The Best Things to Do in the Cayman Islands
Whether you vacation on Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac, or wildlife-rich Little Cayman, or spend time on each of the three Cayman Islands, you’ll return home with a near-endless supply of stories. There’s no way to scuba dive by the Bloody Bay Wall, photograph the wonders of Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, or explore the underground Crystal Caves without finding some new favorite experiences. You might even return home with stories of your visit to Hell, a dramatic collection of menacing limestone formations, or of swanning around in the water with the creatures of Stingray City.
1320 W Bay Rd, West Bay, Cayman Islands
While Grand Cayman’s waters harbor legendary coral reefs, there’s another treasure waiting to be discovered below the surface in a marine park off Seven Mile Beach. About 60 feet down rests the intentionally submerged Kittiwake, a historic U.S. Navy rescue ship renowned for—among other feats—finding the long-sought black box from the space shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986. Whether you’re snorkeling above the vessel’s smokestack and main decks or diving into the engine rooms, decompression chambers, captain’s bridge, showers, bathrooms, galley, and crew quarters, the 251-foot Kittiwake makes for a surreal outing. Among other denizens, barracuda, garden eels, horse-eye jacks, and the occasional nurse shark await you there.
Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
Though a relatively new option for tourists, the Crystal Caves of Grand Cayman’s Old Man Bay have been hosting other sorts of visitors since time immemorial: Everyone from bats (who still hang out near the entrance) to farmers (in search of the attendant guano) to pirates (where better to dodge both hurricanes and the law?). Shrouded within a healthy radius of rain forest, these stalactite-and-stalagmite-studded caverns are well worth your visit, too; whether or not you locate the treasure that some of the previous occupants are rumored to have left behind, you’ll find a wealth of natural beauty—especially the reflection of all those formations in the gin-clear rainwater lake.
Rarely do the terms Queen Elizabeth and reptilian breeding ground appear in the same sentence, but at the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park—inaugurated by Her Majesty in 1994—you’ll find a notable exception. Of the countess features to recommend the place, from its riotous gardens to its serene teahouse, perhaps most fun are the residents of its blue iguana habitat—shimmering azure ambassadors who’ll greet you on the paths (and occasionally, in the parking lot, where signs caution you to check for sleeping iguanas under your wheels). Other colorful characters to look out for: the emerald Grand Cayman parrots flecked with crimson (they like to frond-hop overhead) and the various aquatic birds in and around the flower-garden-adjacent lake.
Go to Hell, so named for the underworld-evoking field of jagged, blackened limestone formations that crop up in this tiny Caymanian town, where iguanas handily outnumber human residents. While you’re there, stop into Hell’s Gift Shop to browse the quip-covered stickers, mugs, and T-shirts (HAVING A HELL OF A DAY!), and send loved ones postcards from Hell’s one and only post office. You’ll be greeted by an octogenarian Lucifer, aka Ivan Farrington, who’s been dressing the part for decades—as he’ll happily demonstrate with his 1980-something star turn on Inside Edition (rest assured—he’ll have the tape all cued up in the VCR in anticipation of your arrival).
31026 SMB Seven Mile Beach Royal Watler Cruise Ship Terminal Grand Cayman KY1, George Town, Cayman Islands
Swimming with stingrays may, admittedly, smack of an overly manufactured tourist experience. But the sandbars of Stingray City on Grand Cayman make for such a transcendent outing, you’ll be glad you went for it. As soon as you enter the shallow, transparent aqua, you’ll be surrounded by a most docile and friendly stingray brigade—a fixture ever since anglers began cleaning their daily catch here decades ago. Under the tutelage of a local guide, you’ll get to commune with these gentle giants (best advice: “Hold her like a pizza box”)—or simply spectate from the sidelines if you’d prefer. Either way, consider going early or late in the day to beat the crowds. Red Sail Sports, for one, offers both breakfast and sunset outings.
Rum Point, Cayman Islands
Among vacationers who’ve been coming to Grand Cayman forever, there’s a whole faction that essentially camps out at Rum Point all day every day, and you’ll understand why as soon as you see the place. Tucked away, super low-key, and graced with a ridiculously photogenic pier—its perfectly weathered planks cutting a striking figure against the tranquil, turquoise surroundings—this beach is the ultimate spot for settling into a lounger or hammock between water-sports outings. Rum Point’s namesake booze—which used to wash ashore by the barrel, according to legend—is available in all manner of cocktails here, of course. But order at least one mudslide at its spiritual birthplace: the beach’s beloved Wreck Bar.
The Cayman Islands are filled with renowned dive sites, but the underwater walls off Little Cayman and Grand Cayman are probably the biggest draws for diving devotees from all over the world. Bloody Bay Wall runs parallel to Little Cayman’s shoreline and starts 15 to 20 feet below the surface, dropping to depths that are a matter of some dispute (figures range from 3,000 to more than 6,000 feet). Whatever the bottom point, you’ll find no disagreement over the sheer wonder (emphasis on sheer) of this wall. Vertical forests of fan coral and tube sponges form a Technicolor playground for triggerfish, groupers, eels, rays, and green sea turtles, among others.
Among Cayman Brac’s many natural wonders are its plentiful caves. In fact, you could happily spelunk your way across the island. Start by crawling through the entrance of Nani’s Cave and shine your headlamp or flashlight around to see the incredible formations inside the cavern’s belly. Or enjoy the natural light that floods various openings at the Bat Cave, where vines drape through as if arranged by a genius cave stylist. If you’re feeling daring, wander into the darker corners of the Bat Cave to find the resident black fruit bats, who—chances are—will be calmly sleeping upside-down.
Among the three Cayman Islands, Brac is the most topographically endowed, thanks to its distinguishing feature: the Bluff, a limestone cliff rising along the length of the island and topping out at about 140 feet at the eastern end. Between that and the island’s densely forested interior, the local hiking options have a lot to offer—one of the best cases in point being the Lighthouse Footpath, a trail that runs two and a half miles (one way) along the bluff’s edge and that serves up endless sea views and likely encounters with the absurdly adorable brown boobies and soaring frigate birds. Try to go in the morning or late afternoon, and of course, take along plenty of water: You’re looking at a two-hour outing to the most beautiful of boonies.
Hit Seven Mile Beach, a beautiful and—as the name would suggest—long stretch of shoreline to see why it’s one of the Cayman Islands’ most fabled features. Facing out to sea, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were beholding a life-size Rothko installation, with bands of the palest aqua, the richest cobalt and every gradation of blue-green in between. Also keep an eye out for the schools of fish that sprint along the water parallel to the shore.
Owen Island, Cayman Islands
On the quiet and appropriately named Little Cayman—with a population of 100 to 170, depending on whom you ask—your inner-peace quotient will automatically hit historic highs. For an off-the-charts chill factor, however, borrow a kayak from one of the local hotels and paddle over to the even littler, even quieter Owen Island. Not quite a mile east of Blossom Village, this gorgeous, green, paisley-shaped islet is the ultimate spot for a secluded swim, snorkel, or picnic. But be sure to take everything you’ll need with you: Part of Owen’s charm is the absence of commerce (nary a snack stand)—or human development of any kind.