When Christopher Columbus
first sighted the Cayman Islands in 1503 during his fourth and final voyage to the New World, he named them Las Tortugas after the large number of sea turtles, but in 1586,
Sir Francis Drake had the last word, re-naming them "Cayman" after the word for alligator. Much later, John Grisham's novel in film form, The Firm, gave us a modern take on the financial side to the islands in the 1993 legal thriller with Tom Cruise, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Gene Hackman, Ed Harris, Holly Hunter, Hal Holbrook, and David Strathairn.
Grand Cayman is the largest of the three islands with the nation's capital, George Town at close to 30,000 people and comprising the heart of the financial sector. 600 bank and trust companies are located here as a convenient off-shore location for big business write-offs. Grand Cayman hosts branches of 40 of the world's 50 largest banks! Legally, the islands are part of the British Overseas Territories under the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom.
George Town is a popular Caribbean cruise ship port of call. Tourists ride in submarine tours of the harbor or in glass-bottom boat tours, snorkel, scuba-dive, parasail or tour rum distilleries, art galleries, an historical museum, and of course, shop and dine. For nightlife, Seven Mile Beach boasts numerous nightclubs and bars. The waterfront is home to a Hard Rock Cafe, Harley-Davidson shop, Jimmy Buffett Margaretville franchise and a Guy Harvey art studio and restaurant.
Owen Roberts International Airport is an hour's flight from Miami. Cayman Airways has three daily flights from Miami, four flights a week from Tampa and Air Canada flies nonstop from Toronto on Sunday (in winter only) and Wednesday (year-round). All flights are met by taxis, and a typical one-way fare from the airport to Seven Mile Beach costs $15-$20.
A few of the more popular activities here are:
Spirit of the West in West Bay is a horseback riding stable and a unique way to experience Grand Cayman as one treks along the edge of the Caribbean Sea.
Cayman Marine Lab on Seven Mile Beach has the only diving marine biologist in the Cayman Islands and offers a small boat diving vacations.
Simply walking: the beach sand is like talcum powder, and the water is a stunning shade of aquamarine.
The Kittiwake (ship) was sunk off Seven Mile Beach for diving and snorkeling enthusiasts.
Luna Del Mar at Kaibo celebrates dining at the water's edge with a paper lantern display and after-dinner dancing.
If you like boobies, and who doesn't, visit Governor Gore Bird Sanctuary, home to 5,000 pairs of red-footed boobies, more boobies than one could hope to see at home, because it's the largest colony of such birds in the Western Hemisphere. The sanctuary is near the small airport.
Kaibo Beach Bar is the oldest and one of the best bars on the Northside, originally built to serve drinks to Queen Elizabeth during her tour of Grand Cayman. It offers a bamboo-fronted and copper-topped bar with a thatched roof and fairy lights for atmosphere.
Cayman Kayaks offers eco-adventure kayaking tours in the unspoiled waters of the North Sound, the largest reef-fringed lagoon of the Cayman Islands. There are several tours including the Mangrove Adventure Tour, Sunset Tour, Full Moon Tour and for those who loved the exotic ocean film footage in the movie, The Life of Pi, the Bio-bay Tour on the darkest nights to explore bio-luminescence, when a glow is created by sea creatures' internal chemical reactions. When plankton accumulates in huge numbers, the results are stunning!
Stingray City Sandbar is where stingrays accumulate when fisherman cleaned fish on the shallow sand bars. In the late 1980s, divers fed them squid, one of their favorite meals.
Check out the Great House, formerly known as Pedro Castle, an historic reconstruction of an original 1780 edifice, located at the end of a quiet, mango and mahogany tree-shaded road in Grand Cayman, atop a limestone bluff. The Pedro St. James Historic Site is a seven-year, $7.5 million national landmark. The grounds are planted with pineapple, banana and myriad trees with acres of tropical plants, palm-lined walkways and an impressively manicured Great Lawn leading to a beautiful view of the Caribbean. At the Visitors Centre, take in the film where visitors experience 200 years of Cayman history in 20 minutes.
Another fun activity is to watch for millionaires because of the money found here, which means that the offshore banking paradise enjoys a cost of living 20% higher than that of the United States. A current Cayman dollar is valued at $1.22 US.
Everything is concentrated here, and despite its grandiose name, Grand Cayman is only 35km (22 miles) long and 13km (8 miles) across at its widest point. The other islands, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, are much smaller and offer limited tourist facilities. With abundant shipwrecks and coral reefs teeming with marine life, the Cayman Islands are justifiably rated as one of the world's top dive sites.
Canadian, U.S., and British currencies are accepted throughout the Cayman Islands, but you will save money if you exchange for Cayman Islands dollars. Most hotels quote rates in U.S. dollars; however, many restaurants quote prices in Cayman Islands dollars.
Grand Cayman has limited bus service serving eight routes daily from 6 am to midnight. The bus terminal lies adjacent to the public library on Edward Street in George Town. A one-way per person fare from George Town to points within George Town is typically $2.50. Nearly all the hotels are lined up along
Seven Mile Beach, and rates do not include a 10% government tax or the hotel service tax, which varies between 6-10%.
Caribbean Tourism Association
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review, Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine.