The turquoise water and blue skies of Grand Cayman.
Sometimes you just need to take a quick trip with a reasonable price tag — and that's exactly what the island of Grand Cayman delivers. At 76 square miles, Grand Cayman is the largest island of the three Cayman Islands — and is a popular destination for beach lovers and scuba divers alike. It offers a combination of relaxing beaches, an abundance of activities, affordable accommodations and direct flights for a quick and easy getaway.
Getting there — You will need a passport and will fly into Owen Roberts International Airport. Several airlines offer non-stop service or flights with minimum layovers. The airport code is GCM.
Language — Locals speak English, but you'll find lots of different dialects from one side of the island to the other.
Getting around — I always prefer to rent a car when I am somewhere new — it gives me the freedom to explore and discover places I would otherwise miss. They drive on the left side of the road, which can be awkward if you haven't done it before. We had a few hiccups where our driver got in on the passenger side and vice versa, but the mix-ups kept us laughing the entire trip. If you aren't comfortable renting, there are plenty of taxis and public buses to help you get around. (Most short distance bus rides are $2 per person.)
Tip: I always use Ebates when I am renting a car, because I get a decent amount of money back. Use this code to get cash back on your next rental.
Money — The official currency used on the island is the Cayman Island dollar, but the American dollar is accepted everywhere.
Water — The water is safe to drink.
Cell phone use — You'll need an international calling plan to make phone calls or use a map to get around the island without an internet connection. Download the WhatsApp to call or text for free while you're on WiFi. (I keep the app on my phone to call my friends in Bermuda and Canada.)
Electronics — You won't need a converter for your electronics if you're traveling from the U.S.
Cruises — The island can get a bit crowded when cruise ships dock — keep up with the port's docking schedule during your trip to avoid running into crowds at popular tourist spots.
What to Do
From swimming with sting rays and searching for starfish — Grand Cayman offers plenty of spectacular sights to see and countless activities to keep you entertained.
Blow Holes — Honestly, my friends and I discovered the blow holes by accident while driving to another destination. There was a tiny roadside sign that caught our attention and made us curious enough to turn around — and I am so glad that we did! It's truly remarkable to see the impressive force of the ocean waves blasting through the coral coves, sometimes reaching 10-12 ft. in the air.
One of the extraordinary blow holes we found while exploring Grand Cayman.
Cayman Spirits — Get a true taste of the island with a Cayman Spirits Co. distillery tour, where you'll get to explore the only distillery on the island, learn about their unique ocean-aging process — they sink their rum casks in the ocean and let the sea currents turn the alcohol — and taste four of their handcrafted spirits. Tours typically last 30-40 minutes and tickets are $15.
Cayman Turtle Farm — Get up close and personal with some of the largest sea turtles in the world at the Cayman Turtle Farm — a few of the turtles even weigh over 500 lbs! Guests can swim with the massive tortoises in the farm's lagoon, or, if that's a little too close for comfort, you can always visit the Turtle Touch Tanks and Wading Pools, where you can touch and even pick up smaller turtles. Tickets start at $45 for adults and $25 for children.
Private Boat Charter — Schedule a trip with Charter Cayman for an affordable private charter. Captain Wayne and his crew are phenomenal. We enjoyed having the entire boat to ourselves (instead of being on a crowded boat) and chose to go to two destinations on our trip (you can decide how to spend your day aboard the boat) — Stingray City and a coral reef near Rum Point to snorkel. Once we arrived at the sandbar to swim with the rays, Wayne coached us on how to properly approach the gigantic stingrays and showed us how to feed them. He also made sure to give each one of us an ample amount of time to hold the rays and take plenty of pictures — he even brought the food to feed the stingrays. Another perk of the charter was being able to pack our own lunch and booze! Quite a few mimosas were enjoyed throughout the day. This little luxury cruise was truly the highlight of the entire trip and I cannot recommend it enough.
Anchored at Sting Ray City. Image: Charter Cayman
My travel crew and Captain Wayne holding a stingray that's bigger than all of us put together.
