The irresistible combination of almost-guaranteed sunshine, one of the world's most beautiful beaches, and the Caribbean's best scuba diving and snorkeling has permanently anchored Grand Cayman on the tourist map.
Grand Cayman has a number of smaller beaches, but its so-called Seven Mile Beach (actually 8.9km/5 1/2 miles) is the major attraction, with its vast expanses of powdery white sand. Unlike the beaches on some islands to the south, such as Jamaica, Seven Mile Beach is litter-free and also relatively free of peddlers hawking souvenirs.
The beach is so big that there's always plenty of room for everybody, even in the midst of the winter tourist season and at the peak of the cruise ship arrivals. Most of Grand Cayman's hotels, restaurants, and shopping centers are found along this much-frequented strip of sand. Many scuba-diving and watersports outfitters are also based here.
Along with swimmers and beach buffs, scuba divers travel to the Cayman Islands in droves from around the world. As diver Bob Soto -- who opened the first dive shop in the Caribbean back in 1957 -- puts it, "If there's any spot on the planet that God created just for divers, it is Grand Cayman." One-third of all visitors to the Cayman Islands come specifically to go scuba diving or snorkeling.
The Cayman Islands proudly boast more than 200 named and explored dive sites. Some of the most dramatic dive sites have not been thoroughly explored (and unfortunately aren't on the itineraries of most outfitters), owing to the massive coral reefs and drop-offs that surround all three Cayman Islands. Dive outfitters are familiar with the best of the accessible dive sites and will guide you to what interests you the most. The Cayman Islands have the most reliable outfitters in the Caribbean, complementing the Islands' reputation as one of the world's greatest scuba-diving destinations.
Even if you're not a scuba diver or snorkeler, you'll find many other attractions on the water, including fishing, boating, and windsurfing. If you're a landlubber, there's always golfing and horseback riding. But most landlubbers never seem to leave Seven Mile Beach.
Note: Some outfitters quote prices in both U.S. and Cayman dollars; others, especially those patronized largely by foreign visitors, quote their prices in U.S. dollars. We've quoted prices according to the currency favored by each individual outfitter.
About 200 species of birds make their home in the Caymans, and some 50 species are known to breed here, ranging from the famous Cayman parrots to the elegant frigate birds with their 2.1m (7-ft.) wingspan. This magnificent bird with its forked tail has the ability to glide on its wings.
The islands are also home to the West Indian whistling duck, called the world's most endangered duck.
Sailors named a red-footed bird "booby," Spanish for "fool," because it was so easy to catch. This bird mostly nests on Little Cayman.
You can also spot two species of woodpecker, along with tangers, ibis, mockingbirds, and several species of egrets and herons.
The Cayman parrot is, in fact, the national bird of the islands. Cayman Brac is the best island for parrot viewing, as a large reserve is protected for these colorful birds, which are mostly green with a red throat, cheeks, and neck.
On Grand Cayman, bird-watchers flock to Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, the Meagre Bay Pond, and the Michael Gore Bird Sanctuary, among other sites, to see these birds in all their glory. The Michael Gore Bird Sanctuary lies on 1.4 hectares (3 1/2 acres) of pristine wetland in the Spotts Newlands area.
Grouper and snapper are the most common catches for those who bottom-fish along the reef. Deeper waters turn up barracuda and bonito. Sport fishermen from all over the world come to the Caymans with hopes of hooking one of the big ones: tuna, wahoo, or marlin. Most hotels can make arrangements for charter boats. Otherwise, contact Bayside Watersports (tel. 345/949-3200; www.baysidewatersports.com), offering deep-sea-fishing excursions in search of tuna, marlin, and wahoo on a variety of air-conditioned vessels with experienced crew. Tours depart at 7am and 1pm, and are priced according to how many people join the tour. A half-day tour for up to four people costs US$600, while a full day for the same group is US$1,100. Bonefishing and reef-fishing tours are also available at US$500 for a half-day and US$900 for a full day for four people.
Golf courses on Grand Cayman are open daily from 8am to 6pm. Many golfers prefer to avoid the intense noonday sun.
The best course on the island is the Britannia Golf Club (tel. 345/745-4653; www.britannia-golf.com), a well-respected, open-to-the-public 9-hole course designed by Jack Nicklaus, positioned across the avenue from the Grand Cayman Beach Suites on West Bay Road. Greens fees are US$65 to US$90 for 9 holes, or US$90 to US$140 if you opt to play the course twice, thereby playing 18 holes. (Guests at the resort pay the lower rates.) Cart rentals are included, but club rentals cost US$20 for 9 holes or US$40 for 18. Incidentally, there's a charming restaurant associated with this golf course, the Britannia Restaurant (tel. 345/745-4653). Open daily for lunch and dinner, it offers a view of the lake accompanied by stiff drinks, excellent salads, and juicy burgers, in an atmosphere vaguely akin to that of a game lodge in Kenya.
Often swept by trade winds, North Sound Club, Seven Mile Beach, off West Bay Road (tel. 345/947-4653; www.northsoundclub.com), is a par-71, 6,011m (6,574-yd.) course designed by Roy Case, who factored the strong gusts into his design. The course is filled with water and sand traps, but attracts hundreds of golfers who want an extra degree of challenge. Case set the course into what is essentially a botanical garden. On-site are a clubhouse and pro shop, as well as a restaurant. Management requires that you wear collared shirts, not T-shirts. Greens fees are US$105 for 9 holes or US$175 for 18 holes, including the cart.
