Published: January 11th 2010January 5th 2010
Turqoise Waters and Azure Skies
You can hardly tell where the ocean stops and the sky begins!
Laid back and Leisurely
My husband has been telling me for nearly nine years that Grand Cayman Island is the most beautiful place on earth. For his 40th birthday I was going to rent out a go-cart track for him and all of his buddies and found out it was going to cost about $3000. I had been saving for a while so it wasn't really the money that I was worried about, but I just kept asking myself, "What am I going to get out of this?" Just kidding, but it didn't take too long before I convinced myself that "Hey, we never went on a honeymoon. Heck, we've never gone anywhere alone with each other." Could we actually make it a whole vacation with just the two of us? The answer after returning from this tropical paradise was Yes! Yes! Yes!
When we left December 10th from O'Hare International Airport. We had just gotten 8 inches of snow and the temp was hoovering around a balmy negative 20 degree windchill. Boy was I going to miss home! I knew we were in for an 8 hour travel day, but as with any other vacation...mine starts
The day before we left
Cold! Cold! Cold! People had been waiting at O'Hare for two days trying to get out from the storm. I can't believe I'm smiling!
when I walk out the door of my house. Any change from your everyday routine (that is not a tragedy) is a vacation in my book and my husband couldn't have dropped a better seed.
Grand Cayman would not have been my first choice. First, because I heard over and over again in my research how expensive the island is (which is true for the most part) but we found ways to get around some of the high end spending. The second thing that made me hesitant was because it didn't really look like there was a whole lot to do there. What I so delightfully found out was that's EXACTLY the point. We have traveled to other Caribbean locations that were jam packed full of snorkeling, four-wheeling, horse back riding and all kinds of other tours, and those things are a blast. In Cayman however, your job is to really relax. Don't get me wrong, there are attractions worth seeing and I will cover them. We went all over the whole island because we rented a car and a boat. The best attributes of Cayman are the pristine waters and it's quiet atmosphere. If you snorkel or
Greg in a lawn chair in front of our hotel
dive this is your dream trip!
We stayed at the Marriott on 7 mile beach because I figured the name was accredited, the Ritz (though spectaclar) was outrageous, and the price was right! After much internet examination I got a combo deal (hotel and airfare) through Expedia for $650 a person. I didn't think that was too bad for the so called "most expensive place in the Caribbean." Most people have heard about this island because of the banking industry (there are hundreds of banks on this little 30 mile wide island) and with the recent economic crisis you can see this locale was hit as hard as the rest of the world. Everything is for sale and I drooled at every home and condo I passed with a sign in front of it. Maybe this is why our trip was a little cheaper but we also missed "high season" prices by one day too.
The hotel was nice and the rooms were very accomodating. There's a man-made reef right off the shore that will get you ready for the real thing. Almost anywhere you go on Grand Cayman you can walk right into the water and snorkel.
There's a great turtle pond at the Marriott in the middle of their garden courtyard and lots of ocean front rooms for a little more money. We were glad it was so nice but could actually have cared less what it was like. We spent little time at the hotel. The first day we got there we walked up to a supermarket and bought food and drinks to save time and money. There was a fridge in the room and we brought a small collapsable cooler. I would say stuff is maybe a third more than what you would be used to paying, but you have to remember that EVERYTHING must be imported on to this island. There's a cost for that. Where you have to be careful with prices is at the popular restaurants, bars, and shopping most of which we skipped.
My big splurge was on a private boat rental from C.J.'s Marina for my husbands birthday and it was worth every penny. I paid $299 plus oil and gas which I thought was pretty reasonable. When we got there they said they were giving us an upgrade to a larger boat because it was windy. Actually,
it was because none of the other boats were rented that day, but it was still super nice of them and we were greatly appreciative. They made a point of saying that Greg was the captain and IN CHARGE. It never ceases to amaze me how much men stroke eachother's ego...no matter where you are in the world. They also gave us an awesome detailed map of the water so we knew exactly where the landmarks were but the dumbass captain lost it within the first 10 minutes. We both have boating experience though, so were fine.
You MUST go to Stingray City if you go to Grand Cayman. Most of the boat and catamaran tours out to the sandbar where the stingrays hang out were over $50 a person. Some of them included lunch and were like $100 a piece so I figured for a few more bucks we had our own private transport for the whole day. It was outstanding! We cruised around the North Sound and Rum Point all day long but spent most of our time camped out on the sand bar with the stingrays. There are dozens of these fish that will cozy right
up to you whether you have squid to feed them or not and whether you want them to or not. They just won't hang around long if you don't feed them. Of course you think about poor Steve Irwin when you approach these animals but they are honestly the most docile creatures ever! When I first got there and saw these huge discs coming toward our boat quite rapidly I was scared to death! It didn't take me long to get in the water, but I remained skittish for about an hour. Once a few of them bumped into me a couple of times I began to relax and thought, "if this was really dangerous hundreds of people wouldn't be coming out here everyday." There was an American guy anchored out there on a wildlife conservation boat that watched over the area all day and we talked to him for a little bit. How on earth do you grab that gig? He hangs out in the ocean in 85 degree weather all year long babysitting the stingrays. Sign me up! He told us that he had been going to the island for over thirty years and it took him nearly
that long to finally get his visa to work with the marine guard full time. He said it was very difficult to gain citizenship in Grand Cayman if you are not naturalized. After being there for only a few days I understand why someone would wait thirty years to get THAT job and live in paradise on top of it! He was reading a book, kicked back in a lawn chair, and very helpful with any questions we had. What a cool cat. Feel free to tell him Greg and Guin sent you (he won't know who the hell you are talking about) but it will make us feel important.
