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Grand Cayman
December 6-13, 2001
The Cayman Islands, consisting of three islands—Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac, and Little Cayman—lie just 480 miles south of Miami. The trio, a British Overseas Territory, is a haven of tropical beauty in the heart of the western Caribbean—these three tiny islands promise to delight the adventurous traveler and sun worshipper alike.
Grand Cayman, the largest and most visited of the three islands, is undoubtedly a magnificent vacation destination—highlights such as Seven Mile Beach, Stingray City, Rum Point, the glitzy shopping hub of George Town, and even the depths of Hell keep travelers coming back.
Arriving on Grand Cayman in December of 2001, we set out to explore as much of the island as possible during our stay—we hoped to visit as many of the beaches, snorkel hot spots, and adventure destinations that we could in seven days.
Our home for the week was the affordable Cayman Inn and Resort—located a mere block from Seven Mile Beach, it offered us a comfortable room, swimming pool, and convenient access to restaurants, the beach, and George Town.
After settling into our room, we made a beeline for Seven Mile Beach—just a short walk from our room, this striking stretch of white sand is blessed with magnificent physical beauty. One of the finest beaches in the Caribbean, Grand Cayman’s Seven Mile Beach boasts long stretches of soft white sand interspersed with dramatic ironshore—rimmed with five-star resorts, beach bars, offshore snorkeling, palm trees, and Australian pines known as Casuarina. We spent many hours walking the sand, admiring the view, and basking in the Caribbean sun on this world-class beach during our stay, but Grand Cayman had other highlights beckoning us to explore, so off we went to navigate the island in our rental car.
Snorkeling, one of our favorite pastimes, can be enjoyed from offshore or on a boat excursion on Grand Cayman—underwater Cayman consists of a submerged mountain range lying deep within the 23,000-ft Cayman Trench. Caverns, sink holes, forests of coral, sheer-walled cliffs, shipwrecks, and an abundance of sea life await the traveler who dons a pair of fins and a snorkel in the Caymans—sites like Stingray City, Cemetery Reef, Smith’s Cove, Eden Rocks and Devil’s Grotto, and the Wreck of the Gamma have been delighting snorkelers year after year.
Cemetery Reef, our favorite offshore snorkel site, teemed with an abundance of colorful marine life—only a short swim (20 to 100 yards) from Seven Mile Beach, you will encounter healthy coral and an array of fish such as stoplight parrotfish, queen parrotfish, sergeant majors, needlefish, squirrelfish, butterfly fish, angelfish, glassy sweepers, blue chromis, triggerfish, damselfish, blue tang, snapper, jewfish, filefish, puffers, blennys, wrasse, grouper, and even the occasional turtle, shark, or eel. Near the shore, we also saw flounder, squid, and rockfish.
Other amazing snorkeling stops include Eden’s Rock and Devil’s Grotto, just on the outskirt of George Town, where you enter the ocean via a ladder built into the rock—the entry can be a little rough here, but the things you get to see make it worth the effort. The coral formations alone make this a great snorkel stop, and the reef contains many tunnels, or grottos, where divers swim through the dark caves—the water here is very deep, close to 60-ft, making some of the marine life hard to see unless you are a good free diver. Nonetheless, the fish are everywhere, and the reef is heavily populated with parrotfish munching on the coral and schools of blue tang. We also saw many groups of squid here as well.
Offshore snorkeling on Grand Cayman is definitely impressive, but the underwater highlight of any trip to the Cayman Islands is a boat excursion to Stingray City—located in the shallow waters of the northwest corner of Grand Cayman's North Sound, it sits just inside a natural channel that passes through the barrier reef and consists of a string of sandbars crossing the North Sound from Morgan Harbor to Rum Point.
Stingray City, one of the most famous dive sites in the Caymans, if not the entire Caribbean, is a series of shallow sandbars where wild southern stingrays are found in abundance—visitors can swim with, pet, feed, and otherwise interact with the animals in the shallow (3 to 5 ft deep) waters.