A final course, the 9-hole Blue Tip, West Bay Road (tel. 345/815-6500), is reserved for guests of the Ritz-Carlton, charging greens fees of US$200 per player. Designed by Greg Norman, Blue Tip also has the best pro shop on island.
Coral Stone Stables, at Bodden Town and Savannah (tel. 345/916-4799; www.csstables.com) features 1 1/2-hour horseback rides along the white sandy beaches at Bodden Town and across inland trails at Savannah. As a special feature, the outfit allows you to swim with the horses. Another special feature are its moonlit rides along the beach. Tour guides are provided for each horseback ride, and souvenir photos are taken. Coral Stone accepts both the novice and experienced rider. On the inland forest trail ride, you can view the natural wildlife of the island, including the sighting of land turtles.
A variety of rides are offered daily beginning at 8am, costing $80 per rider. A swim with the horses goes for $120 per rider. The stables also offer free pickup and drop-off, including from the cruise ship terminals. Of course, you must call to make arrangements.
Horse Back in Paradise with Nicki (tel. 345/945-5839; www.caymanhorseriding.com) collects riders anywhere in the vicinity of Seven Mile Beach and takes them on early-morning or late-afternoon beach rides, with some inland trail riding. Nicole "Nicki" Eldemire has a wealth of information about life in Grand Cayman, and is full of anecdotes about island life, flora, and fauna. You're in the saddle for 75 minutes for US$100 per person. Sunset rides can also be arranged for a minimum of six riders.
Honey Suckle Trail Rides, Savannah (tel. 345/916-5420), will also arrange to pick you up if you're staying in the vicinity of Seven Mile Beach. This outfitter offers morning and sunset rides lasting 1 1/2 hours at a cost of US$60 per rider. Both Western and English tack are offered.
The magnificent horses of Pampered Ponies (tel. 345/945-2262; www.ponies.ky) carry you across stretches of sandy beaches or trails slightly inland. Sunset and full-moon rides are also a feature. The exploration is along the north coast beaches of West Bay. You'll have the beachfront almost to yourself along the stretch from Conch Point to Morgan's Harbour on the north tip beyond West Bay. Depending on what you book, prices begin at around $80 per rider.
Black Pearl Skate & Surf Park, Red Bay Road, Grand Harbour (tel. 345/947-4161; www.blackpearl.ky), is the size of a football field, measuring some 5,760 sq. m (62,000 sq. ft.), making it the world's second-largest such facility. It also boasts the world's largest freestanding wave, and is the largest outdoor concrete park in the world. It features three main courses -- expert, intermediate, and beginner, with both a flow and a street course for each level. Here you can practice your tailslides, wheelies, grinds, and kickflips. Skateboards and mandatory protective gear can be rented at the on-site Black Pearl Board Shop.
Instructors offer classes in skateboarding and in-line skating at all levels. The park also boasts one of the world's largest professional competition vert ramps, measuring 18m (60 ft.) wide.
Surfing here is just as popular as the skating, with an artificial surf machine. You can ride under and over blue curls of water. Water flow varies from 10,000 gallons per minute to 150,000 gallons per minute. Waves rise to a height of 3.4m (11 ft.), and surfers try, often in vain, to stay on the wave.
In the outdoor patio of the Brick House Restaurant, you can order some of the island's best pizzas. This is also an ideal seat to watch local island daredevil surfers perform daring feats on Saturday nights. The show runs from 7 to 8pm costing CI$20.
The park is open Monday to Saturday 10am to dusk and on Sunday from noon to dusk. Admission to the park costs CI$17.
Many of the big resorts have their own tennis courts available to guests. However, a total of nine courts are available to the public at the Cayman Islands Tennis Club, Ann Bonney Crescent, South Sound (tel. 345/949-9464; www.tennis.ky). The fee for up to 2 hours on either asphalt or "classic clay" surfaced courts is CI$15 per person. Hours can vary according to the season and the weather, so call ahead.
Indoor Activities for Inclement Weather
If it's raining or too hot outside but you're desperate to put your body in motion, try the World Gym, West Bay Road (tel. 345/949-5132; www.worldgym.com/grandcayman). You'll find it behind a branch of Wendy's on Seven Mile Beach. As the original fitness center on the island, it's still going strong with state-of-the-art equipment like Nautilus and cardiovascular machines, plus activities such as aerobics, bodybuilding, jujitsu, karate, massages, weight lifting, and the like, with five personal trainers on call. A 1-day pass costs US$25; personal training costs an additional US$65 per half-hour training session. The gym is open Monday to Thursday 5am to 10pm, Friday 5am to 8pm, Saturday 8am to 6pm, and Sunday 8am to 4pm.
A competitor is Fitness Connection, Glen Eden Road, South Sound (tel. 345/949-8485; www.fitness.ky), which is a full-service facility with a lot of extras -- even belly dancing and tap-dancing classes. Regular gym workouts are offered, along with personal training and yoga. Admission is CI$30 per day for everybody (aerobics and dance classes are included in this fee), plus an additional CI$15 for use of special facilities and special programs. The complex is open Monday to Friday from 8am to 6pm and Saturday 9am to 1am.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.