A clear blue early morning sky greeted MS Carnival Dream as we cruised into George Town’s harbour. We had low expectations of the Cayman Islands after being rather disappointed by our shore excursion to Montego Bay in Jamaica but when we arrived at George Town, we were most pleasantly surprised by what we saw. To say we liked the Cayman Islands is an understatement. We loved it.
The Cayman Islands
The Cayman Islands is a British Overseas Territory consisting of three islands, Grand Cayman, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac. Discovered by Columbus in 1503 and named the ‘Tortugas’ after the huge number of green turtles on the islands, Caymanians to this day still enjoy the right to eat green turtles. Turtles are a popular delicacy on the menu at some of the island’s restaurants. The turtles on the menu are farmed at the special facility in West Bay.
The Cayman Islands were later handed over to the English, which is why there is a strong English influence to this day. The currency of the Cayman Islands is based on the pound sterling; they drive on the left hand side of the road; and petrol is $4 for an imperial gallon. Caymanians pride themselves on being hospital and friendly and they look after tourists, as after all tourism is the main source of income.
The crime rate is low and prisons are so bad they don’t have re-offenders! Minimal government handouts means the locals have to work hard to earn a living. Street hawking is illegal and education is free up to the age of 18. Unemployment is non-existent. The population of 58,000 includes 30,000 working migrants, who usually obtain work visas for three months up to seven years mainly given to US and Canadian citizens.
Streets are clean and most houses are rendered. Gardens are neat and tidy, with lovely tropical landscaping. Most of the buildings look new and fresh. Guns are not allowed and are not even worn by police. There are affluent areas for the tourists, more affluent areas where the movie stars stay and no areas where the paparazzi are allowed (by law). And of course, the Cayman Islands is a haven for ‘safe’ banking and a reputation for really looking after your money. All this adds up to make the Cayman Islands a very popular place.
Grand Cayman Island
We set off with our driver and guide Mel. Our first stop was Pedro St James. Pedro Point is a place of historical interest. St James was built in 1780 and is the oldest house on the island. When the Cayman Islands broke away from British rule in 1831, Pedro St James was where the magistrates gathered to create their new laws. In fact, the proclamation of anti-slavery laws in 1836 was announced from its steps.
It then fell into a long period of rack and ruin. It was re-built in 1940. It continues to be developed as a major tourist attraction with plantation style gardens growing fruit and vegetables.
From there we headed into town to visit the Tortuga Rum Cake Factory. Samples of the world-famous cake and rum were handed out and appreciated by all.
We passed the Old Homestead cottage, which is over 100 years old. The cottage is a delightful example of a historic home built to withstand hurricanes. Constructed out of limestone and iron shore, it has weathered far better than many modern homes destroyed by Hurricane Ivan (a category 5 hurricane).
We drove past the famous Cayman Turtle Farm opposite the popular Dolphin Encounter.
Our next stop was the town of Hell, the only place where you can really tell someone to “Go2Hell”! The quirky name stuck after a duck hunter apparently missed his target and cried out “Oh, hell!” The gift shop was fascinating, as was the mail box where you can send friends and family a postcard from Hell.
The volcanic rock exposed outside the back of the shop added to the atmosphere of hell and damnation, especially with its own little devil smiling menacingly at visitors.
We drove along Seven Mile Beach, which is lined with fancy apartments, hotels, malls, plazas and restaurants. A Grand Cayman Island restaurant (which one?) has just won its second award for Best Restaurant in the Caribbean. We drove past the beautiful white house where John Grisham’s The Firm was filmed. It’s example of the classic island colonial architecture.
Our final stop was Calico Jack’s Bar and Grill on Seagate beach where, at last, I got my first taste of my dream Caribbean island beach.
Caribbean island beach
With a bright blue sky and aqua-blue-green clear water, the beach was bustling with tourists. Caymanians love water toys, such as snorkels, banana boats, jet skis and jumping castles. Paragliding is a popular activity and cocktails are served in the ocean.
We were reluctant to leave. Sadly we headed back to the capital, George Town, where we had a little time to check out the local shops and cafes. As we walked past the shops, the cool blasts of air from the air-conditioning enticed us. There were plenty of shops, including duty free shops, local craft shops, shops selling funky T-shirts and dive shops.
Catching the tender back the ship was a sad moment.
Did I tell you I like Cayman? God, I love it! Would we go back to the Cayman Islands? Absolutely. In a heartbeat!
Irene Isaacson travelled at her own expense.