Where are the Cayman Islands?
The Cayman Islands are three separate islands just south of Cuba, to the west of Jamaica. Grand Cayman, where we stayed is the largest of the three and is furthest to the West. It has coral reefs around the island that help break up waves and are home to rays and aquatic life of all types.
What brought you to the Cayman Islands?
We had the opportunity to vacation with our friends.
How did you get there?
Flight out of Raleigh-Durham (RDU) to Atlanta and then on to Grand Cayman Island on Delta Airlines. Southwest also has flights into the island with no baggage charges for 2 pieces of checked baggage less than 50 pounds.
Where did you stay and what was the best feature or benefit you liked about this hotel?
We were staying with friends in a 5th floor 3 bedroom condo at the Morritt’s Resort on the east side of the island facing the sea to the northeast. The reef was around 200 yards offshore and had a current that ran inside the reef, past the dock and bar and grill. The condo had a full kitchen, and there was a small grocery store about 150 yards away. Prices at the grocery store were higher for most items, except for fruit. The best feature was the ocean view from the kitchen/dining area, living room, and balcony.
Being on the side with the prevailing winds, there were few mosquitos compared to other areas that were more sheltered – this made the stay much more enjoyable.
Being able to snorkel on site at this resort. Also had kayaking, paddle boarding, and jet skis available for low prices. I bought a snorkel set since I planned on snorkeling more and in the future too! Saw so many beautiful fish, lobster, rays, and a really large red starfish my last day of snorkeling. Hitchhiked a few rides on Mike’s kayak to get further out when tired. J Haven’t snorkeled in years but it’s like getting back on a bike…Diving trips were available with pickup at dockside at a reasonable cost.
The Lighthouse Restaurant was incredible. The outside is not impressive, but once inside it was amazing, from uniformed serving staff to the decorations and the materials, with an outstanding view of the sea and waves and appetizers and food that will please.
One of our friends cooked up many amazing meals with thick-cut bacon and vegetables in the full size kitchen.
Most unexpected surprise?
So many large iguanas walking around, with smaller ones scampering across the road, and climbing on buildings. They were like little dinosaurs.
What were the people like and what did you find interesting?
Really nice. Very few people we met were actually from the Cayman Islands but we met a few. Very low crime in the area and felt safe walking and driving around – did not have locals or anyone approaching to sell items.
How do you get around?
Being on the East Side of the Island, far from the commercial areas on the West Side, we rented a vehicle rather than catching a bus or taxi. Just say that a full-size car in Cayman is a mid-size in the US. Gas was around $4.29/Gallon CI (Cayman Island Currency), but even driving from one end of the island to the other nearly every day in a rented minivan, the total cost in gas was only around $85 US. For the rental we needed local insurance since our insurance policy did not cover liability or damage in the Cayman Islands. All said, it was around $60/day for the vehicle but with Amex would be around 25.00 per day. Parking is sometimes difficult to find in some places and being a right-hand steering column, sometimes a 10-point turn was needed to get into a spot, backing into one was a lot easier (for Mike). Driving is on the left side of the road but we adapted well after a day of driving. The speed limits are posted in MPH, but they don’t list the units, so there are cars at all speeds (and bicycles) on the road. Someone else may be even less used to driving on the left than you are – so be aware of that (even the turn signal is on the right side of the steering column – and the wipers are on the left – so when wipers are on, someone may be turning). Most roads have arrows painted in the lanes to show the direction of travel, but some don’t and parking lots are where most of our (Mike’s) directional challenges occurred. There are a lot of round-a-bouts as you drive across the island but it is a small island and you can go from the east side to the west side in about an hour’s time.
Grand Cayman also has a public bus system that is relatively inexpensive if you want to get out of your resort to see the sites.
The experience from a cruise is different. Tours are arranged beforehand and buses can take you to the top destinations on the island.
What sites did you see and which did you like best?
Pedro St. James is located on the south side of the island. Take the guided tour, it’s not much more, but you will be standing on what amounts to the original location of Cayman Island’s Constitution Hall, Congress, and the site of their own Emancipation Proclamation, as well as their Supreme Court. The guides took our pictures and were quite engaging. We learned so much about the island and that you should never cut down a mahogany tree on Grand Cayman or you will be fined very heavily or jailed! This is because the mahogany tree grows very slowly and was nearly extinct on the island. – After the tour you can do a tasting of rum or wine for $5 per person; some organic wines are available. If you want to experience fine and organic wines around the world you may want to go to the Atlantic Building near the Distillery in the downtown area. With the rocks, waves, and both large and small event sites, this can be a destination for weddings– and other types of events.