Rum Point — As one of the island's most popular destinations (and Instagrammed locations), Rum Point is an absolute must-visit while you're visiting Grand Cayman. Plan to spend an entire day at the point — where you can lounge around in a hammock, snorkel to your heart's content, or drink the day away at the beachfront watering hole, Wreck Bar. Take some time to walk around and explore — you'll find all sorts of hidden coves.
Rum Point has everything you could need for the entire day.
Scuba Dive — Whether you're new to scuba diving or an experienced diver, Grand Cayman offers something for everyone — boasting some of the most popular Caribbean dive sites in the world with over 360 options to choose from. Divers can expect to see tons of colorful corals and exotic marine life. Click here for a comprehensive list of dive sites.
Seven Mile Beach — Put Seven Mile Beach at the top of your to-do list. Considered one of the most popular beaches in the Caymans it's both picturesque and pristine, with calm waters that are ideal for swimming and coastline views that stretch for miles. (If you've ever seen a picture of Grand Cayman it was more than likely taken at Seven Mile.)
Shop — Shopping on vacation is always a good idea — you never know what you'll find along the way. For high-end shopping visit the island's capital, George Town, where you'll find luxury brands and plenty of glamorous jewelry stores — all of which are duty free. Camana Bay is another great place to shop with several retailers and local boutiques, as well as a weekly farmers and artisan market.
Tip: Every Wednesday through Saturday Camana Bay offers a free shuttle service that will pick you up from your hotel or condo if you're staying on Seven Mile Beach.
Smith Cove — The cove is a tranquil beach retreat that's off-the-beaten-path and free of crowds — you'll typically only find locals and a handful of tourists who know about it. With jagged cliffs and lots of shade trees to relax under, it's truly a hidden gem for anyone looking for a low-key day at the beach. (During our visit the water was rougher at Smith Cove than Seven Mile Beach, but other travelers said it's typically calm and clear enough for snorkeling.)
Tip: You'll need to bring your own chair or towel to sit on — there's no where to rent them at Smith Cove. Pack a few snacks or a picnic and spend the entire day.
Snorkle — Like scuba diving sites, there's no shortage of amazing places to snorkel around the island. The clear, calm water provides ideal conditions and the tropical fish and vibrant coral give you plenty of sights to admire. Click here for a list of snorkel sites.
Starfish Point — Starfish Point is another MUST for your Grand Cayman itinerary. Located on the North Shore of the island, the point is secluded and undeveloped with beautiful palm trees and clear, shallow water, making it easy to find plenty of starfish. There were so many hanging out around the shore, we lost count! Most were as big as our hands, if not bigger. You can drive to Starfish Point on your own (there is no admission) or visit on a boat excursion (prices will depend on tour company).
Tip: Take some snorkel gear to explore. Make sure you keep the starfish underwater if you touch them. You don't want to disturb their natural habitat.
A few starfish we found underwater at Starfish Point. I love how the sun caught the ripples in the water!
Stingray City —For an absolutely unforgettable experience, swim with gentle giants as they skim across the ocean floor at Stingray City — a small sandbar off the coast of Grand Cayman with clear, waist-deep water. You'll get to interact with the massive rays — who will come right up to you — and even get to hold one or two. (You'll laugh, but they feel like slippery balloons.) To reach Stingray City you will need to charter a boat or book a trip with a local tour company.
Side note: I won't lie, when you first get into the water it is a little intimidating when the rays bump into you, but you'll quickly realize just how tranquil they are and will start to relax — remember, they're used to being around people.
Where to Eat & Drink
While you're visiting Grand Cayman you'll want to try the local cuisine, which is mostly fresh seafood and traditional Caribbean fare with some Jamaican influences like flavorful jerk seasoning. Here are a few of the island's restaurants that really stood out:
Bar Jack — Located at the Ritz Carlton, Bar Jack, is a beachside restaurant with a front row view of the ocean and the perfect vantage point to watch the sun go down. The menu has a wide array of options, from a gourmet grilled cheese (YUM) to shrimp tacos. Order one of their famous creamy pina coladas and save room for a piece of their homemade rum cake with pineapple.
