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Cayman Islands

Photo © rsandon

Travel Guide Caribbean Cayman Islands

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Introduction

Eden Rock Dive Boat

Eden Rock Dive Boat

© All Rights Reserved rsandon

The Cayman Islands are a quirky kind of place. On the one hand, Caymanians are a devoutly Christian people who've outlawed topless beaches; but on the other, there's a place here called Hell. Then, of course, there's the fact that the Cayman Islands is a capitalist's paradise, with more financial institutions here than in New York. And finally, the Cayman Islands has become a favoured destination for elopees in search of an easy, beautiful place to get married and have a honeymoon.

Quirks aside, the basic charm of the Cayman Islands is quite similair to other Caribbean destinations: beaches, diving, fishing - all the basic water activities. There's trendy hotels, resorts and condos, with enough tourists to match. So go get that girlfriend or boyfriend of yours and book a trip to the Cayman Islands.

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Brief History

The Cayman Islands were sighted by Christopher Columbus, on 10 May 1503 on his fourth and final voyage to the New World. He named them Las Tortugas after the numerous sea turtles there. The first recorded English visitor to the islands was Sir Francis Drake, who landed there in 1586 and named them the Cayman Islands after caiman, the Neo-Taino nations' term for alligator. The Cayman Islands remained largely uninhabited until the 17th century. A variety of people settled on the islands, including pirates, refugees from the Spanish Inquisition, shipwrecked sailors, deserters from Oliver Cromwell's army in Jamaica, and slaves. The majority of Caymanians are of African and British descent, with considerable interracial mixing.
Great Britain took formal control of the Cayman Islands, along with Jamaica, under the Treaty of Madrid in 1670. Following several unsuccessful attempts, permanent settlement of the islands began in the 1730s. The islands, along with nearby Jamaica, were captured from the Spanish Empire. They were governed as a single colony with Jamaica until 1962 when they became a separate British Overseas Territory and Jamaica became an independent Commonwealth realm.
The Cayman Islands historically have been popular as a tax-exempt destination. Legend has it that Caymanians in 1788 rescued the crews of a Jamaican merchant ship convoy which had struck a reef at Gun Bay during a hurricane, and that the Caymanians were rewarded with King George III's promise to never again impose a tax.

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Geography

The Cayman Islands are located in the western Caribbean Sea and are the peaks of a massive underwater ridge, known as the Cayman Ridge (or Cayman Rise). This ridge flanks the Cayman Trough, 6,000 metres deep which lies 6 kilometres to the south. The islands lie in the northwest of the Caribbean Sea, south of Cuba and west of Jamaica. They are situated about 700 kilometressouth of Miami, 366 kilometres south of Cuba, and about 500 kilometres northwest of Jamaica. Grand Cayman is by far the biggest, with an area of 197 km2 (76 sq mi). The two "Sister Islands" of Cayman Brac and Little Cayman are located about 120 kilometres east north-east of Grand Cayman and have areas of 38 and 28.5 km2 respectively. All three islands were formed by large coral heads covering submerged ice age peaks of western extensions of the Cuban Sierra Maestra range and are mostly flat. One notable exception to this is The Bluff on Cayman Brac's eastern part, which rises to 43 metres above sea level, the highest point on the islands. Terrain is mostly a low-lying limestone base surrounded by coral reefs.

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Regions/Islands

  • Grand Cayman is the largest island and home to the bulk of the population

The two other much smaller islands are known as the Sister Islands.

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Cities/Towns

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Sights and Activities

Wreck of the Ten Sails Park

The Wreck of the Ten Sails Park is part of the coastline at in the east of the main island. The park commemorates the islands most legendary shipwreck, the Cordelia. One night in February 1794, the Cordelia was leading a convoy of merchant ships bound from Jamaica to Britain when it ran aground on the reef at East End. Another nine more followed, so that's where the name comes from. Try to find the wrecks if you dare, but be aware that it is a legend.

Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park

The Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park is the biggest and most beautiful botanic park of the Cayman Islands and is located on the Grand Cayman. Actually, it is one of the best in the total Caribbean. It is a good place to experience the islands indigenous flora and fauna. There are trails winding through lush and flat terrain, featuring about 300 native species. These include buttonwood swamps, mahogany forests and native palms, orchids and many other tropical flowers. You will also witness the presence of see turtles, lizards, parrots and the charactaristic Cayman blue iguana which is highly endangered.

Pedro St. James Castle

Pedro St. James Castle is an impressive great house dating back to 1780, making it the oldest building in the Caymans. Since then, it has been functioning as a jail, a courthouse and a parliament before it was turned into a museum recently. The Castle is advertised as being the islands' 'birthplace of democracy': in 1831 the decision was made here to vote for elected representatives. It is also the place where the Slavery Abolition Act was read in 1835 and nowadays it also houses a museum featuring a multimedia presentation about 18th century Cayman.

