Sun-kissed sea gently pulses over sugary sand. Beads of water trickle down a glass of rum punch. “No beach chairs in the water,” reads a hand-painted sign tacked onto a tree. This is the scene at Rum Point, a curlicue of land north of the island’s capital, George Town, and it feels as if a daydream you had at the office shimmered its way into real life.
The largest of the three islands in the British chain at 22 miles long, Grand Cayman, set between Cuba and Jamaica, is best known for its status as a tax haven, although that’s changing. There’s a worldly dining scene. A spattering of luxury shops. Gorgeous beaches practically everywhere you look. Friendly locals and a community of expats—hailing from Austria, the Philippines, and elsewhere—with a more-the-merrier attitude. The world is catching on, and the coming years will see more high-end accommodations and a made-over airport. Here’s how to step into your best beach life.
The crescent-shaped Seven Mile Beach, voted among the world’s top 20 beaches by Condé Nast Traveler, actually spans 5.5 miles—but that hardly matters when the sand is so soft and the blue surf so clear and warm. To claim a stretch mostly to yourself, wake up around six; a few joggers get going around 6:30, but everyone else around nine. You can sunbathe or use an oversize float to lie out on the water. If you’re staying more than a few days, you may want to drive to other, smaller beaches, such as the half-mile Spotts Beach, on the south coast, where you can picnic under a grove of palms.
On the Town
A walkway from Seven Mile Beach leads to the open-air Camana Bay complex, where you can get your urban fix. Sip a chai smoothie or green juice from Jessie’s Juice Bar (345-949-2012; smoothies for two, $18*), a café with shaded outdoor seating. Gelato & Co. (345-324-4359; scoops for two, $8) slow churns upwards of 25 flavors, including one made with roasted hazelnuts from Italy.
Arts collective 3 Girls and a Kiln sells ceramic bowls, mugs, and Christmas ornaments that Claire Rohleder and her business partners, Aimee Randolph and Deborah Kern, imprint with coral and more abstract designs. Rohleder’s enthusiasm for the craft—and the island—is infectious as she chats about how her grandmother watched the first commercial plane land on Grand Cayman. Her boyfriend, New Orleans transplant Jonathan Nunez, chimes in with a tip to check out seafood restaurant Catch (345-949-4321; dinner for two, $60). He helped create the cocktail menu at the waterfront mainstay.
Finally, stop by West Indies Wine Company (345-640-9492; tastings, from $10). With quality international labels, it’s a great spot to pick up a bottle to bring back to your resort. You can also do a DIY tasting, sampling from the shop’s 80 wines on tap.
One of the only experiences worth staying out of the sun for is the hammam, or Turkish bath, at the Seafire Spa (345-746-4040; two-hour hammam rituals, $350). “This treatment is rooted in ancient traditions,” explains therapist Caleb Ebanks, who ushers spagoers through a two-hour ritual so soothing you may drift to sleep. For the first hour, you lie on a soft towel in a room with a heated floor and a drain while the attendant pours warm water over your body in between applications of volcanic-ash scrub. Then the attendant dips a kessa mit (similar to a small pillowcase) into water infused with oils and sponges it over your body, leaving a trail of bubbles. After a mud treatment, it’s time for a long hydrating massage.
Stretching in the Sun
“Let’s breathe and move and enjoy the ocean scenery,” says Rachel Whitfield, an instructor at Bliss Yoga (345-949-9642; studio sessions, $19; private beach sessions, price varies) who leads private sunrise sessions on Seven Mile Beach—or any other beach you want. Bliss welcomes walk-ins of all body types and experience levels, including true beginners. Most businesses here close on Sundays, but Bliss stays open and offers lots of indoor classes (power, core, therapeutic).
For 10 years and counting, celebrity chef Eric Ripert has hosted a food festival on the island called the Cayman Cookout, so it’s little surprise that plenty of upscale restaurants have cropped up over time. For a more local, laid-back spot, visit Heritage Kitchen (345-916-0444; lunch for two, $25), in West Bay. Run by a Cuban woman named Rosy and her aunt, the adorable shack is set across the street from a sea wall and dressed in neon pinks, yellows, and blues. Order the coconut grouper with a fresh-squeezed guava juice and watch chickens wander past your picnic table with their chicks.
Tiny pineapple stalks sway in the air at the Queen Elizabeth II Royal Botanic Park (345-947-9462; admission, $12.50) as butterflies flit by. Wild Banana orchids (the islands’ official flower), plum trees, and other tropical flowers and fruits also thrive along the garden’s two paths, one that takes a half hour to walk, the other a full hour. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot a blue iguana wandering outside of the garden’s Blue Iguana Habitat, an enclosed recovery program responsible for bringing the island’s population up from just two. (They like to hang out by the water near the gazebo.) At the sand garden, seashells act as “doorbells,” making a clicking sound when stepped on.
