My trip to Grand Cayman coincided with the fun, colourful but slightly surreal Pirate festival and also the very surreal aftermath of the unforgiving hurricane Ivan. Despite the devastation I was struck by the deep warmth and friendliness of the islanders and also how they pulled together to overcome the destruction of their beautiful home, on my trip here it occurred to me other nations could learn a lot from this happy-go-lucky attitude. As well as proud and charming people, this tiny island nestled in the deepest part of the Caribbean also offers so much more.
Firstly I would say if you can, overlap your trip to Grand Cayman with a festival. I promise you won’t be disappointed. Aside from the fun and colourful 10 day Pirate festival in November there are many other annual festivals on Grand Cayman and the surrounding islands. This includes the April Cayfest, this is a celebration of all things Caribbean from local art, to music and dance. Culture and history are immersed in the islanders daily lives and I strongly believe that’s part of the reason how they made such a spectacular recovery from Hurricane Ivan.
The Caymanians are particularly proud of their cuisine, every second or third building is a restaurant or eatery and the food is incredible. You cannot leave the Carribean without sampling their world-famous seafood. My favourite Seafood restaurant was the Cracked Conch, the views of the ocean are unrivalled and they also serve some of the best food in Grand Cayman- from local conch to pan-seared swordfish. The Lobster Pot is also worth a mention, it has long held an outstanding reputation for serving the most delectable local food, from its eponymous lobster to the local Mahi Mahi (dolphin-fish). For those looking for something a bit more traditional there is always The Grand Old House which combines elegance, old world style with a hundred year old reputation for serving excellent international dishes with a Caribbean flair. The English Room harks back to the colonial days, as Grand Cayman was once an English colony and therefore embodies all things quintessentially British with old world charm and opulence.
Georgetown is the capital of Grand Cayman and the best shopping location, however by shopping I mean meandering through local art and craft stores, as many islanders go to neighbouring Miami for shopping centres! The Cayman Craft Market is open almost daily and affords visitors the opportunity to pick up unique souvenir from their trip to the island. However, while bringing home shell jewellery and Caymanian birdhouses are fantastic mementos, no one should leave the island without tasting some of the local rum cake. The Tortuga Rum Company located in Georgetown sells most of the islands rum, coffee and delicious rum cakes, and this should be your first port of call. You should also take advantage of the islands duty-free status in one of the numerous jewellery shops (including Cartier). I also recommend visiting the farmers market where you can pick up jars of local chutneys, spices and sauces to bring a Caymanian flair to your own home cooked meals.
Activities Caribbean style
Grand Cayman is one of the best diving and water sports resorts in the world. Head for Rum Point, historically a smugglers haven but is now adorned with cute little restaurants serving fresh seafood straight off the boat, hammocks and clear turquoise waters-holiday perfection.
Also while here, make sure you take a trip to Hell! Hell is the name affectionately given to the area around the West side of the island where millions of years of erosion have left the landscape with a barren and blackened look. However, in true juxtaposition it’s also one of the most beautiful sites you will see on Grand Cayman.
It would be remiss of me, to talk the Caribbean without mentioning the spectacular beaches. Grand Cayman’s most impressive is Seven Mile Beach, and as the name suggests it’s seven miles of never ending idyllic sandy terrain. It is in fact, the longest beach in the Caribbean and it is the perfect place to take in the amazing views of the ocean and relax after a day’s sight seeing. I would also take a day trip to the sister islands Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, which are each in their own right a little slice of paradise, teeming with stunning natural resources and wildlife.
There is more to Grand Cayman than beautiful beaches and scenery, the island’s history and culture are prevalent and its media reputation for being a haven for corrupt businessmen and bankers is unfair. In the face of the Hurricane Ivan disaster the people of Grand Cayman proved to be a formidable force in themselves and their attitude in the wake of the hurricane is a testament to a nation of who want nothing more than to give visitors a true taste of the Caribbean so they never forgot the surreal yet blissful paradise which is Grand Cayman.