Somewhere between the mega tourist destinations of Mexico, Cuba, and Jamaica sits a collection of three little landmasses known as the Cayman Islands. Admittedly, I didn’t know much about this set of islands when I touched down on the largest one, Grand Cayman. Driving from the airport along Seven Mile Beach, I spot a Royal Bank, CIBC, Scotiabank, and Bank of America, to name a few, each reminding me of the one thing I do know about the country: its enticing offshore banking.
Made up of Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac, and Little Cayman, this Caribbean nation is perhaps overlooked due to its big-time destination neighbours, but its stunning ocean and understated luxury set it far apart from the all-inclusive resorts of the typical tropical paradise. There’s much more allure here than the tax code.
It’s a blustery, windy day on Grand Cayman, but the sun still shines bright at the newly opened Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa, set directly on the white sand shores of Seven Mile Beach. Opened in 2016, the hotel is a shining example of a high-end beach resort with nearly every amenity—pools, spa, beach, the island’s best piña colada—available. Taking advantage of Grand Cayman’s deep and warm waters is first on the agenda. The island is well known to snorkellers the world over for its stunning and plentiful reefs; and even for those who lack the expertise (or perhaps the gall), the shallower areas can be enjoyed. While the water views on Seven Mile Beach are nice, hitching a five-minute ride down the road to Cemetery Beach is well worth it. Walking past the white-washed tombstones (the beach is true to its name), the small sandy shore holds some remarkable ocean life. Within moments I spot a stingray swimming up to the bright coral, as hundreds of colourful tropical fish reveal themselves.
Working up an appetite is welcome on Grand Cayman, as guests are treated to some very fine Caribbean cuisine. Dinner is found just off of the Seven Mile strip at The Brasserie. Here, chef Dean Max creates dishes worthy of celebrity acclaim. The menu draws from his own onsite garden (set with twinkle lights for guests to dine in) with homegrown ingredients including lettuces and tomatoes, and unusual items such as the Barbados gooseberry. Combined with fish like mahi-mahi, red snapper, and triggerfish caught daily from The Brasserie’s own fishing boats, the food is fresh, inspired, and local.
From Grand Cayman, the islands of Cayman Brac and Little Cayman are short plane rides away. Touching down first onto Cayman Brac (just a 30-minute trip) reveals a whole new terrain. Named for the 140-foot bluff, or “brac,” the 14-square-mile island hosts an arid and rugged climate packed with cacti and stunning ocean views on nearly every point. It’s a worthy stopover before an eight-minute jaunt to the country’s most remote island, Little Cayman. With a population of under 170 people (and an estimated 2,000 iguanas), it is a world away from the experience on the main island. Just 10 miles wide and surrounded by coral reef, it is home to some of the most sought-after diving in the world.
The small divers’ hotel of Little Cayman Beach Resort is quaint, charming, and casual—exactly what the island calls for. From here, kayaks can be taken to the popular Owen Island (called the “fourth island”), known for some of the best snorkelling in Cayman. On this blustery day, however, the view of the island is best taken in from the resort’s shanty beachside bar. Bikes from the hotel are free for guests to use as well, and the area is easily traversed—just be sure to brake for iguanas, who have the right of way here. Spotting a small opening that leads to the ocean, I bring my bike onto the white sand. Wandering into the warm, clear waters, miles and miles away from any cruise ship passenger or all-inclusive wristband, I’ve found my own haven.