The Cayman Islands is not what it seems. Three flat islands? Nope, they’re the peaks of an underwater mountain range. Not much culture? It’s one of the most diverse countries in the world, home to over 130 nationalities. Offshore banking? That influx of wealth creates one of the highest standards of living in the Caribbean. Grand Cayman had the sparkly financial center and gorgeous beaches we were expecting, but the more we road tripped, dove the coral reef, sampled dynamic cuisine, and chatted with local characters, the more we were surprised and delighted…
Honeymoon Snapchat for Lonely Planet
What sparked up this Caribbean getaway? Lonely Planet’s Honeymoon Handbook. The legendary LP gave us the honor of reviewing this fab new guide (our HoneyTrek quote is on the back cover!) and asked us to give their romantic tips a whirl for Valentine’s Day. Done and done. They gave us the keys to their Snapchat account and full license to video, emoji, sticker, filter, and get silly for five days in the destination of our choosing…the Cayman Islands. Watch Day #1 (left video), from tarmac to watermelon mojito night cap, and Day #2 (right video) for more island adventures!
Our Hotel: The Westin Grand Cayman
We landed in George Town and beelined for Seven Mile Beach. The sugary white sand and serene waters make it the resort row of the Cayman Islands–with the recently renovated Westin Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach Resort & Spa rising again as the hot new thing. We walked into the lobby, with modern art streaming across the ceiling and panoramic views to the sexy beachfront patio, and swooned. Word is the multi-million-dollar renovation continues with even better suites this summer.
Seven Mile Beach
Walking the beach each morning, we were tempted by the slew of water sports. We aren’t laze-on-the-beach people, so we loved to see the stand-up paddleboards, Hobie Cats, Flyboards, kayaks, and hot new pontoon bikes! We’d never seen these slick contraptions with pedal-powered propellers and outrigger-style floats, and had take them for a spin. They effortlessly cut through the water and really get cookin’!
North Sound Boat Trip
Our pontoon pedaling skills could only take us so far, so we took a proper boat trip with Cayman Luxury Charters to the North Sound. We met the “Cayman Evasion” Sport Motor Yacht (ooo la la) in Camana Bay and set out to Starfish Point, where huge sherbet-colored starfish bask in the shallow waters and soft sand. We did a little wading safari and then zipped over to the stunning Rum Point, named for the barrels of booze that washed up here after a shipwreck in the islands’ pirate days.
Tip: Come to Grand Cayman in November for the rollicking heritage festival: Pirates Week.
Now for the day’s main event…the world-famous Stingray City! Fisherman have always stopped at this sandbar to clean their day’s catch and over time, Southern Stingrays caught onto the free buffet. Dozens of gentle creatures, some as wide as five feet and regulars like Frisbee, Scarface, Goldie, and Spot, have been coming daily for decades. Our boat pulled up and we could see the posse of rays migrating our way. We jumped in with a bit of trepidation, but they proved so friendly (even rubbing up against us!) as we swam in unison. Note: Each boat is allowed one small bag of squid, as to not overfeed them. However, we opted against feeding them and still had truly incredible encounters.
Watch our Snapchat video from Seven Mile Beach to Sting Ray City.
Cruising back from our mind-boggling stingray experience, we thought that was it for wildlife encounters…then we pulled into Iguana Alley. Where the open water narrows to a channel of mangroves, massive green iguanas sun themselves on the branches hanging over the water. We saw at least 30 iguanas with their gorgeous stripes and colorful spikes. If you go to the Cayman Islands, keep an eye out for the endemic blue iguana (best bet is Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park).
North of Seven Mile Beach, West Bay is where the mega resorts fade to Caribbean style houses, mom-and-pop shops, and a handful of gourmet restaurants. We drove until we hit Morgan’s Harbour and saw Calypso Grill twinkling with lights. The colorful interior was alive with local art and a sea breeze. We went vegan in October 2015 (our shopping cart hasn’t seen an animal product since), though with food being such a deep part of culture and travel, we switch to flexitarian in new countries to experience the local delicacies. We tried the Caribbean Lobster “Calypso Style,” and Sticky Toffee Pudding (their dessert is so legendary, the adjacent street is actually named Sticky Toffee Lane).
West Bay Diving
The next morning, Epic Divers picked us up for a two-tank dive on the west side. Five minutes from shore, across the teal shallows, the sea floor seemed to drop out from under us. It was a shade of blue reserved for deep sea fishing trips and trans-Atlantic voyages. Kitted out like Jacques Cousteau, we descended a hundred feet to Trinity Caves. Passing dragon whips and sea fans, we entered the craggy rock tunnel with beams of light peeking through. The Trinity reference is for the three caves but also the look of a rough-hewn cathedral. We met a spotted eagle ray, parrot fish, cling crabs, Nassau grouper with a belly full of eggs, and more beguiling creatures.
Wreck Diving: Doc Poulson
Our second and absolute favorite site was the Doc Poulson Wreck. This old telecommunications cable boat has been lying on the sea floor since the 1980s and has found a second life as a coral garden. We swam into the hull, moving through mangled iron with schools of fish, emerged through the floor boards, and took the helm in the wheelhouse feeling like proper underwater explorers. (Thanks for the great dive photos, Jaxx Kienas!)
Macabuca: Dine & Dive
In addition to wall dives, the Cayman Islands is known for their shore dives—where the colorful reef and caves are so accessible, you don’t even need a boat. We went for lunch at the amazing Macabuca—part tiki bar/part scuba shop—and loved that divers were descending into the water right from the dining area. We had a delicious spiced veggie sandwich and battered lion fish on coconut bread. (Lion fish are an invasive species, so in efforts to restore the reef, it’s become a popular local dish).
Don’t miss Part II of our Cayman Islands adventures, where we road trip to “Off the Beaten Path Road,” have a date with the devil in Hell, and have one of the best meals of our lives. Read the post, here.
A big thank you to the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism for sponsoring this post.