Seven Mile Beach

Seven Mile Beach Sunrise

Seven Mile Beach Sunrise

© All Rights Reserved johnnyphis

Seven Mile Beach is located on the island of Grand Cayman and is a coral-sand beach on the western shore of the island. In fact, it is not 7 miles long, but 'only' 5.5 miles (almost 9 kilometres). It's a public beach just north of George Town, the capital. Although beauty is always in the eyy of the beholder, this beach has won a few prizes, including one for the best beach in the Caribbean. It is also the most popular one on the Cayman Islands, and during peak holiday periods, it can feel a little busy. Also, loads of resorts and hotels mean it rarely is deserted. Your best bet might be to visit here during the off season months of August and September and hope there is no hurricane spoiling your beach break! Several good shallow reefs mean that snorkelling is a popular activity as well, next to swimming and sunbathing of course.

Other sights and activities

  • National Gallery of the Cayman Islands - George Town, Grand Cayman
  • Cayman Turtle Farm - Boatswain's Beach, Grand Cayman

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Weather

The Cayman Islands have a perfect climate with warm and humid weather with almost constant sea breezes. Temperatures hoover around 28 °C to 30 °C during the day and 24 °C at night. The months of June to September are slightly warmer. During these months, extending into November is the rainy season on the other hand, with a small chance of a hurricane passing by now and then. December to April is the dry and slightly cooler period which is a good but popular time to visit. May and November are good months to visit if you want to avoid crowds, high prices and very bad weather.

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Getting there

Plane

Cayman Airways is the national airline of the Cayman Islands. It is based on Owen Roberts International Airport (GCM) on Grand Cayman. They fly to Havana, Kingston, La Ceiba, Miami, Montego Bay, New York and Tampa and seasonal to Chicago and Washington, D.C.. Continental Airlines flies to Newark and Houston, British Airways to London and Nassau, while several other airlines serve cities like Toronto, Atlanta, Detroit, Minneapolis, Charlotte, Boston and Philadelphia.

Gerrard Smith International Airport (CYB) on Cayman Brac has a few international flighs, including seasonal ones to/from Miami with Cayman Airways and regular ones to Montego Bay with Jamaica Air Shuttle.

Boat

Currently, there are no options of international ferries to or from the islands. Your only options are a yacht, cruise ship or cargo ship.

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Getting around

Plane

Cayman Airways has many flights between Grand Cayman, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac.

Boat

There is a ferry between North Sound and Rum Point on Grand Cayman which takes about 40 minutes each way.
The ferry departs from the Hyatt Regency Canal at 10:00am, noon and 4:00pm on Mondays - Thursdays, on Friday to Sunday the last one leaves at 6:00pm. The return times from Rum Point are 11:00am, 3:00pm and and 6:30pm Mondays - Thursdays, on Friday to Sunday the last one is at 9:15pm.
Private boat operators can arrange shuttles between Cayman Brac and Little Cayman but at a cost of course.

By Car

Renting a car is your only option on Little Cayman and Cayman Brac, well apart from biking and hiking. But it's also a good way of getting around on the main island of Grand Cayman. There are a lot of rental agencies to choose from, in the airport and in George Town. You have to be 21 years old (some companies don't insure you when under 25!) and buy a special 7.50 USD permit. Remember that driving is on the left. On Little Cayman and Cayman Brac, you can only rent 4wd vehicles.

By Bus

On Grand Cayman, public minibuses travel from George Town to West Bay (every 15 minutes), Bodden Town (every 30 minutes) and to East End and North Side (every hour). They all leave from the main bus terminal next to the public library and run almost all day from 6:00am to 11:00pm. On the other islands, there are almost no public transport whatsoever, even no taxis. On Grand Cayman, taxis are abundant and have fixed rates. For an overview, check thebusschedule.com.

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Red Tape

Visitors from the following countries do not require a visa to enter the Cayman Islands:

Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominica, Ecuador, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Grenada, Guyana, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Kiribati, Kuwait, Latvia, Lesotho, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nauru, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, San Marino, Seychelles, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Spain, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, United Kingdom, United States, Vanuatu, Venezuela and Zambia.

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Money

See also Money Matters

The islands have the Cayman Islands Dollar (KYD - symbol CI$) as the national currency. One dollar = 100 cents and notes come in denominations of CI$100, 50, 25, 10, 5 and 1, coins in denominations of 25, 10, 5 and 1 cents.

US Dollars are in wide circulation and the Cayman Islands is tied to the greenback 1:1. There are ATMs at all major banks.

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Work

Grand Cayman has growing offshore banking and tourism sectors. Tourism represents about 60% of the economy. About 30% of residents are expatriates working on "work permits" and unemployment is very low.