Stingrays, normally shy and solitary creatures, gather regularly at this shallow site where boats cleaned their catch of fish and conch—early in 1986 two dive instructors, Pat Kinney and Jay Ireland, began hand feeding the stingrays in essence taming them for other divers to watch or participate.
Today, several tour operators offer excursions to Stingray City—we went with Stingray City Tours-Capt. Marvin's. The tour included two other stops on the way to Stingray City. The first was at Coral Gardens where you will see many soft coral varieties and even some stingrays, and the second stop was at the Barrier Reef where our guide fed a moray eel! It was a sight to behold as our guide coaxed the huge green eel out from its hiding spot under the rocks. Our next and final stop was the famous Stingray City where you swim, or just stand, among hundreds of stingrays. While interacting with the stingrays, your guide will most likely give you squid with which you can feed the stingrays—their mouths are on the white underside of their body, so you just hold the squid out with your palm flat and they use suction to pull it from your hand, it feels incredible! However, be careful, they can also vacuum up your fingers with that powerful suction—should that occur, don’t worry too much, you will only get a slight hickey. Swimming with the stingrays is an incredible experience—as they come closer, they actually beg for squid by flapping their “wings” which brush up against your body. The feel of the majority of the stingray’s skin is like velvet—the only part of their body that is not soft is a section right down their back that feels like sandpaper.
Despite the fact that the stingrays have the potential to inflict painful damage with their barbed stingers to anyone who mistreats them, most divers and snorkelers are adept at feeding and petting these amazing animals while avoiding injury—indeed, the chances are very slim that you would ever get hurt, so do not miss an opportunity to interact with these graceful rays.
Topside, our exploration of the island led us to many memorable places—George Town, Rum Point, a hike along the Mastic Trail, a visit to the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, beachside parks, roadside jerk stands, and even a stop in Hell proved to be unforgettable highlights.
Magical Rum Point, a picturesque piece of dreamy beach real estate, offers visitors a place to enjoy beachside grill dining at the Wreck Bar, water sports, swimming, snorkeling, and beach bathing in an idyllic setting surrounded by crystal clear turquoise water and towering casuarina trees that sway in the trade winds.
Rum Point, complete with a postcard perfect pier, can be accessed by ferry or car—the ferry trip across the North Sound to Rum Point is just 40 minutes and is a convenient and relaxing alternative to driving.
Leaving the beaches for the interior of the island, we made our way to “The Mountain” via the Mastic Trail and the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park—rugged, off the beaten path destinations that offer a glimpse into the native natural attractions of the island.
A hike along the 2 mile long Mastic Trail, a path that is 200 years old, allows for the chance to experience a fascinating exploration deep into Grand Cayman’s wild interior—an area where the woodland has been evolving undisturbed for the last two million years. The hike will take approximately three hours roundtrip for the 2-mile out and back (4 miles total) and the elevation gain along the trail is almost imperceptible, gaining only 50 feet from the trailhead elevation of 10 feet to the island’s highest point—a 60 foot high mound locally referred to as “The Mountain.”
After completing our trek along the Mastic Trail, we skipped on over to the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park and the Woodland Trail—the perfect place to admire a traditional Cayman home, a floral garden with flowering plants, native birds and other animals, including the rare and endangered Cayman blue iguana.
Next up, a diversion from paradise to the depths of Hell—a group of short, black, limestone formations known as ironshore in the northwest Grand Cayman town of West Bay. Highlights of a visit to Hell include a face to face meeting with the devil— someone dressed in all red and looking suspiciously like the fallen one. You can find the Prince of Darkness at the post office, go figure, where he will greet you with quips such as “Where the Hell are you from?” and “It’s been a Hell of a day”—don’t forget to send a postcard, stamped with “Hell, Grand Cayman”, before leaving!
Caribbean connoisseurs will agree, Grand Cayman is a spectacular destination—from world renowned beaches like Seven Mile Beach to eco excursions along the Mastic Trail, Grand Cayman delivers a top notch vacation.
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