Family Vacations to Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
|Seven Mile Beach, on Grand Cayman Island, with soft white sand and clear calm waters (Digital Vision)|
Cayman Islands Highlights
- Stroll the sugar-soft sands of Seven Mile Beach.
- Swim with stingrays.
- Take a night dive aboard a submarine.
- Encounter hundreds of green sea turtles at Boatswain's Beach.
- Learn about island history at the reconstructed Great House.
World-class diving and snorkeling lure vacationers to the Caymans, a British Crown Colony consisting of three islands. Grand Cayman, the tourist hub, not only has 95 percent of the country's population of nearly 45,000, but it also contains hundreds of banks and trusts. As a result, high rises with corporate logos dominate George Town, the capital and business district, where traffic snarls can be as common as the angelfish and blue tangs in the surrounding sea. Both Little Cayman, population 170, and Cayman Brac, population just under 1,800, lure divers as well, and visitors interested in caves also head to Cayman Brac.
The most popular strip on the Cayman Islands, Seven Mile Beach, actually stretches along Grand Cayman's west coast. The white sand feels as fine as sugar and the waters offer a relatively calm swimming spot. Many hotels line the beach, causing crowds; however, for families keeping track of teens, this is the place to hang out.
A visit to Grand Cayman calls for the requisite trip to Stingray City to snorkel among the island's famed people-friendly stingrays. A private guide may offer a better experience than joining one of the larger tours, especially if a cruise ship is in town. With grade-schoolers, choose the Stingray City sandbara long, raised ridge in the ocean that enables participants to stand in three to five feet of water. The stingrays feel like velvet as they brush up against your legs like playful puppies. Tourism officials quickly point out that the island's stingrays pose no danger, as they are accustomed to people and less harmful than their Australian cousins. Nonetheless, new rules slated to be in place soon will further regulate the popular encounters.
An ideal spot for families new to snorkeling and diving, Grand Cayman's calm, clear waters and reefs teem with fish. Popular sites include Soto's Reef, known for abundant coral, and Eden Rock and the adjacent Devil's Grotto, with coral, caves, sponges, and schools of colorful fish.
Climb aboard one of the submarines in the area to see underwater wonders without getting wet. At depths up to 1,000 feet, watch scores of tropical fish and possibly a sea turtle float by your porthole. During an after dark trip, discover a fascinating view of the deep at night, when coral blooms in iridescent shades of orange, pinks, and purples.
Boatswain's Beach, the new, expanded home of the Cayman Turtle Farm, features a variety of sea life. View tanks of green sea turtles ranging in size from six ounces to 600 pounds. Walk through an aviary aflutter with colorful Grand Cayman parrots and other birds, view caiman, and visit the sharks in the predator tank (www.boatswainsbeach.ky).
For a bit of island history, tour Pedro Saint James, sometimes referred to as "the castle." Islanders met on December 5, 1831, to declare they wanted a better government at the 1780 Great (plantation) House, often called the "birthplace of democracy" in the Cayman Islands. Five days later, the first island election was held. The reconstructed stone structure ringed by a wooden verandah interests adults and the presentation at the visitors' center, a multi-sensory experience detailing island lore, impresses kids.
Tip: Each November, during the ten-day Pirates Festival, dancers, reggae and calypso bands, parades, and pirates take to the streets. The swashbucklers come ashore to booming canons with swords drawn and "capture" the city. On Kids Day special children's activities are offered.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication