Cayman Fun in the Sun

By Jim Walker

From the thrilling depths of the underwater drop-offs, to the parties and nightlife of Seven Mile Beach, to the natural solitude at the top of the bluff on Cayman Brac, the Cayman Islands lay out multiple courses of fun on sunny, tropical platters of blue, green and sandy white. Possibly more than any other diving destination, there are good times here for every taste in diving, accommodations, dining, watersports, sightseeing and socializing. Your experiences can be as reverent as a one-on-one encounter with a Spotted Eagle Ray or as irreverent as an island-wide party called Pirates Week.

Diving, of course, is the focus of most of the fun in the Cayman Islands, and famous Stingray City, off Grand Cayman, is the perfect example. Here snorkelers and scuba divers interact and hand-feed gentle Southern Stingrays. You can’t resist blowing bubbles of laughter as these underwater puppy dogs practically wrestle you for squid treats.
The underwater allure is found all around Grand Cayman, with sloping walls, wrecks, coral gardens and almost any kind of Caribbean dive terrain you could ask for. But, only a short flight away, Little Cayman also has its share of wonders, especially the world-famous Bloody Bay Wall. Cayman Brac is similarly blessed for diving, with a huge Russian frigate wreck, the Capt. Keith Tibbetts, a highlight in easy diving depths.
However, you don’t have to scuba dive to have a great time in the Cayman Islands. The Sister Islands of Little Cayman and Cayman Brac have quiet, nature-oriented activities topside. On Little Cayman, you can visit a nature reserve, where frigate birds and boobies nest. On other strolls through the island’s natural wonders, you might encounter a rock iguana or two, since thousands of these reptiles roam Little Cayman.

The sights on Cayman Brac include the namesake limestone bluffs at the northwestern end of the island. Inside the bluffs are natural caverns, where islanders have sheltered during hurricanes.

The onshore offerings of Grand Cayman can also be of the quiet sort. For example, the eastern end of the island is sparsely populated, the kind of place where you can spend a day on a secluded shore. On the other end of the island, in West Bay, you can visit the Turtle Farm and see, close-up, how endangered marine turtles are raised, then released into the islands’ waters. Even in busy George Town, you can rent a bicycle or take a quiet hour and learn about the Cayman Islands’ heritage, flora and fauna at the Cayman Islands National Museum. And, of course, duty-free, credit card busting shopping is always an option.
The action can rev up fast on Grand Cayman, too. Take watersports, for instance. In addition to diving and snorkeling your brains out, you can roar over the face of the deep on a WaveRunner or catch air on a sailboard. There are sailboat and party cruises, parasailing, ocean kayaking and, underwater, there are a variety of excursions available on submersibles and semi-submersibles—exploring depths from five feet to the dark, mysterious world at 800 feet and beyond. On these vessels, the nondivers in your group can learn, firsthand, why you’re obsessed with sucking air from a metal cylinder and spending half your dive holiday underwater. Maybe they will find the inspiration to try scuba diving, which they can easily do with one of the multitude of professional dive operators.

On Grand Cayman, you can rage with a few friends or a crowd at countless clubs and restaurants. Each establishment has its own atmosphere, but island casual dominates the scene. For instance, you might watch locals play dominos at one bar then walk down the street to join Canadian ex-pats as they bowl with frozen turkeys (in the time honored tradition of the icy north). The music scene pulses too, from Caribbean to rock to country.

At certain times during the year, the Cayman Islands raise the black flag and live wholeheartedly under its inimitable influence. Pirates Week, which takes place the last week in October, is the Cayman Islands’ national festival. First, George Town is attacked by fully-costumed pirates, who invade from the sea on a replica Spanish galleon, dive boats, wooden rafts and anything else that floats. Throughout the week swaggering pirates and enticing wenches roam the streets and establishments, as locals and visitors alike take on a swashbuckling strut. The week features treasure hunts, live music, beer tents and family-oriented events.

Another island festival is Batabano, the last week of April or first week in May. This is a Caribbean-style carnival weekend where everyone again dresses up and parades through George Town. Country Music fans will have a down-home blast during Fin Fair. Occurring May through October, this is a series of intimate concerts offered up by big-name country music artists (and up-and-coming opening acts). After the concerts, the artists are usually available for photos and autographs—and during the day before each concert, fans can interact with the stars during scheduled activities (often including diving).

If you have a taste for award winning food, you might want to attend one of the Cook-offs on Little Cayman (February) or Cayman Brac (March). During these events, local chefs and cooks compete for top honors in several food categories, with the winners chosen by celebrity judges. There is live musical entertainment, prize raffles and lots of great eats. The Sister Islands of Little Cayman and Cayman Brac are also host to SummerFest during the first weekend of July. There are barbecues, raft races, volleyball, dancing and other enticing activities.
The Sister Islands Photo Challenge is scheduled for the first weekend in August. Much like a Nikonos Shootout, the competition is less intense and includes a topside category. Brac Week Bash is celebrated the third weekend in September and commemorates the anniversary of the sinking of the Capt. Keith Tibbetts.

For divers at Grand Cayman, the main event occurs in September and October—the renowned series of week-long diver parties on Grand Cayman, hosted by Bob Soto’s Diving, called Cayman Madness. These dive packages include everything to get you to the islands, accommodate you, dive you crazy, load you down with keepsakes and party-you-hearty. It’s one big, wet bash that keeps bringing groups of divers back, year after year.

From dive-crazed madness, swashbuckling and steel drums, to the lure of the blue and the quiet eco-corners of nature—the Cayman Islands are packed with thrills or ease, wherever your pleasure takes you.