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There's something about the sea air and unspoiled beauty of Little Cayman...
The lure of Cayman's coral reefs, sandy beaches and picturesque sunsets November 29, -0001 6:42 PM LMT Caribbean sunsets are lovely. Sharon Lindores / National Post Southern Cross Club is the original resort on Little Cayman.
Point of Sand is on the eastern tip of Little Cayman.
Little Cayman is mostly undeveloped.
A hawksbill sea turtle swims with a diver.
Stingrays gracefully swim on the sandbar in Grand Cayman.
Blue iguanas are an endangered species.
The Crystal Caves have a natural pond.
A pina colada with a view at Coccoloba on Seven Mile Beach.
Seven Mile Beach is the longest beach on Grand Cayman.
Catamarans are a great way to explore the Caribbean.
Blowholes shoot water up on Grand Cayman's south shore.
Caribbean sunsets are lovely.
Kayaking to Owen Island.
A coney swimming by Little Cayman.
Caribbean Club’s refreshing pool is right on Seven Mile Beach.
Kiristen Cousins leads a paddle board yoga class.
Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park boasts of more than 65 acres to explore.
Sailing away into the Caribbean sunset…
Swimming with stingrays, epicurean delights and crystal clear waters make this British Overseas Territory a wonderful place to unwind...
Little Cayman may only be 16 km long and 2 km across, but it’s a gem of an island.
With a population of about 170, it has more iguanas and birds than people. There is one store, one bank (open on Mondays and Thursdays) and one barge delivery per week (weather permitting).
The isle, about 130 km east of Grand Cayman, is the perfect place to really unwind and indulge in simple pleasures. But don’t be fooled by the slow-paced charms on land, the underwater world here is teeming with life.
And that’s what draws people, mainly divers, to this speck of an island. To be fair, Grand Cayman, the biggest of the three Cayman Islands, which are south of Cuba and northwest of Jamaica, also attracts its fair share of enamoured visitors and has a lot to offer – more of which later – but Little Cayman sparkles with nature.
Mostly undeveloped, there are a handful of very small resorts on the island. And when I check into the original resort – Southern Cross Club – I’m told there are no keys.
Much to my relief, I can lock my little beach bungalow from the inside, but there really is no need. Such is life in this oasis of tranquillity.
To get a real desert island experience, I kayak over to the nearby Owen Island, which is completely uninhabited. There I find 11 acres of sand and vegetation and, of course, stunning views of the Caribbean.
Back on Little Cayman, I take a bike for a leisurely spin along the country road. There’s only one main road and occasionally a car – though you do have to watch out for crabs and iguanas (and there are street signs for the latter.)
Another day, I drive around the island. With a speed limit of 25 mph (40 kph), it takes a little more than an hour to circumnavigate and there are a few points of interest along the way.
The aptly named Point of Sand on the eastern tip is a wonderful secluded beach. I can see across to Cayman Brac, the third island that makes up the Cayman trio. I wander along the beach and do some snorkelling. The water’s clear but as I veer north the current picks up and I swim ashore.
Heading to the north side of the island I stop off at the Central Caribbean Marine Institute’s research station, a non-profit organisation, which works on sustaining the wonderful marine biodiversity here.
Following the coast, past the lighthouse and the tiny airport there’s the museum, which is also well worth a visit. You can learn about more than 500 years of history on the island and the affable Tanja Laaser, who runs it, can also tell you all about the native iguanas.
Of course, Little Cayman’s great for swimming or lounging by the water and the dining’s also very good. But the diving is fantastic.
The Bloody Bay Wall, off the northwest coast of the island, is a breathtaking coral reef with a sheer drop, extending about two kilometres below the Caribbean’s surface. Jacques Cousteau called it one of the top three dive sites in the world.
And perhaps thanks to its location, in a protected marine park, it’s still thriving. I dive through coral archways, up, down and along the magnificent reef on one side, while on the other side I look out on the fantastic expanse of blue sea as far as I can see (and the visibility’s very good).
There are giant tube sponges, colourful coral fans and lots of tropical fish. There are lobsters, rays and barracudas. There’s an abundance of beauty and life.
Diving off of Little Cayman is really spectacular, but it’s also very good off of Grand Cayman.
I went out with Red Sail Sports to the Chinese Wall and Penny’s Arch sites, not far from Rum Point (a beach area with a restaurant and dock on the northern side of the island).
