Sea and Sun in Grand Cayman. And Hell
By Tab Hauser
Grand Cayman for many years was known for its banking (about 600 banks and trusts are registered here) and world class diving.
My first visit in 1990 was a dive vacation and many of the people we met at the restaurants and bars were divers.
Back then the beach was not as developed, having only a few hotels.
On our recent visit, in 2017, we found this beautiful beach now backed by a dozen hotels and many condominium buildings.
We also found the majority of the tourists were not there to dive but to enjoy the sunny skies, warm weather, and this perfect beach, Seven Mile Beach.
One reason Grand Cayman has become popular is because of the added flights from many different cities.
Grand Cayman has also become a major cruising destination with five ships anchored off shore on one day of our visit. My recent trip was an easy five-day getaway.
Grand Cayman Island is a British Overseas Territory in the Caribbean Sea. The island is south of Cuba and west of Jamaica.
It is 22 miles long and is shaped like a giant claw with West Bay about to pinch down on Rum Point. Most tourists flock to the hotels and restaurants set on their famed Seven Mile Beach on the west side of the island.
Grand Cayman offers some of the best and easiest accessible diving in the Caribbean. We were pleased to leave New York at breakfast and even happier to have an outdoor lunch a few hours later followed by an offshore snorkel.
Our main purpose for our visit was to dive and we chose Deep Blue Divers for our three days.
I picked Deep Blue Divers because they had quick boats that held a maximum of six people per dive.
Having a quick boat means getting to the dive sites faster. Having only six divers means less wait to get into or out of the water.
We also liked the fact they had a good location in town with their own dock behind it.
Another advantage was their dive times. The two tank dives left at 7:30 AM or 11 AM giving us a choice to sleep late or leave early and have the entire afternoon free.
We found their diving prices to be about average for Grand Cayman. They are also full-service dive shop which includes getting your certification if needed.
For three days we did two tank dives. Getting to the dive sites was a five to ten-minute ride the first two days from Deep Blue
Diver’s dock. The third day had rough seas off Seven Mile Beach so we were driven 10 minutes to the south dock where the boat met us to dive in the calm waters there.
For the first two days, we started with a deep 100-foot dive down a wall that started at 60 feet.
Divemasters always gave a detailed briefing as to where we were going and the depths we were to maintain. No one was pressured to go deep and anyone can stay higher on the wall by following from above.
Second dives averaged 50 feet and went around, in between and above groups of coral. A fun second dive was on the wreck of USS Kittiwake . This submarine rescue boat was sunk off Seven Mile Beach in 2011 intentionally as a dive site.
It was made safe for recreational divers in which no lines or flashlights are needed when swimming through the wreck.
The third day on the south shore we elected to stay shallow with two dives averaging between 40 and 60 feet making our way around and through the coral canyons that rose up to 20 feet.
During our dives we saw nurse sharks sleeping under ledges, turtles, large lobsters, puffer fish, large and small parrot fish, intrusive lionfish, pretty angelfish as well as many other usual pretty tropical fish one sees on a good reef system.
Deep Blue Divers always guided us around and were quick to take our equipment from us when we surfaced and set it up for the next dive making it easy for the guests on board.
A Beach of a Day
Seven Mile beach is the main draw in bringing visitors to Grand Cayman.
If you are a beach aficionado I can tell you that it compares to the beach on Grace Bay in Providenciales or the one in Tulum (except Tulum has a gentle surf).
Seven Mile Beach offers you fine powder sand, calm seas, and perfect swimming temperatures.
Along the beach, you will find places to eat, rent kayaks, Hobie Cats, Wave Runners or arrange a snorkel trip to the coral reef nearby. It is also the best place to enjoy a glowing sunset
Swim With a Stingray
Whether you are a diver or someone who snorkels, consider an afternoon visit to Stingray City. For divers, this area has been called best 12-foot dive in the Caribbean. Here stingrays swarm above and below you as they are fed. Snorkelers are taken to a shallow area to interact with these creatures.
They are impressive to watch as the “fly and glide” underwater. Stingrays living here are wild but are used to human contact.
They do carry a sharp barb in their tail, but injuries are extremely rare and can be avoided if you listen to the tour operator and do what is called the “stingray shuffle” when walking in the sand.
Go to Hell
Tourists in Grand Cayman can go to Hell. Hell is a small area near West Bay.
The name came from oddly and unattractive shaped black limestone formations about the size of a football field.
The story goes that when the island was colonized someone said this is what hell must look like and the name stuck.
Here you will find a few shops selling shirts and trinkets with references to Hell.
You can also mail a postcard postmarked from Hell.
To complete your visit to this area we recommend lunch, happy hour or dinner directly on the water at the Cracked Conch or Macubuca that share the facilities.
Here we watched the sunset and listened to the waves while sipping their unusual rum drinks and enjoying a casual meal of cracked conch and mahi-mahi tacos and a dish of sprats.
While here you can visit the Cayman Turtle Farm next door.
See a Garden
For people with an interest in sightseeing to the east consider a stop the Queen Elizabeth II Botanical Garden . This 65-acre tropical garden has two nature loop trails you can follow. One loop takes about 40 minutes while the other takes an hour.
Each trail passes different gardens and ponds and is a pretty place for a stroll. The garden is known to have the rare blue iguana which we spotted twice.
After visiting the garden you can continue north and the west to Rum Point for the view or east for the drive around and back on the coast.
Our table was directly on the water where we watched the tarpons in the night lights while feasting on creative fish dishes and the finest imported lamb chops.
For the freshest fish lunch on the island go to the outdoor fish market next to Cayman Cabana.
Here we bought a mahi-mahi that came out of the sea an hour earlier. After it was fileted and bagged we walked 50 feet to the restaurant where they simply grilled it and served it.
It was by far our best meal for the money. If you are considering a trip here at the end of January get tickets to
the annual Taste of Cayman as we did.
For $40 you get admission with food and drink tickets.
The Taste takes place in a large field with dozens of restaurants serving two signature dishes from makeshift booths.
Rum and beer suppliers are on hand to quench your thirst.
For entertainment, there is a large stage with premium tribute bands taking turns all night. For those that want to meet the chefs and learn about island cooking, a demonstration tent has events going on all night. www.tasteofcayman.org
The best location to stay is on Seven Mile Beach. Here you will find hotels from moderate to pricey. For our trip, we found a condominium on VRBO.com that worked for us.
It was nice to have more room and a kitchen so we can have breakfast, snacks, and drinks handy.