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Language

The official language is English. Spanish is also widly spoken.

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Eat

The culinary influences of many regions are reflected in Cayman cuisine. Local specialties such as fish, turtle and conch are delicious and often less expensive as they don't need to be imported. With more than 150 restaurants, unwinding with a good meal in the Cayman Islands can include chic five-star dining as well as a more casual venue under the stars, or even a themed event. From traditional Caymanian seafood to Caribbean and Thai to Italian and New World cuisine, discerning diners are sure to find something to fit their taste. Other exciting options include dinner cruises on luxury catamarans and even an authentic tall ship. Meal prices range from $10 to well over $30 per person at high-end restaurants.

While in Cayman ask your taxi driver for their favourite local Jerk Stand (a must try).

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Sleep

Accommodations are ample but tend to be relatively expensive, even on the two smaller islands. There are several luxury resorts with all amenities, as well as other less expensive options. In addition, the cost of food and drink is high in Cayman, but many visitors stay in condominiums with kitchen facilities and take advantage of the first class supermarkets and cook and barbeque on the beach.

Cayman is not known for all inclusive resorts, but there are two smaller Caribbean style properties that do offer this option.

The majority of hotels and resorts are in Grand Cayman, where the main hotel "strip" is Seven Mile Beach, home to several major chain hotels and numerous condominiums.

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Drink

Alcohol is very expensive on the islands, even from the liquor stores. You can expect to pay approximately twice as much in the liquor stores as you would at stores in the United States, however it is still the cheapest way to purchase alcohol.

Typical drink prices in bars and clubs range from $4-7 CI ($5-8.75 US).

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Health

See also Travel Health

There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to the Cayman Islands. It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to the Cayman Islands. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and vaccination against hepatitis B and typhoid are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.

Dengue sometimes occurs as well. There is no vaccination, so buy mosquito repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net. Also wear long sleeves if possible.

Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.

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Safety

See also Travel Safety

Hurricanes are possible from June through November.

Despite being more liberal than other Caribbean islanders, Caymanians are still relatively conservative. Public displays of affection (both Gay and Straight) are not usually acceptable. Acceptance of homosexual tourists is relatively new and visitors should refrain from any sort of public displays of affection. In past years Gay cruise ships have been barred from calling in the Cayman Islands, but recent policy is to remain non-discriminatory. Gay visitors can expect the same levels of hospitality and service as any other visitor, but should expect some hesitation from older Caymanians. Young Caymanians are very liberal and for the most part, won't care either way.

The Cayman Islands is a relatively low-crime area, especially compared to other vacation destinations in the Caribbean.
However, that being said, crime is on the rise on Grand Cayman. Walking or riding a bicycle at night along dark roads (for example, along Courts Road) puts one at risk for assault and/or robbery. Pedestrians also need to worry about being hit by cars along soft shouldered roads. Drunk driving/Hit and Run accidents have been a problem.
The capital city of George Town is generally safe. Tourists should avoid certain areas (Rock Hole, Swamp, Jamaica Town/ Windsor Park, Courts Road, and Eastern Avenue) and this shouldn't be a problem as these areas are all well out of the way for most activities. In addition, George Town is virtually deserted at night as there are few centrally located restaurants, bars, or nightclubs.

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Keep Connected

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

The country calling code to the Cayman Islands is 1-345 and tTo make an international call from the islands, the code is 011.

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Quick Facts

Cayman Islands flag

Map of Cayman Islands

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Capital
George Town
Population
35,000
Government
Overseas territory of the UK
Currency
Cayman Islands Dollar
Religions
Christianity (Protestant)
Languages
English, Cayman Islands English
Calling Code
+1345
Time Zone
UTC +5
Nationality
Caymanian

Contributors

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Cayman Islands Travel Helpers

  • Bronfromnb

    Hi. My name is Bronwen, I'm a 53 year old female, married, grandkids, and I love helping other people! I am from the Maritimes, but lived half my life in the Cayman Islands. My daughter and grandkids live there and I am also a citizen of Grand Cayman.

    It's changed alot since I lived there but if I can help, I would be glad to!

    Ask Bronfromnb a question about Cayman Islands
  • Jo17

    Hi, I'm 17 and have lived in The Cayman Islands all my life so am an official resident and know pretty much everything about all three islands (they're fairly small so it wasn't hard) and I also go to boarding school in England.

    If you need to know anything about travelling here, from night life to fishing spots, I am happy to help, and can provide advice and opinions from a local's point of view as well as from someone who as lived in the UK.

    Ask Jo17 a question about Cayman Islands
  • sarah_jon

    Although i am only 15 i have been to the Cayman Islands about 10 times. My aunty lives out there and i am very wel informed with it all.

    Ask sarah_jon a question about Cayman Islands

Accommodation in Cayman Islands

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