September 24, 2020

Forget the bling of Barbados


Pin It

1414436173435_wps_31_Blue_Igana_jpgCayman Islands offer swimming with stingrays, 6,000ft-deep underwater cliffs and a desert island

By Sarah Bridge for Mailonline

Forget the bling of Barbados, the Cayman Islands offer swimming with stingrays, 6,000ft-deep underwater cliffs and your very own desert island getaway
Caribbean island is known for having some of the world’s best dive sites
Stingrays, turtles and even sharks inhabit the crystal-clear waters
There’s also lots to see above sea level including iguanas which turn blue
‘The thing about the Cayman Islands is that the best sights are underwater,’ said my taxi driver as he drove along the dusty road from the airport. ‘There’s just not a great deal above sea level.’

After a week exploring the trio of Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman islands which make up the Cayman Islands, I had to disagree.
While the Cayman Islands (the name comes from the word for crocodile, although they were originally named Las Tortugas by Christopher Columbus due to all the turtles he saw swimming there) lack the ‘bling’ factor of their Caribbean neighbours such as Barbados and St Lucia or the flamboyant night-life of Jamaica or Cuba, it is certainly not just a diving-only destination.
With spectacular beaches plus luxury hotels, a vibrant restaurant scene including a ‘Flavour Tour’ on Grand Cayman where you can visit four or five different restaurants in a night, sampling the menu of each and the deliciously warm Caribbean climate, there is certainly more than enough to keep landlubbers happy.
However diving is what the Cayman Islands are best known for and the main reason for my trip.
As a complete novice at scuba-diving I had to start from scratch. Before I left the UK I spent two evenings submerged in a swimming pool in central London being taught the basics of scuba-diving, including how to get to grips with the breathing apparatus and ways of communicating underwater.
Between lessons, I completed the theory part of the course online, which covered the technical aspects such as the effects of depth and pressure, so my precious hours out in the Caribbean wouldn’t be spent in a classroom.
Eight hours of late night studying later I had passed all the modules and was ready to go.
The 11-hour flight included a refuelling stop in Nassau, Bahamas and I was soon being driven to my hotel, the Marriot Grand Cayman Beach Resort.
Like other international hotel brands such as the next-door Ritz-Carlton – which does a very impressive breakfast – it was on the stretch of golden sand known as Seven Mile Beach on the western side of the island where hotel guests spend the daylight hours sunbathing, drinking and swimming in the clear blue sea.
If you want more of a local atmosphere then just a short taxi ride away was the island’s capital George Town and many friendly restaurants where you could dine al fresco and watch the sun setting across the ocean.
As a British Overseas Territory (and with an international financial centre too, due to its reputation as a tax haven) Grand Cayman is very well looked after: the beach is pristine, the roads are smooth and the whole island feels rather smart but unshowy.
However I soon swapped the opulence of the hotel resort for the more down-to-earth dive hostel at Cobalt Coast near the top of the island where I was going to try and get that all-important PADI open water qualification.
My instructor Jane, who arrived sporting a pink rash vest, pink flippers and a pink mask, kitted me out with all the diving paraphernalia I needed: oxygen tank, buoyancy vest, weights and flippers and a mask.
I was now time to put all that learning into action as I lumbered along the dock and clambered down a ladder to the open sea.
This was better than a London swimming pool! The sea bed was a forest of waving plants and while the sensation of swimming underwater, the movement of the waves and the unexpected (to me) noise of breathing through a bubble-emitting mouthpiece did take some getting used to, it was an incredible experience, particularly spotting turtles, crabs and brightly-coloured fish in their natural habitat.
After two dives with Jane, in which I showed I could do various tasks such as take my mask and breathing apparatus off underwater, and ascend quickly but safely if I needed to, I was awarded my PADI open water qualification which meant I could now go on dive trips.
I made use of my brand new diving qualification straightaway to visit Stingray City, a slightly surreal experience which involved sitting on the ocean bed 10 feet underneath a boat while around 20 stingrays whirled around me. If you were brave you could feed them – I tried and discovered for myself the power of the stingray suck, enough to draw blood from my knuckle.
There was more diving planned for the smaller island of Little Cayman, but I had more to see on Grand Cayman first, so I headed off to the Botanic Park and the Blue Iguana recovery programme on the middle of the island.
This was set up to save the native iguana from extinction (there were once just 12 of them). The hard work of its staff means that the blue iguana has been taken off the critical list but there is still much work to be done.
While it was rather confusing to see the so-called ‘blue’ iguanas actually looking rather more grey then blue, once they were fed their favourite food, the strong-smelling noni fruit (think very stinky cheese) they were soon glowing blue with contentment.
There was just enough time to fit in a night-time swim with luminescent sea creatures (and a couple of jellyfish, ouch) and a rather surreal visit to the 80-strong classic car collection of Norwegian shipping magnate Andreas Ugland where Ferraris mingled alongside Elton John’s Rolls-Royce and even the Batmobile from the 1950s TV series.
Midweek I caught the tiny 15-seated De Havilland plane for the 40 minute flight to Cayman Brac, which is just 12 miles by one.
Popular with walkers, Cayman Brac has some spectacular views from its cliffs and is also known for its excellent diving. However it has just 2,000 inhabitants compared to around 52,000 people who live on Grand Cayman.
However it looks positively crowded compared with Little Cayman, the smallest of the island group with a population of just over a hundred people (rather more iguanas) and my favourite by far.
The airport is tiny: you literally step off the plane, pick up your bags and you are already on the main road. There is no security fence, no terminal and no baggage carousel.
When you’re waiting for your flight out, you go and get a drink in the nearby Hungry Iguana bar and wait for a phone call from the airport to let you know that your flight is ready to take off. You finish your drink, walk out of the bar and straight onto the plane – simple!
I stayed in The Club, a group of luxury condominiums overlooking the ocean next to the Little Cayman Beach Resort and had the whole place to myself.
It was incredibly relaxing – I swam and made rum daiquiris by day and dined under the stars on the roof of the Southern Cross club just a short walk along the beach at night.
One day I kayaked out to my very own desert island, 100 metres offshore, bringing books and a picnic and enjoying the clear blue skies, white sand and 40 degree sunshine, paddling back later to watch the football on the beach bar television while drinking the local beer called Caybrew.
The Club had sturdy old bikes for me to travel around the tiny island – including cycling across the airport runway and trying not to squish the large crabs scuttling along – and I spent one memorable evening at the Pirates Point hotel run by local legend Gladys Howard, where the guests tried to outdo each other making outrageous cocktails from the free bar.
However I had saved the best until last – diving on the Bloody Bay Wall, one of the top dive sites in the world with a 6,000 feet deep coral wall.
Swimming over that and watching the earth plunge away beneath me was an incredible experience and for the first time I understood the lure of diving which gets people travelling the world to explore its depths – and I realised that my taxi driver was probably right. Aren’t they always?
Sarah Bridge is the author of First Catch your Husband: Adventures on the Dating Front Line and writes, a website reviewing the best hotels, holidays, bar and restaurants.

