To fully appreciate any Caribbean island, it helps to love water-related activities. But to truly experience the Cayman Islands, it’s pretty much a given that you love-love-love the water— because you’ll want to be in it, on it or gazing at it at all times.
With its famously soft and sparkling sand and brilliant-blue sea, this trio of islands located west of Jamaica and south of Cuba and populated by just 55,000 people is known for offering stellar diving and snorkeling as well as exhilarating interactions with local sea life, from stingrays to sea turtles. But if you prefer to simply wade into the crystalline water and float yourself into azure nirvana, that’s perfectly okay, too.
Here’s what to look for in planning your Cayman Islands vacation:
You won’t find better beaches anywhere in the world.
At 76 square miles, Grand Cayman (pronounced Grand Cay-MON) is this British overseas territory’s main island and gateway, home to the Owen Roberts International Airport and the capital, George Town. Two smaller and less-touristy islands, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac, appeal to divers, fishermen, bird watchers and those seeking a low-key or adventurous escape.
That’s not to say that living on Grand Cayman is rowdy; it’s actually quite civilized (except when cruise ship masses descend on the duty-free shops of George Town and other popular attractions). Offshore banking is the biggest business here (and the island tops many lists of tax havens), and Caymanians seem eager to hold onto their own money as gambling is illegal.
The main Cayman Islands resorts area is legendary Seven Mile Beach, which true to its name stretches out in a shimmering white crescent along the western coast for 6.3 miles (Seven Mile sounds better, right?), offering some of the best all-inclusive resorts in the Cayman islands. The watersports and sunset views here rank among the best in the Caribbean.
When it comes to things to do in the Cayman Islands, Grand Cayman’s other must-see is a sand bar surrounded by shallow, surreally blue water.
Known as Stingray City, dozens of these alien-looking sea creatures gather here waiting to “play” with willing tourists. If that doesn’t quite sound like heaven, you can always go to Hell—a patch of black limestone formations in West Bay with a much-Instagrammed sign and a post office offering a “Hell” postal stamp to amuse friends and family back home.
If an undersea paradise is more appealing, the waters around the Cayman Islands boast more than 500 fish species and excellent visibility, especially at the dive sites off Little Cayman and Cayman Brac—reachable via a 30-minute flight.
Wreck diving fans can explore the 330-foot MV Captain Keith Tibbets off of the former and experience incredible wall dives from the latter. No matter what your preferred mode of water-based enjoyment, these islands and beaches will leave you relaxed and happy.