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Think of the Cayman Islands and what comes to mind? Sun, sea, and sand, obviously. Cruise ships sailing in and out, perhaps. Or Tom Cruise in a motorboat on glamorous location for the movie The Firm – referencing the islands’ reputation as a titan of offshore banking. Sure, there are lots of banks, although you’re not here to see those. You should definitely see Seven Mile Beach, the name handily referencing its impressive length, which is entirely public access and can be walked from one end to the other if you’re so inclined. Most people just pick a spot and settle for a day of sun and surf – the coconut-fringed, powder-soft stretch is often listed as one of the best in the Caribbean and even when those cruise ships are in town (no, not Tom’s) there’s enough space on the sand that it never really feels crowded. But there’s more to these Caribbean coral isles. The British Overseas Territory of the Cayman Islands is made up of three ‘sister’ islands – Grand Cayman, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac. Most places to stay are located on the largest, Grand Cayman, along with that lengthy beach and the capital, George Town, but there’s plenty to explore on the smaller Caymans, especially for lovers of nature both terrestrial and aquatic.
If you love to strap an oxygen tank to your back and get up close and personal with underwater creatures, this is the place for you. The Cayman Islands are surrounded by a wealth of reefs, making them one of the best diving destinations in the Caribbean. Many of the top sites lie only minutes from shore, so you’ve got incredibly easy access to crenelated coral formations, caverns, grottos, tunnels, wrecks, and steep walls, all with excellent visibility.
Little Cayman may be the smallest of the three sister islands, but what it lacks in land mass it more than makes up for in watery wonders. There is excellent diving to be had in the incredibly clear turquoise waters, with more than 50 dive sites around the island, some descending down to depths of 6,000 feet, others basking in the shallows at 20. Bloody Bay Marine Reserve, named after a long-ago battle between Caribbean pirates and the British, lies just offshore and is a favorite of both experienced and beginner divers. The star site is Bloody Bay Wall, where the reef gives way to a drop that plummets to more than 5,000 feet. Fantastic visibility that averages at around 100 feet means it’s easy to spot the local stingrays, turtles, and sharks going about their daily business.
Cayman Brac, the island furthest from Grand Cayman, is also worth the short plane journey or somewhat lengthier boat trip. The Captain Keith Tibbetts wreck is one of the most famous wrecks in the world, being the only diveable Russian warship anywhere in the Western hemisphere. The 330-foot-long former Russian missile frigate was bought by the Cayman Islands government and scuttled in the mid-1990s to create an artificial reef. It’s now home to an array of marine creatures including groupers, scorpionfish, stingrays, barracuda, red soldierfish, angelfish and green moray eels, who meander nonchalantly past two giant cannons that make for excellent photo opportunities.
If you’re happier with your feet planted on solid ground, there’s still plenty of opportunity to meet the Caribbean wildlife here. Managed by the National Trust for the Cayman Islands, The Mastic Reserve on Grand Cayman is designed to protect an area of dry subtropical forest that’s typical to the Caribbean but endangered by deforestation in many areas. Within the reserve, the Mastic Trail is a centuries-old gravel path that was abandoned when the island’s roads were developed but that has been reclaimed and repaired to provide a two-mile hike through forest, palms and mangrove wetlands. Lace up your sturdy shoes and slap on some mosquito repellent before heading out to spot wild orchids, birds, and small animals such as lizards, frogs, and hermit crabs. The National Trust runs guided tours that take two to three hours, or you can pick up a map to hike the trail on your own for free.
A five-minute drive away you’ll find another National Trust highlight, the Grand Cayman Queen Elizabeth II Royal Botanic Park. Opened by the British queen in 1994, it’s a gorgeous place for a stroll, through flower gardens and past lily-smothered ponds with butterflies fluttering by as they launch themselves from their perches on the park’s many orchids – it’s home to four orchid species that cannot be found anywhere else on the planet, including Cayman’s national flower, the wild banana orchid. The QEII Park is also working to protect the endangered blue iguana, and if you’re lucky you’ll bump into one basking in the Caribbean sun or enjoying a promenade around the park. To up your chances of meeting a ‘blue dragon’, sign up for one of the park’s guided tours.
Whether you’re keen to sample the resort delights of Seven Mile Beach or take it easy in laidback Rum Point, Bodden Town or East End, we have plenty of Grand Cayman luxury villas to choose from. Our Grand Cayman beachfront rentals range from boutique hotel spaces with access to facilities such as a fitness room and scuba equipment to villas with spectacular sea views, lush gardens, and private pools. Stake out your spot on a poolside lounger or hammock under the palms, rum punch to hand, and while away a lazy day with a book before firing up the grill as the sun sets for a spicy feast of seasoned snapper and a late-night dip in the bubbling hot tub.