There are colourful parrotfish, long trumpet fish and mahogany snapper among others weaving through gardens of sea fans. With water temperatures around 29C and excellent visibility it’s really an amazing world to be immersed in…
And on Grand Cayman you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to water activities. Kayaking, sailing and splashing about are oh-so-easy and enjoyable in this pristine, aquamarine bit of the Caribbean.
Grand Cayman, with a population of about 53,000, is the biggest of the islands, which were first sited by Christopher Columbus in 1503. The islands remained largely uninhabited until England took control of them in 1670. They are still a British Overseas Territory and are run as a parliamentary democracy.
For centuries they remained sparsely populated and undeveloped and were once known as the ‘islands time forgot.’ In the late 1960s they got electricity and with that development the financial industry and tourism started to grow. Today, Grand Cayman is known as a clean, safe and established destination with everything from fine cuisine to an impressive National Gallery and simple pleasures like walking along the beach, or gazing out on a beautiful sunset.
One morning, I joined Kiristen Cousins, of Vitamin Sea, for a yoga/paddle boarding class. With our paddle boards loosely anchored she took me through some gentle yoga sequences. While the seated and low poses were infinitely easier than the standing poses, it was a fun and relaxing class. It turns out that doing yoga on the crystal clear water is incredibly soothing.
And when it was time to do the stand-up paddle boarding, I found that I was relaxed and much more competent than I had been on previous attempts (surely the water was rougher the last time)!
“You just have to get used to the motion of the ocean,” Cousins says, while giving me tips on my paddling technique and moving around on the board.
During my one-hour class, just off of Seven Mile Beach, we saw two turtles and two stingrays effortlessly swimming alongside us.
Sailing to the rays
In order to learn more about stingrays, I join Red Sail Sports for an outing to the Stingray Sandbar. A group of about 25 of us boarded the 20-metre Spirit of Poseidon catamaran and head to the shallow sandbar that’s home to 180 stingrays.
Allie Pittendreigh, a handler, gently holds one of the larger, female rays, which weighs about 40 kg, by the surface of the water. She tells us how they breathe, what they eat and how they communicate.
And she explains how to hold the ray by getting face-to-face with the fish and gently resting your arms under their more than one-metre-long wings. They’re incredibly soft to touch and although they’re living free in the sea they appear to be used to human visits here and will linger or gracefully swim away as they please.
The southern creatures are a hit in the water.
Back on land, the rare blue iguanas endemic to Grand Cayman are also popular. The dinosaur-like reptiles were nearly extinct two decades ago. Thanks to the help of the National Trust’s Blue Iguana Recovery Program at Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, there are now about 1,000 of the creatures.
Alberto Estevanovich shows me around the site and tells me how the cold-blooded, territorial creatures are making a comeback.
Estevanovich and other locals seem genuinely excited to share their expertise about the island’s wildlife and natural beauty. And Andrae Barrett, a tour guide at the Crystal Caves, is no exception.
Located in a tropical forest on the north side of the island, the caves have amazing stalagmite and stalactite crystals. The underground caverns are fascinating and were once used as hideouts by pirates.
Barrett recalls playing in them as a child and explains how he and his friends would look for big fig trees, whose roots create entranceways to the caves.
Of course, with all this adventure it’s easy to build up an appetite. And Grand Cayman doesn’t disappoint.
Chefs Dean Max and Artemio Lopez of the Brasserie serve up a fantastic tuna ceviche, miso-glazed red snapper on jasmine rice, garden bok choy and chili-cured starfruit. And then, to top it all off, there’s a mango pavlova to savour.
They truly believe in the farm-to-table approach and that’s why the restaurant has 50 bee hives, 70 laying hens, a coconut plantation, a huge garden and not one, but two fishing boats.
The Caribbean Club’s Luca restaurant, the Kimpton Seafire’s Coccoloba and the Cracked Conch, also serve absolutely delicious meals. The latter being on a very scenic waterfront point.
And Red Sail’s sunset dinner was spectacular as well. Sailing in the Caribbean is simply hard to beat, add to that fresh salads, barbecued wahoo fish, and a decadent sticky toffee pudding under the starry sky…
Suffice it to say, it only left me wanting to return to these islands.
The author was a guest of the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism. The organization did not review this article.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019