We also stopped at a bar in one of the marinas to see if they had a map. Kaibo Beach Retreat is a harbor and public establishment right next to a park where locals gather on Sundays for some R and R (I'll get back to Sundays later). Kaibo is a beautiful little nook of the island and the bar there was open with lawn chairs on the beach for anyone to enjoy. This place convinced us that we had to return to the north side of the island
during our stay. It's different from Seven mile beach. Tranquil comes to mind but even more than that, the north side is less touristy and you can tell that everything moves a bit slower there. This is also where we saw some of the most amazing rental properties right on the water. There were places where the sand remained ankle deep for hundreds of feet out into the ocean. One of the homes had a volleyball net at least 100 yards out in the water in front of it. There were kayaks and pedal boats that were obviously there for the guests leisure. How much fun would that be on a family vacation? Wake up every morning to an ocean stroll and snorkel. Note to self: Rent a house on Grand Cayman and pretend like I live there for a week. We checked out some of the prices at the real estate place next to the bar in Kaibo. You could literally rent a house and get groceries for a whole family for the same amount we paid.
I was sad at the end of our boating day. What a spectacular experience. I jumped in the water everywhere we
went and it was all breathtaking. That's great considering I had a snorkel sticking out of my mouth all day! We got back into the dock at 4 o' clock and realized that Greg had only smeared sunscreen on parts of his body. He was striped like a zebra and it was hilarious. I don't think he thougt it was too funny but he must have known what he was doing...he was the CAPTAIN! We called the same taxi driver that dropped us off and she was there in a flash. What a sweet woman she was.
The next day we rented a car so we could go back to the North side of the island to Rum Point. Even though the island is only about 30 miles wide it takes over an hour to get around to the other side of it from Seven Mile Beach. There is one road that cuts up through the middle of the island but we took the long route so we could see everything. I'm sure locals take that shortcut often getting to and from Georgetown, commerce, work, etc. The south end of the island is quite a spectacle compared to the
At Morrits Tortuga on the East End of the Island
rest of country. This is where the waves break fervantly over many lava rocks and small cliffs. This makes for the most incredible views but dangerous swimming. There are a couple of public spots for going in and out of the water, but it's definitely not like the powdery white sand of the rest of the beaches. Once you get around the southeast point you move north to what they call the East end. Here you will find Morritts and Reef resorts which is surprisingly open to visitors. Unlike other resort locations, those on Grand Cayman welcome visitors and could care less if you hang out on their property all day long. The infinity bar at Morritts was cool and we stopped to soak in the hot tub and have a drink.
On the North side we stopped at a small local bar at around 2 o'clock and met a couple of people from the states that live in Grand Cayman most of the time. The first guy was this eccentric jewelry dealer that looked like he had been drinking red wine since he got out of bed. He said that he just stumbled down to the pub and
Rent a car
Easiest way to get around
met up with some friends each day. One of his employees (maybe girlfriend too) came in while we were sitting there and handed him a huge bank bag full of gold and money. The thought of living on this island miraculously popped in my head again. It's no wonder a person could make a fortune in jewelry here though. When you go through Georgetown there is nothing but banks, jewelry stores, and icecream shops all catering to the thousands of tourists that come to shop at the "duty-free" over priced port shops. Hell, you could sell soap made out of dolphin crap to some of those people. If it's in a shop, says Cayman Islands, and expensive they will buy it. The other couple we met were part of the grocery empire on the island. It seemed like everywhere we went stores were owned by either Foster's or Kirk's. This couple was from Texas and were of the Kirk dynasty. They were so laid back and a ton of fun to talk to. They said they had just shipped their entire family down there for Thanksgiving on the beach. I asked if they were adopting!
Finally we hit Rum
Point which is a cool beach and resort that is also open to the public. There's a souvenir shop, bar, restaurant, and hammocks to relax the afternoon away. Greg chilled...I snorkeled. I saw some of the largest sand dollars I had ever seen but didn't know if they were safe to touch. I thought I was getting pretty good at sea venturing. I was calling myself a regular old Jacques Cousteau. Then I stood up under a dock way out in the water and stepped on a starfish. I nearly shit myself thinking a spike from a stingray was heading straight through my body. I didn't even get a cut. Needless to say my feet never touched the bottom of the ocean again until I was to shore. I still snorkeled, I just never stood up in the water.
