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June 27, 2009

Cayman Islands cruise guide: introduction and basics

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Filed under : General Green
Diana McAdam offers a guide to the Cayman Islands, famed for their diving, delicious seafood and relaxed way of life.

With their Caribbean heritage, British sensibility (this is a British Overseas Territory) and American modernism, the Cayman Islands have long been a highlight of Caribbean cruising itineraries. The three low-lying little islands south of Cuba – which are actually the peaks of underwater mountains – offer visitors everything from the hi-tech architecture, top restaurants and duty-free shopping of Grand Cayman to the laid-back style, nature sanctuaries and deserted beaches of its unpretentious sister islands, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac.

Grand Cayman, which at 22 miles long and four miles wide is the largest of the three islands, includes the capital George Town and has a population of 60,000. It is a favourite of well-heeled Americans, many of whom keep second homes here and use it to escape from the harsh US winters. In 2004, Hurricane Ivan brought wind speeds of up to 169 mph and a storm surge, causing about US$1.8 billion of damage. Today, few signs of the devastation remain, but it is not a lesson the islands or their inhabitants will forget in a hurry and new buildings are designed to be hurricane-proof. This is one of the richest communities in the Caribbean and it has no inner city or poverty, street vendors or casinos. In some ways this is a deeply traditional community with old fashioned values – for instance, nude or topless sunbathing are banned, shops are closed on Sundays and both dancing and music are banned on the Sabbath.

Seven Mile Beach, a dazzling stretch of pristine white sand, is where you will find the waving palms, the high-rise luxury hotels, the restaurants, bars and dive centres. Close by, in the colourful West Bay area, is Hell, an otherworldly rock formation where you are likely to be greeted with the words “How the Hell are you?” by a man dressed as the Devil. Visit the local post office, where you can also get your cards and letters stamped, and pick up a hellish souvenir from the fire-red gift shop.

To escape from the crowds, visit the lushly beautiful 65-acre Queen Elizabeth II Botanical Park, which includes the fascinating blue iguana conservation programme, and is in the quieter, less developed East End of Grand Cayman. But if you only have time for one activity, don’t miss the incredible Stingray City and afterwards relax on beautiful Rum Point on the North Side, a favourite spot in which to kick back and enjoy this picture-book paradise island.


The Cayman Islands attract more than one million cruise ship passengers per year, and more than 30 major cruise lines visit the islands. That said, only four ships are allowed to anchor off Grand Cayman at any one time and passengers are ferried into George Town’s two terminals, North and South, both of which are modern and well maintained. Today George Town is the islands’ business hub but many of the older buildings downtown are being preserved. The recently restored National Museum is within easy reach of the port, as are a duty-free shopping mall containing a 12,000-gallon saltwater aquarium, and numerous bars and restaurants including such perennial favourites as the Hard Rock Café (001 345 945 2020). The central post office is also downtown, and is open 9am to 5pm.

The Cayman National Trust (001 345 949 0121) has designed a walking tour of George Town, which covers 28 sites of interest including Fort George, which was built around 1790, the war and peace memorials, the Legislative Assembly and some of the town’s traditional Caymanian architecture. Walking tours are also available for the West Bay and Bodden Town areas of the island.

Many of the island’s most interesting places to visit are included in a Heritage One passport, which includes discounts of up to 25 per cent on admission to the National Museum, the Turtle Farm, Pedro St James and the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park (see sights and excursions). The green and blue passports are stamped at each site but have no expiry date. They are available at each attraction and cost US$25 for adults and US$15 for children.

Many people visit the Cayman Islands specifically for the diving and snorkelling. Whether you are seeking reefs, wrecks or the walls that are famous the world over, you will not be disappointed. Visibility can exceed 100ft, the water is so warm that you can dive without a wetsuit and you will often find yourself swimming fin to fin with a turtle. Remember that there are very strict rules on what you can and can’t touch underwater and it is illegal to catch any marine life.


Time difference: Six hours behind GMT.? Currency: both Cayman and US dollars are accepted. Cayman dollars, known as CIs, are tied to the US dollar. The exchange rate is approximately CI$1 equals US$1.20.

Official language: English

Getting around: They drive on the left in the Cayman Islands. It is easy to hire a car at the cruise port, and the main taxi rank is also in the centre of George Town, but taxis can be hailed on most roads. Many of the taxi companies double as tour operators. The bus station is next to the library in George Town and the service is good, with fares ranging from CI$1.50 to $2.50.

Tourist office: The main tourism office is in George Town and tourist information is available at both the north and south ports (001 345 949 0623, The number for the Port Authority is 001 345 949 2055.

credited to and flickr users: alfred_benway, bz3rk

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