Taking It Easy
Rum Point (345-947-9412; lunch for two, $30) is on the island’s northernmost point, an hour’s drive from Seven Mile Beach. Occupying a sliver of beach, the open-air complex consists of an outpost of Red Sail Sports (877-506-6368; Stingray Sandbar Sail tours, $45 a person; children 3–11, $23) that equips folks for water sports, from kayaking to snorkeling, as well as casual restaurants that dish up conch fritters—conch, pronounced “conk,” is an island specialty that’s prepared grilled, fried (“cracked”), or marinated—and every rum cocktail under the sun. Families play volleyball on a sand court or chill out at picnic tables—topped by menus tied to coconut shells so that the breeze doesn’t carry them away—20 feet from the water.
You can’t talk about Grand Cayman without talking about Stingray City, a sandbar about four miles from Rum Point where southern stingrays congregate in chest-deep water. “If you hold them just right, these guys will take a nap on you,” says captain Grant Patten of Red Sail Sports. Guides stand beside you in the water and show you how to create a circle with your arms for the stingrays to perch upon. These are wild animals, and while some people are quick to embrace the experience, others will be more comfortable staying on the boat. With wingspans up to five and a half feet, the creatures are hard to miss, and you can still capture great photos.
You can hold enormous Caribbean starfish at Starfish Point, a five-minute drive from Rum Point. A sandy path unfurls past three mini-beaches of sorts where enormous red and orange starfish drift in water so shallow you don’t need to bring snorkel gear. Some are so big that when you lift them up, they respond to the sensation by slowly curling their arms around your entire hand.
Well before the nighttime festivities get underway at beachfront hot spot Kaibo (345-947-9975; lunch for two, $35)—a 15-minute water-taxi ride from Cayman Ferries (345-325-7777; round-trip taxi rides, $25 a person) ushers people from Camana Bay—the laid-back indoor-outdoor downstairs restaurant draws couples, friends, and families to its handful of tables and lounge chairs facing the water. The watermelon salad, ceviche, and conch fritters are highlights, and so is the “whole coconut” cocktail—a waiter will hack off the top of a huge coconut for you, fill it with coconut rum, and pop a straw through the top. You’ll have to lift it with both hands, but that’s part of the fun. For live music and Caribbean barbecue, go on a Tuesday night, or reserve a spot at the monthly Luna del Mar party to eat under a full moon. Just about everyone on the island will also tell you to check out the dockside Calypso Grill (345-949-3948; dinner for two, $60), with its warm vibe and lively bar, across the bay—and you’ll be happy you did.
RCI® affiliated resorts on Grand Cayman include:
A peaceful East End location and standout amenities that include a courtyard pool and a diving program to explore the coral and marine life offshore. East End
Member Review: “Beautiful location on the East End.”
Relaxing here is easy, thanks to the bright and airy property’s sun deck, large pool, spa, and in-unit Jacuzzis. Collier’s Bay
Member Review: “The staff treats you like family.”
Did you know that the Cayman Islands are a popular cruise port? RCI® subscribing members can save up to $1,200USD per cabin toward the purchase of select sailings with the exchange of applicable points or a qualified deposit.** For more terms and conditions, visit cruiserci.com.
For complete member reviews (as member reviews have been condensed) and additional resort listings, visit RCI.com or call 800-338-7777 (Weeks) or 877-968-7476 (Points). Club Members, please call your specific Club or RCI telephone number.
Non-RCI affiliated resorts on Grand Cayman include:
Kimpton Seafire Resort & Spa
Cheerful rooms, a kids’ camp, and a sea-facing restaurant called Coccoloba that serves a mean piña colada. 60 Tanager Way, Seven Mile Beach; 888-226-4412; seafireresortandspa.com; doubles from $475 a night
- *Prices have been converted to U.S. dollars. Estimated meal prices do not include drinks, tax, or tip.
- **RCI Cruise is administered by International Cruise & Excursion Gallery, Inc. d/b/a/ Our Vacation Center and/or ICE, a Delaware Corporation, with its principal place of business at 7720 N. Dobson Rd., Scottsdale, Arizona under contract with RCI, LLC. RCI disclaims all responsibility in connection with any third-party travel services. For more information, go to www.cruiserci.com.
- NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
- Published: Spring 2019