The Cayman Islands offer an excellent mix of natural wonders, cultural treasures and signature experiences to visitors; here are my picks for the best attractions the Caymans have to offer!
Located in Grand Cayman's North Sound, Stingray City may be the most famous "swim with the (fill in your favorite sea creature here)" experience on the planet. Unlike many other such attractions, Stingray City doesn't keep its animals captive: the stingrays are native to the North Sound sandbars, and the shallow waters make it easy for human visitors to mingle with the (mostly) harmless local sea life. A number of outfitters run half- and full-day excursions to Stingray City for those who want to snorkel, scuba, or just observe from a glass-bottom boat. And because this isn't a private attraction, anyone with a boat or jet ski can also come out to mingle with the stingrays for free.
Located at Grand Cayman's Harbour Place, the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands houses a permanent collection of Caymanian artwork as well as more than a half-dozen local and international exhibits each year. Occasional lectures and screenings of art films are also on the calendar for local and visiting culture vultures alike.
Located within walking distance of the Grand Cayman cruise ship dock (at the intersection of South Church Street and Boilers Road), the market at Hog Sty Bay sells unique Caymanian crafts and items made with local materials including black coral and sea shells. It's open Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
The Pedro St. James National Historic Site is considered the birthplace of the Cayman Islands. A the heart of this seven-acre attraction is a circa 1780 Great House, the first substantial home built on the island of Grand Cayman ("Pedro" is another word for "Castle"). Over the years, the house has served as a plantation home, courthouse, jail, seat of government, and a restaurant -- a history detailed in the 3-D movie presentation that runs every house from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Also located on the seven-acre site is a Hurricane Ivan memorial, which reminds visitors of the destructive path that this Category 5 storm cut through the Caymans in 2004.
Cayman Kayak Tour
The Central Mangroves of Grand Cayman are an irreplaceable national (and natural) treasure -- not only a beautiful green and blue space but also providing essential habitat and the lifeblood of nutrients for the North Sound. The only practical way to tour the thousands of acres of wetlands is by boat, and Cayman Kayaks organizes a two-hour Mangrove Adventure to see native wildlife from the vantage of a two-person kayak. Tours run daily at 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.
If you don't scuba dive, you've probably never experienced the thrill of plunging to the ocean floor to explore coral reefs and the marine environment up close. The 48-passenger Atlantis submarine is specifically designed for tourist excursions and will take you 100 feet below the sparkling waters off Grand Cayman for a narrated visit to Nemo and friends in the Caymans Marine National Park. Night tours are offered too. It's not cheap -- but then again, how many once-in-a-lifetime experiences are?
Born more than 40 years ago as the Cayman Islands Turtle Farm, this 23 acre marine park offers an array of attractions devoted to the Caymans' marine and terrestrial wildlife. The current park in West Bay still has turtle exhibits but also a cultural district called Cayman Street with arts and craft demonstrations, an aviary, touch tanks, a Predator Reef filled with sharks, groupers and eels, a pair of swimming lagoons, a nature trail, and a restaurant and bar. With half a million annual visitors, this is the Cayman's most popular tourist attraction -- try to plan your visit when the cruise ships are still out to sea.
This botanical garden -- named for its most famous visitor -- features 40 acres of local flora and fauna, including the rare blue iguana. Attractions include flower and native gardens, a wooland trail, orchid exhibit, a picturesque lakeside gazebo, and dozens of species of birds and butterflies. Located on the North Side of Grand Cayman, the park opens at 9 a.m. daily and stays open till 6:30 p.m. in high season, and 5:30 p.m. in the offseason.
Rum Point, which sits on the north coast of Grand Cayman and offers views of Cuba, is a lively beach shaded by palm trees and a popular spot for beach and water sports (Red Sail Sports has a shop on the beach here). The Wreck Bar is one of the most famous beach bars in the Cayman Islands, in part because it's the place where the frozen mudslide was invented. There used to be a ferry from Seven Mile Beach to Rum Point but it was shut down after the area was smashed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, and still has not resumed operations. That leaves a 50-minute drive as your only option to get here from the main resort area. Still, there are plenty of nearby hotels, restaurants, bars and facilities for an enjoyable day at the beach.
The is a Hell on Earth, and it's in Grand Cayman, where visitors delight in sending postcards from Hell to their families back home as well as viewing the creepy, million-year-old limestone formations that give this West Bay town its name. A souvenir and gift shop called the Devil’s Hang-Out is owned by Ivan Farrington, who will greet you in a devil’s costume and regale you with jokes.
The centerpiece of Grand Cayman's new Camana Bay development is a 75-foot observation tower that visitors can climb (for free) to enjoy 360-degree views of Seven Mile Beach, George Town, and the North Sound. As you climb the double-helix staircase you can check out the details on a huge mosaic depicting Cayman reefs and marine life: the artwork includes more than 3 million tiles. Cool off afterwards with a drink at one of Camana Bay's new bars and restaurants or check out the local entertainment and shopping options, including a cinema and live music performances.