Rising from the underwater Cayman Ridge to form the trio of large islets that are the Cayman Islands, this archipelago territory of Britain’s has become synonymous with high-living, money and luxury and is a popular destination among the Caribbean Islands.
That’s largely thanks to the booming wealth of cities like George Town, known the world-over as a tax haven and coming laden with the offices of global corporations and big business names.
However, this tropical land is about much more than just percentages and millionaires.
Take picture-perfect Little Cayman, with its fringes of coconut palms popping up straight from the pearly sands and the seemingly endless coral reserves of Bloody Bay.
Or, look to far-flung Cayman Brac: a rugged enclave of bluffs and escarpments that drops to the Caribbean in walls of mangrove and salt-sprayed stone.
Much-trodden Grand Cayman is the real draw though, complete with legendary Seven Mile Beach, the stingray haunts around Rum Point, oodles of pretty coves and endangered sea turtle centers alike.
Let’s explore the best things to do in the Cayman Islands:
1. Enjoy seven miles of sand on Seven Mile Beach
A regular mention on lists of the world’s best beaches and the veritable touristic kingpin of the Cayman Islands as a whole, shining, shimmering Seven Mile Beach is a lesson in all things tropical paradise.
It runs almost the whole length of western Grand Cayman, from the fringes of George Town in the south to West Bay in the north.
For the whole way, visitors can enjoy pearly talcum-powder sands and aquamarine shore waters, backed by lanky coconut palm groves and packs of sunbeds and cabanas that spill out from the nearby resort hotels.
Watersports are popular too, while the sea is so clear that snorkelers and swimmers will have no trouble finding those exotic schools of fish and multi-coloured coral plants!
2. Join the millionaires in George Town
Long grouped with the likes of Switzerland and Panama as one of the world’s major havens for hedge funders and banking conglomerates eager to minimise their global tax bill, the small and colourful capital of the Cayman Islands is a veritable must-see.
The harboursides lining the Grand Cayman port form the center of the action, with rows of pastel-painted buildings and pseudo-colonial builds looming on the edge of the waters.
Nearby, the sporadic remnants of Fort George bely tales of 18th-century colonial times, while oodles of duty-free emporiums touting Caymanite stones and chic wine bars frequented by cruisers and millionaires thread along the streets all around.
3. Cayman Spirits Co. Distillery: bespoke rum at its best
There’s nowhere better on the sun-splashed Cayman Islands to sample real Caribbean rum than at the Cayman Spirits Co. Distillery.
A relatively recent addition to the line-up of attractions in George Town, the brewers here only started cooking up their bespoke batches back in 2008. Oh, how far they’ve come! Now the most iconic rum label in the archipelago, they invite travelers to the distilling house on Bronze Road to take tours of the factory rooms where that much-loved Seven Fathoms tipple is created.
The tour guides are known for their lively, friendly vibes, and there are chances to sample shots and mixers at the end – don’t worry!
4. Check-off the bucket list at Stingray City
Perhaps the single most popular activity and attraction in all of the Cayman Islands, Stingray City is your chance to start checking-off the bucket list.
Visitors are taken out to a series of shallow reefs and sandbars that go to just a meter’s depth between Rum Point and West Bay on the northern fringes of Grand Cayman.
The spot has been a known gathering point for southern stingrays for decades, while today tour providers offer a chance to get up-close-and-personal with the iconic Caribbean creatures.
Patrons can pet and swim with the animals underwater, all whilst enjoying beautiful views of the Carib Sea and Booby Cay.
5. Follow the Mastic Trail
Cutting its way deep into the heartlands of Grand Cayman, through the vast protected landscapes of the Mastic Reserve, the Mastic Trail offers a fine introduction to the rawer and more natural side of this archipelago.
Surrounded by sweeping mangroves and wetland swamps, endless pockets of palm trees and black mastic forests, hikers on the route traverse more than four kilometers of the island’s hinterland.
Along the way they’ll see slinking lizards and some uber-rare bird species, like those Cuban amazons, the Yucatan vireos and beautiful white-crowned pigeons.
Don’t forget the hiking boots!
6. Wonder at the rocks of Hell
Just a short jaunt away from the fire-red post offices and souvenir shops of Hell town (where the locals have found a way to embrace their municipality’s less-than-pious name) is where the great rock fields that first gave the area its unsavoury moniker sprout from the ground.
A football pitch-sized space of dagger-like spires and hoodoos is what’s on the menu; a dash of rare phytokarst formations that’s been decorated with demonic mannequins.
Crossing the rocks themselves is not allowed, but there are a series of viewing platforms on offer to eager visitors.
7. Enjoy local company and local flavours at Big Tree BBQ
Run by perennially-smiling local Caymanian Henry Harris, the Big Tree BBQ on Gun Bay in eastern Grand Cayman might look like little more than an ad hoc garden cook-up.
But the sizzling meat cuts, marinated ribs, juicy steaks and legendary conch stews that can be found bubbling and broiling on the grills here have actually become nothing short of legendary on the culinary line-up of the islands.