Travel information:
Sarah flew to the Cayman Islands with British Airways – return flights from London Heathrow start from £830.
Double room £219-£223 per night at the Marriot Grand Cayman Beach Resort.
Dive course with DiveTech at Cobalt Coast, Grand Cayman £265
Swimming with the stingrays at Stingray City £27
Night-time bio-luminescence tour at Rum Point, Grand Cayman £34
The Club at Little Cayman £206-£365 a night
The diving in the Cayman Islands is spectacular but there’s plenty for non-divers to see too
The clear blue water and warm climate make Grand Cayman a perfect place for swimming and sailing
Seven Mile Beach on Grand Cayman runs along the western side of the island
Many of the hotels – built to cater for tourists and business travellers – are based on Seven Mile Beach
After my lessons I was now a PADI-qualified diver
Divers can stroke and even feed the massive stingrays at Stingray City – but be careful of their powerful suck
The waters around the Cayman Islands teem with wildlife which swims around the coral reefs
The blue iguana is usually greeny-grey but turns bright blue with happiness once it has been fed
Cayman Brac, the middle of the three islands, has just 2,000 inhabitants and is popular with hikers
My home on Little Cayman was a luxury condominium called The Club
The Southern Club has rooms on the beach and kayaks to take you to your very own desert island
With a population of just a hundred people, life on Little Cayman is anything but crowded
For more on this story go to:

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
About ieyenews

Speak Your Mind