high factor sunblock and keep reapplying throughout the day. Wear a hat and make sure your kids wear one too! Heatstroke is no fun, so avoid going out at the hottest part of the day if you can, and always remember to drink plenty of water (not soft drinks) all day long to keep hydrated.

Maps of the Cayman Islands

Although Grand Cayman is relatively small, and the sister islands of Cayman Brac and Little Cayman could be considered tiny, there’s so much to see and do here you’ll need a map. We’ve already marked the major highlights for you. Note that each island is oriented roughly east to west.

The Cayman Islands comprises Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman. The three islands are situated in the western Caribbean, about 150 miles south of Cuba, 480 miles south of Miami, Florida, and 180 miles northwest of Jamaica. George Town, the capital, is on the western shore of Grand Cayman. Geographically, the Cayman Islands is part of the Cayman Ridge, which extends westward from Cuba. The Cayman Trench, the deepest part of the Caribbean at a staggering depth of over four miles, separates the three small islands from Jamaica. This steep drop-off creates some of the most spectacular scuba diving in the World.

Grand Cayman, the largest of the three islands, is approximately 22 miles long with an average width of four miles. Of its total area of about 78 square miles, almost half is wetland. The most striking feature is the shallow, reef-protected lagoon, the North Sound, which has an area of about 35 square miles. The island is low-lying, with the highest point only about 60 feet above sea level.

Cayman Brac lies about 89 miles northeast of Grand Cayman. It is about 12 miles long, with an average width of less than 2 miles. Its terrain is the most spectacular of the three islands. The Bluff, a massive central limestone outcrop, rises steadily along the length of the island up to 140 ft. above the sea at the eastern end.

Little Cayman lies five miles west of Cayman Brac and is approximately ten miles long with an average width of just over a mile. The island is low-lying, with a few areas on the north shore rising to 40 ft. above sea level. Together, the islands have a land area of about 100 square miles. There are no rivers on any of the islands, but there are large areas of luxuriant vegetation. The coasts are largely protected by offshore reefs and in many places by a mangrove fringe that often extends into inland wetlands that play a key role in the islands' ecology.

Almost 2,000 acres of dry forests and mangrove wetland are protected by the National Trust for the Cayman Islands. An internationally acclaimed system of marine parks is managed by the Cayman Islands Department of Environment.

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