They are hearty and filling and come in huge portions, all served up in the shade of a colossal green tree.
It’s simply a must-try!
8. Dive down to the Kittiwake Shipwreck
Only licensed dive operators can lead groups down into the underwater depths where the USS Kittiwake was finally laid to rest back in 2011.
One of the most striking SCUBA diving sites in the archipelago, it’s an enticing relic of the United States navy that’s slowly being consumed by the sea vines and seaweed, the corals and marine life of the Caribbean.
Recently, photographic exhibitions were installed on the submerged vessel to commemorate an anniversary of its decommissioning, adding yet another attraction to the artificial reefs here and helping to make the Kittiwake unquestionably one of the top dive sites in the region.
9. Snorkel and sleep at Rum Point
Replete with swinging hammocks and salt-sprayed beach huts, shady pine groves and palm-topped seaside spots, Rum Point and its sandy coves and craggy shores pokes its way out of the northern tip of Grand Cayman.
Away from the more popular stretches of George Town and sunny Seven Mile, this one’s always nice and quiet (largely thanks to its distance from the popular cruise ship ports of the capital!). That means there are plenty of chances to kick back with a rum punch and watch the world go by, while the coral gardens that line the shore are also uber-popular with snorkelers and travelers eager to meet sea turtles and schools of rainbowfish.
10. Bloody Bay Marine Reserve
The second of the Cayman Islands’ world-famous dive sites to make this list comes in the form of the Bloody Bay Marine Reserve.
This vast area of deep sea and coral blooms that hugs the coastlines of untrodden Little Cayman is amongst the most coveted SCUBA spots on the globe.
It’s got shallow dive locations just 20 meters below for those PADI hopefuls, while more experienced divers can expect to find the likes of rare sponges and the sheer-cut Bloody Bay Wall, dropping vertically for thousands of feet to the ocean floor.
Get ready for nurse sharks, sea turtles, sea lions and lionfish folks!
11. Wax the walking boots for Cayman Brac
Cayman Brac is the furthest-flung of the major Cayman Islands and a veritable mecca for hikers and outdoorsy types.
Much less developed and less popular than both Little Cayman and Grand Cayman, the narrow slither of land is famed for its rugged 50-meter-high bluff, rising in craggy stone walls along its coast.
Unsurprisingly, the hiking is top-notch.
Trails weave around the sugary beaches of Cotton Tree Bay and up to the sinkholes and crevices that pepper the bluff itself.
Other routes ring the mangroves and pass beach shacks along Spot Bay in the east.
Yep, little Brac really is a treasure trove for traveling trekkers!
12. Get some local history at Pedro’s Castle
Believe it or not, this charming manor house, set midway between Bodden Town and George Town on the southern edges of Grand Cayman, is actually the oldest extant building on the entire Cayman archipelago.
That makes it a prime place to come for a fix of local history, especially considering its prestigious National Historic Site status.
Now fully restored and imbued with pretty verandas and some of its original 18th-century stonework, the spot has played important roles in the development of democracy on the islands, and was where the abolition of slavery decree was first announced.
Regular tours are run by qualified guides.
13. Cayman Turtle Farm: crocs and green sea turtles aplenty
For a glimpse at some of the rarest and most awesome marine life native to the Cayman Islands and the greater Caribbean, be sure to head for the ponds and pools of the Cayman Turtle Farm.
This small conservation, entertainment and research center close to the westernmost point of Grand Cayman has everything from endangered green sea turtles to saltwater crocodiles in it exhibitions.
Visitors get the opportunity to pet turtles in the touch tanks, see the famous loggerhead and even swim in the island’s largest outdoor swimming pool – the farm’s so-called Breaker’s Lagoon.
14. Get some fish fritters at the Heritage Kitchen
Housed in a flamboyant and very Caribbean hut towards the northern end of Seven Mile Beach, the lively and much-loved Heritage Kitchen is one of the go to places for fresh fish and fish fritters on Grand Cayman.
Simple and hearty, the local seafood is served up straight from the grill, packed with spicy flavours or sprinkled with just a dousing of crunchy salt and sides of rice and salad.
Specialities include the pan-fried grouper, fish soups, curried and coconut wahoo and pineapple-topped fish fillets.
A couple of warnings: credit cards aren’t accepted and there’s pretty much nothing for the veggies!
15. Wonder at Davidoff’s Concrete Sculptures
Colossal concrete crabs and blue-hued stone iguanas the size of a horse, octopuses with eight legs akimbo and oversized reclining lizards are among just some of the weird and wonderful creations to be found within Davidoff’s Concrete Sculpture Garden.
Located on the northern side of Grand Cayman, about midway between the east coast and Rum Point, the quirky little art park is an unexpected addition to the shoreline, peppering the sandy banks below the palms around Old Robin Road.
It’s all the creation of local David Quasius, who’s been adding the large and thought-provoking statues to the spot for years.