Grand Cayman is the largest of three islands that make up the Cayman Islands, located south of Cuba and Northwest of Jamaica in the Caribbean. Grand Cayman is about 22 miles long and 8 miles wide at its widest point, about 76 square miles total. The island is also quite flat, unlike most islands in the Caribbean; there are no mountains here. The highest elevation is only 79 feet.
The largest town, which is also the capital, is Georgetown on the west coast of the island. About half of the island’s population lives in Georgetown. This is also where the cruise ships stop, but there is no dock large enough for the cruise ships so they anchor offshore and tender passengers into the town.
We took a trip to Grand Cayman on Feb 11-15, 2009. Although we flew there, and rented a car and hotel room, this is a very popular port of call for many cruise ships on Western Caribbean and some Panama Canal itineraries, and there are so many things to do. We spent the better part of five days exploring the whole island.
So what can you do for fun on this island?
One of the most popular excursions is a trip to Stingray City. You take a leisurely boat ride out to a sand bar where dozens of stingrays hang out and you can swim with them, touch them, feed them, and even have your picture taken holding one of them. Since these trips occur several times each day, the stingrays know they’re going to get fed and always show up. The stingrays bump into you for food, are gritty feeling on top and smooth on the bottom, and they suck the food out of your hand like a vacuum cleaner. It was a very unique experience, one you’ll never forget once you do it. We took this tour during our trip and it was a great day out, actually a half day. This is an experience well worth the price.
If you love hanging out at the beach, swimming, snorkeling, and sunbathing then take an excursion to the world famous Seven Mile Beach, which is actually only about 5.5 miles long. There are a few small reefs just offshore that make great snorkeling stops, or just relax in the sun or take a dip in the beautiful blue-green waters of the Caribbean. There are some restaurants and bars to grab a bite to eat or drink.
Snorkeling and scuba are very popular on Grand Cayman due to all the coral reefs and walls, sunken shipwrecks, caves, etc. offshore from the island. There are supposedly over 200 dive sites and many, many great places to snorkel too. You can arrange scuba or snorkeling tours for the day, or half day, to all parts of the island. You’ll see hundreds of species of colorful fish, turtles, eels, and maybe even some sharks, as well as all the bottom dwelling creatures like sea anemones, starfish, etc.
There is a place called Dolphin Discovery on the island allowing you to swim, play, and interact with the dolphins. This one is very popular with adults as well as children, and another experience you’ll never forget once you do it.
My wife and I love butterfly farms. We’ve been to several in our travels over the years and Grand Cayman has a great one. If you’ve never been to a butterfly house, you’re in for a treat. You walk into a large enclosed area filled with plants where hundreds, maybe thousands, of butterflies fly around freely, often landing on you. When we go, I tend to take lots of pictures so if you’re a nature photo buff like me you’ll have lots of fun.
We also went to the Queen Elizabeth II Botanical Park located in the center of the island. Here you can stroll around the trails among all the plants, trees, flowers, and ponds, and listen to the birds, or sit on one of the benches and watch other people stroll around while you enjoy the scenery. We saw a giant Blue Iguana just taking it easy in one of the gazebos.
At Boatswain’s Turtle Farm in the northwest part of the island, you can see and learn all about turtles. They even let you hold them for a picture. You’ll be able to observe them in all stages of life, from eggs to adults. There is also a lagoon where you can swim with the turtles, a shark tank, a turtle breeding pond, alligator exhibit, and an aviary to explore.
The Governor Michael Gore Bird Sanctuary, known to the locals as “Governor’s Pond”, is a 2.25-acre area visited by over 60 species of birds. Some of the types of birds you may see there include herons, egrets, ducks, sandpipers, terns, pigeons, doves, kingfishers, woodpeckers, vireos, warblers and many others. There are many species of fish and turtles in the pond, and you may also see an iguana or two roaming around freely.
The Mastic Reserve And Trail is a 2.3 miles trail through several different kinds of habitats and a place where you can see all kinds of wildlife on your walk. There are guided tours that take about 3 hours.
Other Things To See:
You can visit Hell while you’re in Grand Cayman. On the northwest of the island there is a place called Hell with strange limestone formations that give the area its name. There are observation platforms to see the formations and take pictures, a gift shop where you can buy all kinds of Hell-related items, wooden cutouts so you can get your picture taken as the Devil, and a post office where you can send a postcard with a postmark of “Hell” to your friends.
The Pedro St James National Historic Site was built in the late 1700’s and was a Great House lived in by the Eden family who farmed the adjacent land. The house has had a varied history as a courthouse, jail, General Assembly building, and restaurant. You can tour the house and grounds which look out over the ocean.
If you’d like to learn about the Cayman Island’s history and culture, visit the National Museum which houses over 8000 items and artifacts related to the Cayman Islands including coins, rare documents, art, natural history exhibits, a 14-foot boat, etc. Some of the items present are permanent and other exhibits change over time.
If you’re a car buff then go check out the Cayman Motor Museum near the Turtle Farm, which houses over 80 classics, exotic, and rare cars including the original Batmobile and Batcycle, Elton John’s 1963 Bentley, a 1930 Phantom Rolls Royce, Ferraris, Maseratis, Corvettes, Jaguars, and Queen Elizabeth II’s first limousine. The museum also has rare photographs, paintings, and local artifacts.
This is not a complete list of everything there is to do in Grand Cayman; there is so much more. With so many things to see, you can easily fill an entire week, and if you’re stopping here for the day on your cruise, you’ll have no troubles filling your time because Grand Cayman has something for everyone.
All images copyright © Eric T. Christensen