Bank on a good time in Grand Cayman

By | Category: Travel destinations, Travel tips & opinions

Forget Barbados and the Bahamas. This time around it’s Grand Cayman that is stealing the scene. After years in the second rank of Caribbean destinations, this idyllic, sun kissed location is an island on the move

Like most things that are worthwhile, reaching Grand Cayman can be hard work but the pay-off is pure heaven. For while the island’s association with offshore banking and the rich and famous means that Grand Cayman is often thought of as an over the top sort of place, it isn’t like that all. Rather it’s a small island (despite its name Grand Cayman is just four miles by 22 miles and home to a mere 45,000 people ) whose pristine powder fine beaches and balmy waters offer a welcome charm for travellers tired of city life.

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Any tour of the island is bound to include a visit to Seven Mile Beach – a five and a half mile (don’t ask) stretch of sand that glints in the sunshine with the sparkle of a newly wed’s solitaire and is pictured on every postcard. Nonetheless for all its fame, Seven Mile Beach remains remarkably unspoilt (the government does a good job of keeping the temptations of development in check and no hotel is allowed to be built higher than the tallest palm tree) and even in high season you can still stroll its length before breakfast and barely see another soul. Venture there in low season and you’ll find the beach empty, but for the husks of coconuts, and mercifully free of vendors vying to vying to braid your hair.

Once you’ve had your fill of this eye wateringly beautiful beach, it’s time to take to the sea: the lapis lazuli waters from which shoals of fish leap, their scales flashing silver in the sunlight, are too enticing to pass up a diving or snorkelling session. If you’ve never snorkelled or dived on a Caribbean coral reef and go tomorrow to the famous Cayman Trough you will be amazed as I was – and still am – by the beauty and incredible diversity.

A boat trip to Stingray City Sandbar, a sandy shallow spot where you can meet the Cayman Islands’ most famous residents – southern stingrays – is another must. On any brilliant day, you’ll find hundreds of black, velvety stingrays – some of which have six to eight foot wingspans – doing what they have done for eons: feeding and frollicking in the waves.

But the sea hasn’t always been so saintly – witness the ‘Wreck of the Ten Sails’ which took place in 1794 when 10 merchant vessels in a convoy between the UK and Jamaica ran aground on the reef one night, because a warning signal was misunderstood. According to local lore and legend, Caymanians managed to save every passenger prompting King George 111 to make Grand Cayman tax free in gratitude.

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Away from the water, the great natural wonder of island is the native blue iguana – a giant dragon like lizard, found only in Grand Cayman that grows to more than five feet long and can weigh as much as 25 pounds. The blue iguana faced extinction only a decade ago but thanks to a successful recovery programme, their numbers have risen from 25-144. The best place to view the distinctive blue iguanas slumbering in the sun is over at the Queen Elizabeth 11 Botanic Park. Set in 65 acres of lush gardens, the park also offers a chance to explore local flora and fauna including, my favourite, the Chanel No 5 tree, and see a recreation of a traditional sugar almond coloured Caymanian house complete with a sand garden.

To read the second part of this article, don’t forget to log onto the CD Traveller website tomorrow

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