Boasting some of the world’s best underwater dive attractions, a temperate climate year-round (between 60° F and 86° F) and cooling tradewinds, the Cayman Islands is a family of three tropical islands located 150 miles south of Cuba and 180 miles west of Jamaica in the central Caribbean. Like a family, the islands have general qualities that bind them together, but strong personalities to make them each unique.
As the largest of the three islands, Grand Cayman is the social and economic hub. A major player in the world market – it is the fifth largest financial center in the world, with more than 500 banks. Here visitors can have the glitz of the grand hotels on Seven Mile Beach and the high finance and shopping area of its capital city, George Town. But Grand Cayman’s greatest assets may well be its quieter sister islands of Cayman Brac and Little Cayman.
Cayman Brac, the largest sister island is situated 90 miles northeast of Grand Cayman. This island is 12 miles long by just over 1 mile wide. Cayman Brac offers two sides: quiet and adventurous. The west side of the island where the airport is located is flat, while the east offers a steep bluff with a remarkable ancient coral limestone cliff and caves. The caves on this island were reputed to have been used by Edward Teach (Blackbeard) to hide his ill-gotten gains plundered from Spanish ships.
Brac is Gaelic for bluff and aptly identifies the cliff that sores to a massive 42 metres (140 ft.) at the eastern point of the island. Visitors who climb to the top of the Bluff Lighthouse will be rewarded with a breathtaking panoramic view. Five challenging Bluff footpaths, dating back to the mid 20th century, link the north and south coasts. These trails appeal to naturalists, bird-watchers, butterfly experts and botanists, as they allow them to explore intriguing caves and sinkholes high above the water or wander through woodlands filled with exotic flowers and plants. Some 200-bird species can be found here including Frigate birds, brown boobies, owls, peregrine falcons and the rare Cayman Brac parrot.
There are 35 heritage sites on the island consisting of forest, beach walks, bird watching hotspots, caves, hurricane refuges, cliff trails and wetlands.
Nature tourists can make reservations to visit the sites or hike the trails, led by nature guides at the Heritage House and Interpretive Centre at Northeast Bay. The Centre hosts cultural activities, slide shows and talks by visiting naturalists. It is also a great resource for books on natural history and local crafts. The Cayman Brac Museum pays tribute to the early history of this seafaring island.
Fisherman revel in shallow waters filled with bonefish and deeper offshore waters teeming with marlin, dolphin, wahoo and tuna. Hotels can arrange with local fishermen for half or full day fishing excursions.
Snorkelling is best in the Sound between the island’s south shore and the fringing reef. And, of course, Cayman Brac boasts more than 50 different dive sites including a 330-foot Russian warship, MV Captain Keith Tibbetts -- complete with four deck guns, she is the only divable Russian warship in the Western Hemisphere. Additional underwater attractions include two wrecks (Cayman Mariner, a steel tug boat, and the Prince Frederick Wreck, a wooden-hulled, twin-masted schooner said to have sunk in the 1800s); an ancient anchor embedded in a wall; and Oceanic Voyagers, a sculpture of dolphins and stingrays by renowned marine sculptor Dale Evers, which was sunk off the coast of Stake Bay. There is also an abundance of natural gullies, caves and fissures covered in sponges, black coral and sea fans where silverside minnows congregate to make a huge mass of moving fish; and French angelfish, spotfin butterflyfish and a multitude of other marine life are all seemingly unafraid of divers.
Off the shores of Cayman Brac, divers can find one of the most interesting underwater attractions in the Cayman Islands, a replica of The Lost City of Atlantis. Local artist, Foots has sculpted more than 50 pieces and statues that can be found on the Radar Reef, fifty feet deep. Among the statues divers will also see a variety of marine life, including peacock flounder and sea urchins.
The smallest of the islands, Little Cayman is like the quiet younger sibling. Its unique charm is its peaceful, serene atmosphere. This is a “hideaway” for those who relish empty beaches and “getting away from it all”. Although one can rent a car, bicycling is a great way to see this island paradise.
Less than 170 residents inhabit this 10-mile long, nearly flat island. Nature thrives here with indigenous wildlife such as the endangered West Indian whistling ducks, frigate birds, the largest colony of red-footed boobies in the Caribbean at “Booby Pond Reserve,” and wild iguanas. Iguanas are so abundant that “Iguana Crossing” signs have been posted throughout the island. There is even a restaurant near the airport named The Hungry Iguana.
Owen Island, a small islet, located along the south shore is just a snorkel away, over a beautiful blue sound. The island looks very much as it must have done before settlers arrived complete with a glorious sandy beach.
Bloody Bay Marine Park, along the north shore of Little Cayman, offers some of the worlds most spectacular and varied diving experiences. Of the 56 dive sites off Little Cayman, including walls and wrecks, 18 of them are along Bloody Bay and Jackson Walls. Virtually all of the dives are potentially deep dives, with the reef plummeting to 2000 m (6000 ft.). Tangled masses of scarlet rope sponges, eagle rays and coral are common sights in these waters. Other wall hotspots include Eagle Ray Roundup, Nancy’s Cup of Tea, Great Wall West and East, and Fisheye Fantasy, all located on the North Side and starting as shallow as 18 feet.
Little Cayman offers a variety of offshore snorkelling where even beginners will find incredible sites just a few feet off the shoreline. The West Tip and Point O’Sand beach offer great snorkelling with a variety of plant life, coral and tropical fish. This is also a great spot for a quiet picnic lunch.
Little Cayman is one of the top destinations for light tackle and fly fishing, where anglers will find action with bonefish, small tarpon and permit. The 15-acre Tarpon Lake is always filled with small, but feisty gamefish and nature trails are available here as well.