If you’ve heard of the Cayman Islands you’ve probably seen it mentioned in articles about tax dodging, or in expose of some billionaire who earned his money in dubious ways. There’s nearly always a photo or some video footage of the harbor full of expensive yachts. This is a real destination where people travel to for a vacation though. There are some gorgeous beaches to explore, especially once you get beyond the 600 financial institutions and mailbox storefronts housing the ‘headquarters” of the island’s paper companies.
Most visitors to Grand Cayman keep to the capital of George Town and the length of the island that extends north from there. It is not surprising as the beautiful white sands of Seven Mile Beach are your postcard-perfect image of the quintessential Caribbean Island. This is also the stretch of the island with the most hotels and restaurants. However, if you rent a car in George Town after arriving, you then have the means and ability to explore the quieter side of Grand Cayman. Only 76 square miles and approximately 22 miles long, driving the island on your own is more than manageable. Be advised that Cayman follows the British rules of the road so you will be driving on the left hand side.
From George Town, you set out on the southern coast of the island taking the coastal road. First, you drive through the neighborhood of South Sound; an affluent area where it is not uncommon to see small, old Cayman houses sandwiched between oversized Florida-styled homes. Eventually, the homes start to recede and it is you and the lush Caribbean landscape. Beaches are dotted throughout the coast and you can stop and visit one any time as all beaches are public on the Cayman Islands.
Flip-flops, Jerks, and “Conservation Lager”
You eventually come the the infamous (well, by Cayman standards anyway) Flip Flop tree. It even has its own Facebook page. It began as a project to draw attention to the garbage polluting Grand Cayman’s shores and to encourage recycling. For tourists, it is an obligatory photo op.
Soon after you come to the Cayman Brewery. If you time it right you can visit the brewery and take a tour. Tours are given Monday through Friday from 9:00am – 4:00pm with private tours available at different hours if you have enough people. The tour is less than 30 minutes or you can just stop in and get samples of the day’s production. Home to four brews; Caybrew, Caybrew Light, Ironshore Bock and White Tip Lager, the White Tip Lager is considered the world’s first conservation lager. Five cents from every can of White Tip beer sold goes to the Sharks and Cetaceans project, an international shark awareness campaign. So feel good about the beer you consume.
The coastal road continues east and eventually you reach quiet Bodden Town, the first settlement on Grand Cayman dating back to the 1700’s. This is the agricultural center of GC, you can visit the weekly farmer’s market here if you drive through early on a Saturday. If you visit on a Sunday try one of the many tasty jerk and fish fry restaurants. Especially popular is the Grapetree Café or Chester’s, the latter of which is home to one of the most famous signs in Cayman “Buy one jerk, get one free.”
After exploring the small shops and galleries of Bodden Town continue your Caribbean drive. Soon you have an option of turning left onto Frank Sound Road to visit the lovely Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park or the Mastic Trail further up the road if you feel like a hike. The Botanic Gardens combine natural beauty with Cayman culture. Visit traditional Cayman style gardens, see birds, butterflies and the blue iguana in their natural habitats or relax by the lake. It is easy to spend a couple of hours here.
Cayman Blow Holes and Starfish
From here you will want to retrace your steps and head back out to the coastal road where you come upon the Cayman’s Blow Holes only 1.4 miles past Frank Sound Road. The Blow Holes are most powerful during periods of active easterly winds and the spray can reach heights in excess of 15 feet. Cayman’s Blow Holes provide a quiet place to stop and rest at the shaded picnic facilities before you continue your way to the East End and North Side attractions.
If you’re hear around lunch or dinner, Tukka in East End is a great little restaurant and bar offering spectacular views of the Caribbean from the veranda as you eat your island-infused Australian cuisine. Use the binoculars on the veranda tables to view various shipwrecks off the coast. Munch away on pepper crusted tuna, walk-about soup, the cajun mahi mahi hoagie or steak and mushroom pie as you read about the legendary “Wreck of the Ten Sails” on the Tukka menu.
From East End, you round the island passing by the lovely and serene Barefoot Beach as you now head west towards the island’s North Side. At the tip of the North Side is Cayman Kai where you can dine at the Kaibo Bar & Grill (also reachable by boat from George Town) or explore Starfish Point and the eponymously named Rum Point Club on Rum Point.
Starfish Point is a quiet beach where the many local cushion starfish like to congregate in the shallow waters. Try to arrive after 2:00 pm so the cruise ship visitors will be gone, then watch your step.
Finish up your tour at Rum Point and kick back on a lounge chair while sipping your rum runner, daiquiri or the sinfully delicious mudslide (think of a chocolate milkshake with baileys and rum). There is also a restaurant and watersports items for rent. It is a great location to stay for sunset as well.
Driving back you should cut through on Frank Sound Road and you can be back in George Town in less than an hour.
All photos by Donna Leffel. This post was made possible in part by Alamo Rent a Car, who is offering Perceptive Travel Readers 20% off any auto rental in the Caribbean.