1 January 1970

Cayman's enriching Islands

Basking in its global reputation as a leading international financial services centre, the Cayman Islands has an equally well-known and appreciated cachet as a tourist destination; based on its natural beauty, its fame as one of the world’s top dive destinations and its provision of some of the Caribbean’s finest infrastructure and amenities.

Located in the western Caribbean, the Cayman Islands—made up of Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman—is proof positive that size isn’t everything. As one of the world’s largest financial centres, with a concentration of top-quality service providers, these small islands are home to a plethora of some of the world’s largest banks.

Home to about 60,000 people and with a total land mass of 100 square miles, these diverse, cosmopolitan and vibrant trio of islands have been attracting some two million curious or loyal sun-seeking tourists annually, whether by cruise or air.

The Cayman Islands lies just south of Cuba and west of Jamaica, and is a short one-hour flight from Miami and the North American continent. Several American airlines operate direct flights to Grand Cayman from major US cities and the Islands’ national carrier, Cayman Airways, flies directly to Miami, Tampa, New York City, Chicago and Washington DC. Canadian carrier Air Canada offers flights direct from Toronto to Grand Cayman, and WestJet Airlines recently launched its service, also direct from Toronto to Grand Cayman.

Few other sun-kissed islands in the Caribbean can offer the diversity of experiences in one package that the Cayman Islands can. Grand Cayman, the largest of the three islands, offers a bustling, cosmopolitan scene, where several first-rate hotels and numerous condos dot its world-famous Seven Mile Beach.

Within Grand Cayman’s 76 square miles lie not only the financial services and infrastructure that have cemented the Islands’ reputation as a leading offshore centre, but it’s easy to find a wide range of world-class shopping, an eclectic collection of fine restaurants, art galleries, local craft markets, night clubs, and several natural and man-made attractions that ensure there is always something to do and something for everyone.

Affectionately known as ‘the Sister Islands’, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman offer up an unspoilt landscape with stretches of pristine beaches and several intimate resorts and dive lodges set in a tranquil environment. Both islands retain the rare quality of being untouched by major development, but still boasting top-quality, modern amenities that offer a different vacation experience to which loyal visitors return year after year.

Cayman Brac’s 14 square miles of rugged topography, including the elevated bluff that runs through its spine, offer nature adventures including climbing and bird watching for those so inclined—in addition to a choice of white sand beaches.

Little Cayman’s undisturbed 10 square miles also has an abundance of white, sugary beaches, along with miles of untouched vegetation and wildlife such as the rare blue iguana, and is consequently a favourite get-away for naturalists and visitors who relish a true escape.

The Cayman Islands’ credential as a magnet for visitors has been long established—in fact, since the 1950s, when the Cayman Islands began showing off its underwater wonders to dive aficionados. Long recognised as the birthplace of recreational diving in the Caribbean, the Cayman Islands is today rated as one of the top five dive spots around the world.

It is easy to see why. With its number of officially named dive sites expected to grow to 365, the Cayman Islands offers the diverse experiences of its warm waters—pristine coral reefs, breathtaking wall dives, legendary wrecks and visibility that often extends beyond 100 feet. Each of the three islands is surrounded by shallow, environmentally protected coral reefs.

With the absence of major development on Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, their coral reefs teem with marine life perfect for dive exploration. Among Cayman Brac’s popular dive attractions is the 330-foot M/V Captain Keith Tibbetts, a Russian-built Cuban naval frigate, which was sunk off the island’s northwest coast in September 1996.

Little Cayman has earned the acclaim of divers for its famous Bloody Bay Wall and Jackson Point. Bloody Bay Marine Park is one of the world’s truly legendary dive sites—the sheer coral wall begins at 20 feet and plunges to 6,000 feet.

Dive vacationers on Grand Cayman can choose from more than 159 dive sites, both natural and man-made, including steep, deep walls or shallow reefs, and wrecks. Perhaps none is more famous than Stingray City, known as the world’s best 12-foot dive. The latest addition to the man-made sites is set to be the USS Kittiwake, a 251-foot, 2,200-ton diver/submarine vessel, which was decommissioned in 1994 and is to be sunk in the waters off the northern end of Seven Mile Beach in December.

Beyond its beaches and underwater wonders, the Cayman Islands has an array of other seductive offers, including some world-class shopping in the many small, quaint, or modern and expansive storefronts along the George Town waterfront. A casual stroll will connect visitors with some of the best duty-free shops and the widest assortment of luxury goods to be found in a Caribbean port.