Cayman Turtle Center is located on the Northwest corner of the island, and has a unique claim on interaction with turtles. Along with this is a short nature trail with names of the trees you’ll see all over the island and an aviary that is interesting in its own right.
Dolphin Discovery is right across the street from the Turtle Center, where you can swim with the Dolphins.
Hell is a rock formation that resembles what we imagine it might be like. The owner of the Hell Gift Store is a nice man who plays up the name in conversation. It’s on the way to the Turtle and Dolphin Centers so make the stop if you can and mail a post card to a friend at the post office next door.
The downtown area – runs along Church Street about a half mile to the north and quarter mile to the south of the cruise ship terminals (and south of 7-Mile beach) has gift shops, eating establishments, such as Rum Cakes and Margaritaville, with a ton of jewelry stores. There is also a small church that has remained standing through many hurricanes.
Bayshore Mall, just south of the cruise ship terminals has premium shipping experiences (and free parking behind for anyone with a validated ticket (free parking on the weekend). It is only a 1-2 minute walk to Margaretville as well. Camana Bay area is an upscale shopping experience about 10 minutes or less from the downtown area.
Calico Jacks Bar & Grill is a great spot for a cold beverage on the north side of 7-mile beach, next to the Public Beach. They have volleyball, covered eating areas, tables on the sand (under a canopy or umbrellas), and there is usually a jet-ski or so to offer rides or a jet-ski tow for a banana-bus inflatable ride out into the sea.
Diving spots surround the island, so Divers have a number of interesting sites to visit and some are also accessible to snorkelers including a few wrecks, depending on the weather. The dive shops are really helpful with this.
What sights did you not see that you would have like to visit?
I would have liked to see the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park which is one of the only places to see the blue iguana found only on Grand Cayman. One thing you have to know is that rain shuts down a lot of the tourist areas but usually the rain does not last long. We just happened to get more weather due to tropical storm Nate. This can be expected since we were traveling in Hurricane season but rates are great at this time of the year.
The Cayman Crystal Caves were closed the days after rain started and re-opened Sunday. This was recommended by a local so it was a little disappointing.
Some downtown souvenir shops only open when there is a cruise ship in port, ferrying passengers to one of two adjacent ports of departure. It’s pretty empty when there is not one. There were two large Carnival ships in port when we first walked downtown. The following day two more Carnival Ships were coming to port along with MSC and Regatta at the end of the week – so it is unusual not to have a lot of activity downtown.
We arrived on Sunday and by Tuesday, the passing of Hurricane Nate churned up the sea but showers were only sporadic. By Wednesday the intensity increased to 6-7 foot waves on the south end of the island and 2-3 foot waves on the North, snorkeling was out of the question on those days – it calmed on Saturday and was perfect on Sunday, when we departed. So our diver friends got only one real opportunity to go under the sea – which is unusual.
Missed Stingray City due to the tropical storm Nate. This is very popular and heard comments that it is a great experience.
Suggestions for those traveling to the Cayman Islands
Bring shorts, t-shirts, swimming attire, walking shoes and sandals (or footwear that breathes). Men should bring at least one collared shirt –the dining required dressy casual. Ladies should bring light dresses, a wrap for swimming areas. If you have fins and a snorkel, definitely take them along – but if not, it will be around $75 US to get them at one of the many dive shops on the island. Bring a hat and wear sunscreen if (since) when you’re outdoors – it is hot and the sun is very intense from 11-2PM, but it is very comfortable in the morning and evening. It is an island in the Caribbean, it can be humid, but dressing appropriately prevents that from being a problem (most of the time).
US currency is accepted everywhere, but as a couple, you are limited to bringing back $800 in goods with personal tax exemptions, but don’t bring back opened food.
Remember that TSA rules are based on the size of the container, not what is left in the bottle. So if a lotion (or your bug spray) is in a 6 oz. container, even if there is only 1 oz. left, it’s got to go in your checked bags or it will be left at security.
Tip: All of the bug sprays we found on the island’s grocery stores use DEET, so we did not buy it. If that is a concern to you, the best option is to bring a small 3 oz. bottle of bug spray in your carry –on or put it in checked baggage.
Would you recommend the Cayman Islands for a vacation?
Yes, the people are very nice and welcoming, the area is low in crime so one feels safe, the views and water are beautiful, and there are many things to see or just relax.