We left Rum Point and went back to the Kaibo bar where we were at the day before. The same bartender was working and she told us about a spot that the locals hang out at on Sundays. It was being developed into a big resort but had been sitting there empty for quite some time so natives bring lawn
Northern Most Point of Island by Rum Point
This is undeveloped private property that the locals say will soon be a huge resort!
chairs and BBQ on their day off. It was a neat little cul du sac that sat on about 5 acres of beachfront on the island. The sand was beautiful and it was so clear that you could see all the way out to Stingray City. It seemed like prime property so Greg and I decided to buy it. Why let it sit there empty? Being that we are so in to conservation we decided to just leave it as is. So if any of our friends want to go stay at G & G's on Grand Cayman...bring a tent and you're in! We hung out for about an hour and then decided to head back to the hotel. It was around four and we still had an hour drive back...if we didn't take any detours. The "Captain" missed the turn that cuts through the middle of the island so it took a little longer. I could have cared less. What a kick ass place to be lost!
The next day was Sunday and we were forwarned that everything was going to be closed. One of the most striking aspects of the culture on the Cayman Islands - and
an indicator of the predominant British and American influence - is the prevalence of Christianity. All of the nicest people we met blessed us as they said goodbye. Religion is taken so seriously that the port to the island is closed to cruise ships on Sundays. The only things open are gas stations, some bars, and restaurants. You won't find a supermarket or clothig store open to the public and Georgetown is locked up tight. It's like a ghost town driving through there and it seems like people look at you funny if you're not in church. The public beaches are packed though, and where many locals hang out on their day off. We went to a huge public park on Seven Mile Beach with a great bar called Schooner's. The place is full of locals watching football on the huge outdoor T.V. screen. We snacked a little, drank a few, and of course I snorkeled. I forgot my damn camera and I got a big fish tale that I can't prove to show for it. I was about a 150 yards off shore and I looked down 10 feet and there was this creature with long tentacles sitting under
a rock. I saw what looked like a claw and thought that it must have been a crab but it was huge! I swam down closer to get a better look and I sware it was about 3 feet long and the biggest lobster I had ever seen in my life. After the starfish debacle I knew damn well I wasn't getting anywhere near it but I was mad that I didn't get a picture. I got back to shore with every intention of returning to the spot, finding Mr. Lobster, and making him say "cheese" but the only thing that came to mind was "needle in a haystack." It's posted everywhere that you are not to take anything off the beach, out of the water, or from the landscape, but if I would have had a stick of butter...
Now if you know my husband you will be as shocked at what happened next as I was. He wanted to stay an extra day! He was so relaxed and really enjoying himself that we got the room for another night and changed our flight for a day later. Whew, and just when I was about to start scheming
ways to get out of going home. I was so proud of him. He deserved a relaxing vacation and you're only 40 once (unless you are me...I plan on celebrating mine about 10 times). We kept the car for an extra day too. It was only $26 bucks a day anyhow. There is a bus system that will take you anywhere through the island for $2, but for the price it was just as easy to keep the bad-ass Hyundai. The rental place was right across the street from the Marriott so I just walked over and asked if we could keep it. Come to find out we could return it to their location at the airport when we were leaving so it worked out perfect.
Greg slept in the last day and I took the car up to West Bay. That's where you will find "Hell" and you can send a postcard to a loved one from "Hell." It is basically just rough lava rock formations in the middle of the island that look pretty cool. The Turtle Farm is up there too and jam packed full of turtles of all shapes and sizes. The best part of
West Bay is the Wildlife preserve that takes up most of the northern tip. It's a couple square miles of jungle along the coast line and VERY secluded. I didn't even know I had entered the preserve until I parked and walked over to the ocean. I walked around for about an hour and saw all kinds of birds and lizards but not one other person. It was extrememly peaceful and hard not to dream about living someplace like this forever. They really do an amazing job of truly preserving the landscape on this island.
As usual, I was planning my next trip to Grand Cayman before this one was even over. There are two smaller islands, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac, that you can only get to by flying from Grand Cayman. They say that there are even less people wandering around on them and even better snorkel and dive sites. Well, I can't just take their word for it! I really hope we can get back someday. We bought a square foot of beachfront property (or Greg marked his territory like a dog there anyhow...same thing). On our way to the airport we passed the Tortuga Rum
Seven Mile Beach!
Factory. You can taste test all the rum and rumcakes you can put away. That alone is reason enough to go back! I learned from this trip that there are places to go in this world that are still pure and uncorrupted from the typical tourism that seems to consume so many other destinations. More importantly, I found out that my husband can actually kick back and enjoy some time alone with his loving bride. This vacation was an awesome way to inspire and strengthen our relationship and we have to keep doing more of the same to keep it that way...I will definitely put that at the end of my rainbow!
There are more photos below