Calypso Grill — Dine alfresco at Calypso Grill located at Morgan's Harbour in West Bay. The restaurant's deck sits directly on the water, with unbeatable views and the calming sound of waves rolling in. Calypso had popped up in our research several times and was highly recommended — it did not disappoint. The Lobster and Shrimp Champagne – lobster tail, removed from the shell and sautéed with shrimp, in a champagne cream sauce — was my favorite meal of the entire trip. The lobster was cooked perfectly and the shrimp were the size of my palm! The staff was extremely helpful and attentive — and graciously served our group limoncello to celebrate our first time on the island. It is definitely worth making the trip to West Bay.
Tip: Save room for dessert — the restaurant is famous for their Sticky Toffee Pudding.
Catch Restaurant & Lounge — Catch is also located in West Bay (right across from Calypso), which was quite a haul from where we were staying. We decided to kill two birds with one stone, while we were in the area by visiting both Catch and Calypso — grabbing drinks and appetizers at Catch before heading to Calypso for dinner. I'd highly suggest doing the same to avoid making the long trip twice. The crispy octopus with red pepper sauce was a personal favorite and the restaurant's laid-back, tropical ambiance provides the perfect setting for a fun evening out.
Foster's Food Fair — It's always important to know where to find the local grocery store — you never know when you might need to buy snacks, bottled water or some Advil. Foster's is easy to navigate and carries just about everything from fresh seafood to decadent baked goods.
Tip: I'm always on the hunt for awesome products to bring home from other countries — thanks to recommendations of several locals, I discovered Benjamins Healing Oil, which can be used to help with headaches, bug bites, sun burn, stomach aches.... basically, it will cure just about anything. I found it on the pharmacy isle at Foster's and bought two bottles, because I use it so much. It has a strong medicinal smell, but gets to work immediately on any ailment.
Use the Benjamins for any sort of aches or pains! It's a miracle worker.
Royal Palms — Drop into Royal Palms located on Seven Mile Beach for the best mojito you've ever had! You'll also want to swing by if you're looking for a little nightlife on the island — the bar comes alive with live music and a dance floor.
Wreck Bar — Grab lunch at the Wreck Bar on Rum Point and enjoy a bite to eat at one of the colorful, oceanside picnic tables. Make sure you order a tropical cocktail off the drink menu that has all sorts of refreshing options including mudslides, several flavorful daiquiris and coladas.
Tip: Order the conch fritters with the Wreck's popular jerk mayo — you won't be disappointed.
Enjoying a few cocktails at Rum Point.
Where to Stay
My friends and I rented a two bedroom Airbnb right on Seven Mile Beach that was extremely convenient to everything and we could not have been happier — but there are some incredible hotels on the island to choose from, as well. Here are a few to help get your research started:
Caribbean Club — Consider the Caribbean Club if you prefer to stay at smaller resorts. The charming boutique hotel is conveniently situated on the famed Seven Mile Beach with 37 private suites and villas to choose from — giving guests a traditional resort experience without the hassle of crowds.
You won't have to wake up at the crack of dawn to beat the crowd for a spot on the beach at the Caribbean Club! Image: CC
Ritz Carlton — You can expect nothing less than the best at any Ritz property and the Grand Cayman Ritz is no exception. The luxury hotel sits directly on Seven Mile Beach and has everything you could ever dream of on-site. Spanning 144-acres the resort encompasses a spa, two outdoor pools, a waterpark, nine-hole golf course, six restaurants and outdoor cabanas.
The Westin — Also located on the shores of Seven Mile Beach, The Westin Grand Cayman, offers guests upscale accommodations, luxurious amenities like their signature heavenly beds and private beach cabanas for ultimate relaxation. The recently renovated property also features the largest freshwater pool on the island and a swim-up bar — for those of us who don't want to get out of the water.
Tip: They have live webcams so you can feel like you're already at the resort without leaving your home. Click here to check them out.
Now this looks like paradise! Image: The Westin Grand Cayman
Whether you're looking for a peaceful getaway to soak up the sun or a trip full of exciting and unique activities, Grand Cayman is ideal for a quick and easy vacation.
Click here for 'Four Reasons You Should Stay on an Island Instead of Cruising'.
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