Sparsely populated, mostly flat and partly marshy, Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman have a corner of the Caribbean all to themselves. The largest island, Grand Cayman, is shaped a bit like the Little Dipper and spans about 45km (25mi) from the lip of the cup on the western end to the tip of the handle on the eastern end. It sits 240km (150mi) south of Cuba and about 290km (180mi) west of Jamaica. Little Cayman and Cayman Brac are 130km (80mi) and 145km (90mi) to the east of Grand Cayman, respectively. They're both about 16km long and 2km wide (10mi by 1mi). The archipelago includes a scattering of uninhabited islets and cays.
What To Do
The Caymans have some excellent beaches, the best known of which is Grand Cayman's Seven Mile Beach. Coral-encrusted trench walls, year-round warm, clear water, and little or no current make the Caymans one of the best places to dive in the Caribbean.
What To See
The Cayman Islands are the granddaddy of dive tourism, and most of the infrastructure revolves around underwater exploration. However, if you're a more dry-land kind of person, or just want a change, check out pirate graves, houses rife with history, and patches of forest lush with orchids.
The closest thing Cayman has to Disneyland – and a firm favorite with kids.The turtle farm is a unique hatchery where green sea turtles are raised from hatchlings to behemoths averaging over 300lb. While protecting wild populations by meeting market demand for turtle products, the farm has, over the years, also released more than 31,000 hatchlings into the waters surrounding the Cayman Islands. Visitors can peer into tanks filled with specimens ranging from babies to massive adults moshing about in their breeding pond. Elsewhere in the complex for those paying the full price you have a huge swimming pool, complete with two waterfalls, a shark and predator tank (feeding time is always fun), a bird aviary, a butterfly grove and ‘Caymanian Street,’ a ye olde Caribbean street where fishermen and craftsmen magically flown in from ‘yesteryear’ tell stories to anyone unable to run away fast enough.
Pedro St James
An imposing waterfront Caribbean great house dating from 1780, ‘Pedro’s Castle’ has served over the years as everything from jail to courthouse to parliament before making the transition to museum. Touted as the Cayman ‘birthplace of democracy,’ it was here in 1831 that the decision was made in favor of a public vote for elected representatives. Just as momentously, this is where the Slavery Abolition Act was read in 1835. The grounds showcase native flora, and there’s a multimedia presentation evoking 18th-century Cayman. It’s 4km west of Bodden Town proper.
National Gallery of the Cayman Islands
Located somewhat incongruously in a mall devoted to duty-free shopping, the work of local artist Margaret Barwick sits alongside other imports. Note: the gallery hopes to move into a new building outside of downtown in 2012.
Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park
A veritable treasure trove for anyone wanting to experience the island’s native species. The park is home to orchids (in bloom late May through June), parrots and other birds, and nature trails.The real star here (or should we say stars?) is the Blue Iguana Recovery Program. A resounding success in bringing the iconic local lizard back from the abyss, the program offers tours of the breeding pens and other areas where the iguanas are encouraged to do what iguanas do.
Seven Mile Beach
Although it’s really only 5½ miles long, this gorgeous strand of flawless white sand stretches north from George Town and anchors Grand Cayman’s tourist industry. It’s perfectly maintained, features shady trees in parts and is untrod by vendors. Open sand can get scarce near large resorts but the sheer size of this beach means there’s always a place to call your own. Public access is common, although one large area called ‘Seven Mile Beach’ features plenty of parking, shops, beach bars and more. It’s the top destination for day-trippers.
Grand Cayman's answer to Carnival is Batabano, a weekend of costumed hedonism and hangovers held around Easter. The local equivalent on Cayman Brac is known as Brachanal, held a week after Batabano. Celebrated on all three islands is Pirate's Week, a 10-day party at the end of October that features fireworks, mock battles and assorted skulduggery, and gives bankers, barworkers and locals the chance to break out the gold earrings, eye patches and stuffed parrots. The Cayman Islands International Fishing Tournament is a month-long fishing tournament every May-June where locals and visitors test their skills against one another and the fruits of the sea. Hefty cash prizes are doled out for record breakers.