Situated 125 km to the east are the sister islands of Little Cayman and Cayman Brac.
GRAND CAYMAN: We found Grand Cayman to be unlike any other Caribbean island with an almost 0 % crime rate due in part to the highest standard of living in the West Indies. In addition, we discovered a lovely country with a profuse array of tropical foliage and quiet, unspoiled areas.
We decided that the best way to see the countryside was to rent a car (jeeps and scooters are also available). The roadways leading out of George Town, the capital, are in good condition and the drivers are, for the most part, courteous. The initial shock of maneuvering a right-hand drive car on the left side of the road soon wore off, especially once we learnt not to signal a turn by pushing down on the windshield wipers control.
Exploring the relatively small island from West Bay to the east end was relaxing and enjoyable. Another route of discovery we enjoyed was aboard the Atlantis submarine. From the air-conditioned comfort of the vessel, we explored the shimmering coral reefs where fluorescent tropical fish and gliding tortoises could be observed along the famous Cayman Wall. Actually, turtles are very important in the Caymans as it is home to the only green turtle farm in the world, located not far from George Town. For a nominal fee, we strolled alongside display tanks that housed turtles from newly hatched babies to huge adults crawling up to warm themselves on the sand. Also in the west end, near the Turtle Farm, is Hell. This spot is named in part due to the jagged outcropping of black ironstone surrounded by lush tropical vegetation. A favourite activity is sending a post card back home from the Hell post office.
On the eastern end of the island we found the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park. The wide walkways were lined with an impressive collection of native plants and local animals, such as the endangered Blue Iguana, protected within the park.
But the most exciting adventure on the east end was beyond Old Man Bay at Rum Point. It is here that Red Sail Sports took us by boat a kilometre off shore to Stingray City. Donned in snorkel gear, standing waist deep in the translucent water of the sandbar we were welcomed by dozens of stingrays that wrapped themselves like tablecloths around our legs. Ducking into the water, we came face to face with tiny babies and large adult stingrays. Effortlessly, these fluttering creatures glided around and over us like huge pieces of black velvet. Carefully we slid our hand along their bodies and held food gently between our fingers to have it instantly sucked away by a passing shadow. This was an experience not to be missed and surely never to be forgotten.
Other notable tourist attractions include Pedro's Castle, Bodden Town and the Pirate's Caves. In George Town, be sure to visit the fascinating National Museum, the Treasure Museum on West Bay Road, and the collection of shops downtown. With plenty of imported duty-free goods and no sales tax, it is a buyer's haven. Luxury items such as fine China, watches, cameras and perfumes tend to be offered at better prices than on many other islands. A local product that should accompany you home is the deliciously moist Tortuga Rum Cake.
Accommodations tend to be a bit pricey in The Caymans, especially along the beautiful Seven Mile Beach (which is actually only 5 1/2 miles long). On the upper end of the market are resorts such as the Grand Pavilion, Hyatt Regency and the Westin Casuarina Beach Resort. More modest properties include the Holiday Inn and Sleep Inn. Many visitors prefer to stay in apartments and condos in order to keep their costs in check. One of the oldest such operations is London House. For a more economical experience, select a small inn or B&B.
LITTLE CAYMAN: Island Air flies from Grand Cayman to Little Cayman, 125 km away. Most visitors take advantage of special one day excursion fares. The beaches on Little Cayman are nearly deserted and the island is beautiful, unadulterated and pristine. The small twin-engine airplane lands on a grass runway (mowed by some of the 50 or so locals if the airport's lawn mower isn't working) with its tiny terminal/post office across the roadway. The first thing we noticed was the road sign beside the airport: "Iguanas have the right of way - Drive Slowly". If you don't mind roughing it a little bit, take the day long tour with Chip McCoy in his sightseeing truck. While you will find the roads bumpy (especially as you are sitting on wooden benches), he does have a cooler filled with cold beer and soft drinks. Chip takes visitors to Booby Pond Animal Sanctuary, snorkeling from a deserted beach along East Point, a speed boat trip to even more remote Owens Island and after lunch more snorkeling at Bloody Bay Wall where you might see Molly, the 3.5 m mantaray.
There are several small dive and vacation resorts on Little Cayman for people who really want to get away from it all for this is the Caribbean as it was many years ago.
CAYMAN BRAC: Island Air makes the 15 minute flight (half of this time is take off and landing) from Little Cayman to Cayman Brac, which fourteen hundred "Brackers" call home. Known to have some of the best sights in the Caribbean, the main activity on the "Brac" is scuba diving. But this 19 km long island is more than a prime diving centre. Starting at the white sand beaches on the west end, the cliff or brac slowly increases in elevation to 45 m. at the lighthouse atop the bluff on North East Point. Once a hide-out for pirates, like Black beard, the network of limestone caves that honeycomb the cliffs now hold friendly sleeping bats rather than buried treasure. A visit to one of the several craft shops on the island is also a must as is the Parrot Reserve on the way to the lighthouse.
There are a number of resorts on Cayman Brac. For both diving and vacationing, Divi Tiara Beach Resort is a great location as is nearby Brac Reef Beach Resort. Both have quality accommodations and excellent dining rooms.
From Cayman Brac, visitors may fly back to Grand Cayman on Island Air or the national flag carrier, Cayman Airways, which uses 737 jetliners.
CAYMAN SUCCESS: Financially, offshore companies and banking have contributed to the wealth of the country. The secret to the tourism success - even in the low summer season - lies mainly in the quality of life that exists on the islands and the courteous nature of the locals. Visitors are assured of a cheerful destination free from hassles on the beach or the street. Add in powdery stretches of sand, plenty of exciting activities coupled with a feeling of safety and security and you have the perfect ingredients for a super vacation. While most of the other Caribbean islands can offer cheaper deals, they can't match the superior level of quality that such a high standard of living brings.
by Dave Stephens and Susan Randles
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Cayman Islands Tourism: 416-485-1550 (Toronto)
Documents: Passport preferred (birth certificate and photo ID accepted).
Currency: One Cayman dollar equals US$1.25. Several Canadian banks have branches in George Town and some ATMs are available.
Dress: Casual although a bit reserved due to the British influence.
Air Travel: Suggest Air Canada to Miami then Cayman Airways to Grand Cayman or American Airlines/American Eagle flies to Grand Cayman via Miami. Island Air connects Grand Cayman, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac (1-345-949-5252). Departure Tax - CI$18 or US$10.
Car Rental: Suggest CICO-Avis. The office is across the street from the airport terminal (1-345-949-2468).
DAVE STEPHENS and SUSAN RANDLES, a married couple living in Halifax, are professional
travel writers and photographers. Their articles and photographs have appeared in many
newspapers, magazines, guide books, and web sites.
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