I’ve visited Grand Cayman twice. Today is the fourth day of my second visit and I have yet to meet anyone actually from this small Caribbean country. The woman who gave me a pedicure this morning is from northern England; the hairdresser, from Georgia (I admit to a fair amount of pampering); our hired driver, from Jamaica; waiters from Tunisia and other distant lands, but none from Cayman, most not even from the Caribbean.
I live in Barbados, where Barbadians hold the majority of jobs at all levels of society. I’ve always felt that locals give a country a sense of place. If not for locals, I figure I may as well be in an airport, easily the most place-less places on earth.
However, after snorkeling the pristine Caribbean waters of Cayman, I really couldn’t hold this place-less-ness against Grand Cayman. Each Caribbean island holds a certain magic, including Grand Cayman.
After two visits spent snorkeling, dining on delicious seafood, and walking the gorgeous and famed Seven Mile Beach, I take away the following knowledge and impressions of this small, English-speaking island:
About Grand Cayman
1. Grand Cayman offers some of the world’s premier snorkeling and SCUBA locations. The draw? The graceful stingrays, sunken ships from its pirate days, and beautiful coral. The beaches are pristine and the Caribbean Sea are a pretty light blue, warm, very gentle, and as clear as a glass of water.
2. Grand Cayman is a fantastic place to do absolutely nothing. Hotels line the soft white sand of Seven Mile Beach. Five minutes on this beach and I enter lazy mode; on one day of my holiday, my greatest exertion was holding my hand out to take my next iced beverage from the waiter.
3. Grand Cayman is about 22 miles long and 4 to 8 miles wide and at sea level; like Barbados it is a coral island, not volcanic. My first impression was that it’s a sandbar, so different from the varied geography of my home country of Barbados. The highest point on the island is the landfill.
4. Grand Cayman is the largest of the three islands comprising the Cayman Islands. The other two are Cayman Brac and Little Cayman.
5. Cayman is located in the Western Caribbean Sea, about 400 miles south of Miami. (In contrast, Barbados is in the Eastern Caribbean, about 1600 miles south and east of Miami.)
6. Cayman was first sighted by Christopher Columbus in 1503. He named the three islands Las Tortugas after the sea turtles. The name of Cayman, a Carib Indian word, came later, after a local species of crocodile.
7. Cayman never had slaves (unlike Barbados, which after 1650, imported thousands of African slaves to work the sugar cane fields).
8. Cayman and Jamaica were governed as a single British colony until 1962 when Cayman became designated a “British overseas territory,” one of 14 territories under the sovereignty of the UK but not part of the UK and Jamaica became independent. (Barbados, also once a British colony, is one of the 53 member states belonging to the British Commonwealth.)
9. The Cayman Islands have more registered businesses than people (population is around 60,000). The government’s primary source of income is indirect taxation: there is no income tax or capital gains tax or corporation tax. Based on income, the Caymanians enjoy the highest standard of living in the Caribbean. Locals complain there’s not much to do on the island; they tell me it’s a more enjoyable place for tourists (and corporations!) than people who live there.
10. The Cayman Islands have the dubious honor of having experienced the most hurricane strikes in history. Hurricane Ivan almost completely destroyed the unprotected island in 2004; within two years, the Caymanians had rebuilt their country.