If such opportunities don’t offer enough of a vacation allure, then several historical and cultural attractions beckon visitors to learn a bit more about the Islands’ past and present. Significant among them is the well-known Cayman Turtle Farm, a one-of-akind adventure marine park situated on 23 acres, and forming the Islands’ largest land-based attraction. Here visitors can get close to thousands of green sea turtles, which are farmed commercially and to preserve the species.

Towards the eastern end of Grand Cayman, and situated on the dramatic Pedro Bluff overlooking the Caribbean Sea, is another popular site for visitors and residents alike—Pedro Saint James Castle, a great house built in the late 18th century. Throughout the centuries, this structure was used for many activities, including a courthouse, jail and government meeting place. Best known as the ‘birthplace of democracy in the Cayman Islands’, Pedro Saint James was the venue for a meeting on December 5, 1831, at which the decision was made to form the first elected parliament.

Further east, in the district of North Side, lies the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, the only one of its kind in the Cayman Islands. Within its well-kept gardens and woodland trails, the Botanic Park is home to many highly endangered, uniquely Caymanian plants. The Cayman Islands’ rare blue iguanas roam the park, which also houses the Blue Iguana Recovery Programme, which was established in recent times to prevent their almost certain extinction.

The Botanic Park has 10 of the 26 orchid species recorded present on the Cayman Islands. Three of these—including the world’s rarest orchid, the Ghost Orchid—are found nowhere else on earth. Also in Grand Cayman’s eastern districts is the Mastic Reserve & Trail, the largest contiguous area of untouched old growth dry forest remaining on the island. It is a popular hiking trail for nature lovers.

In recent years, and with a concerted effort to enhance its appeal as a destination of choice for discerning travellers, the Cayman Islands has been carefully cultivating a reputation as the culinary capital of the Caribbean. With more than 100 restaurants on Grand Cayman, dining is a smorgasbord of local and international cuisine. Distinctly Caymanian fare such as turtle stew, fish and fritters, and conch fritters, along with Caribbean specialties including jerk and fusions of Caribbean and international cuisine, are presented alongside authentic representations of French, Thai, Italian, Japanese, English, American and even Mexican fare—in everything from elegant five-star establishments to beachfront restaurants and casual diners and eateries.

A signature element of the Cayman Islands’ culinary offering for the past three years has been Cayman Cookout, a four-day gastronomic event of demonstrations, tastings and gala events presented by the Department of Tourism, the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman and Food & Wine magazine, all hosted by celebrity chef Eric Ripert, creator of acclaimed restaurant Blue.

Cayman Cookout has been drawing foodies and a host of celebrity chefs to Grand Cayman, and the next event, to be held from January 13-16, 2011, will feature culinary masters Anthony Bourdain, José Andrés, Rachel Allen, Susur Lee, Michael Schwartz, Charlie Trotter, Food & Wine magazine’s Gail Simmons, and wine and spirits experts Ray Isle, Anthony Giglio, Denis Cakebread and Bo Barrett.

In addition to Cayman Cookout, January 2011 has been designated as Culinary Month, with a series of exciting events and activities that will culminate in the Islands’ national food festival, Taste of Cayman.

First-time and repeat visitors to the Cayman Islands will also warm to its unique culture and heritage, embodied in a wide variety of creative local arts and crafts, festivals and special events. The Islands’ storied past as a place visited by pirates in bygone centuries is colourfully and dramatically recalled in the popular Pirates Week Festival, held annually in November and marked by 11 days of pageantry, street parades, a mock pirates landing in George Town Harbour, costume competitions, heritage day celebrations and fireworks.

In addition to Pirates Week, the Cayman Islands proudly celebrates its national carnival—Batabano—with the vibrancy, colourful costumes, music, dance and street parades that are synonymous with such cultural expressions under a warm Caribbean sun.

For those who know the Cayman Islands as a bustling, reputable place to do business, or as an alluring vacation spot replete with sandy beaches, captivating natural scenery, first-class hotels, abundant restaurants and friendly faces, there is always one constant—time spent under its tropical skies and in its warm waters is a uniquely enriching experience worth repeating time and time again.

The Cayman Islands Department of Tourism website is: www.caymanislands.ky