There’s more to Grand Cayman than beautiful beaches, five-star resorts and financial services.
The largest of the three Cayman Islands, this Caribbean idyll sets the bar high when it comes to captivating cultural, culinary and natural attractions. Untamed hiking trails, handsome heritage sites and otherworldly marine encounters number among many memorable experiences in Grand Cayman.
Prepare to go beyond the magnificent yet mainstream Seven Mile Beach with these unmissable activities.
1. Stroll around pretty George Town
Cayman is a popular pit stop on Caribbean cruises, and the capital, George Town, is almost always the first sight passengers see. It is extremely photogenic, with wooden buildings in jewel colors lining the waterfront. They house a mishmash of venues, from duty-free stores selling perfume and diamonds to cool cafes serving up Buddha bowls, vegan brownies and almond milk lattes. You’ll also spot the Cayman National Museum along the waterfront: it’s worth popping in for a lesson on local history.
Planning tip: Whether you’re searching for things to do during a port of call or visiting the island independently, plan to spend an hour or two exploring this tiny city.
2. Hike the Mastic Trail
This offbeat locale is the polar opposite – both geographically and figuratively – of the tidy capital. The Mastic Trail weaves its way through a protected mangrove forest on the island’s east side, offering a taste of Cayman in its most natural state.
High humidity and a deluge of bugs make walking the 2.3-mile linear trail a reasonably non-touristy thing to do in Grand Cayman. If you’re happy to slap on some insect repellent and pull on comfy shoes, you’ll be greeted by an array of lush local flora and fauna. A lucky few might even get to glimpse the elusive (and endangered) blue iguana crashing through the undergrowth.
3. Visit Cayman’s oldest stone building
A rare trace of Cayman Islands history, Pedro St James is Grand Cayman’s oldest stone structure. Its 18in-thick walls and imposing design have earned the structure the nickname “Pedro’s Castle.”
The 18th-century plantation house sits beyond Spotts Bay and once served as the residence of the island’s first governors. Nowadays, it’s a fantastic heritage museum, complete with a traditional outdoor kitchen. As you tour all three stories, take note of the handsome mahogany interiors and the sweeping views of the Caribbean Sea from its multiple verandas.
Planning tip: Pedro St James also hosts regular and one-off events. Check out the rum tasting or, if you’re visiting in February, attend the annual Coco Fest.
4. Swim with the rays at Stingray City
Search for the best things to do in Grand Cayman, and this will probably come up as number one – with good reason. Stingray City refers to a sandbank in the island’s North Sound that has become a gathering point for dozens of stingrays over the years. Supposedly, they began congregating decades ago when fishers used to gut their fish at that very spot.
Visit with a tour, and you’ll find the guides can recognize many of the stingrays individually. The sandbank is less than 3ft deep, which makes it easy to hop into the water to see these majestic – and very friendly – creatures.
5. Spend an afternoon at Camana Bay
This modern dining, retail and entertainment complex is a popular hangout for both locals and expats, and it’s handily accessible from Seven Mile Beach via a footbridge next to the Burger King. Camana Bay has some of the best clothes shopping in Grand Cayman, plus a selection of cafes.
Head to the waterfront area to cool off with luscious ice cream from Gelato & Co before ascending the steps of the Camana Bay Observation Tower. The wide stairwell is lined with a fantastical under-the-sea mosaic; the views from the top let you appreciate just how flat the island is.
Planning tip: Need a rainy day activity? Head for the cinema at Camana Bay, which shows all the latest movies.
6. Kayak in Bioluminescent Bay
For a uniquely Grand Cayman experience, take a nighttime trip to Bioluminescent Bay. This small, secluded spot is not far from Rum Point yet only really accessible by water, thanks to the circle of houses along its shoreline.
Join a boat trip after dark to take to the water and experience thousands of tiny bioluminescent plankton sparkling all around you. Due to reports of jellyfish at certain times of the year, you might prefer a kayak tour such as those offered by Cayman Kayaks.
Planning tip: The level of luminescence varies through the month; for the best display, go during a new moon.
7. Explore the Heritage Garden at Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park
Not far from the start of the Mastic Trail is the entrance to this less wild yet no less peaceful natural attraction. Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park is laid out in a series of themed gardens, including the charming Heritage Garden. A quaint wooden house sits at its heart, surrounded by various fruit and spice trees native to the region. Sometimes blue iguanas can be seen wandering through the flowerbeds; you’ll also be able to spot them at the Blue Iguana Conservation center at the northern edge of the park.
8. Sip mudslides at Rum Point
While you might expect to sip rum cocktails at the evocatively named Rum Point, it’s actually a vodka-based drink that’s best associated with this laid-back cove. Essentially an alcoholic milkshake, the mudslide is the most popular order at the Rum Point Club; the concoction was accidentally invented back in the ’70s when a bartender substituted fresh cream for Baileys in a White Russian. Refreshing and filling with just a dash of cinnamon, a mudslide is a gift on a hot day.
9. Take a road trip to East End
You don’t need a car if you’re staying along Seven Mile Beach, though hiring one offers a way to experience the sleepy, non-touristy side of the island. During a leisurely day of driving, you can stop at various quirky sites along the way.
The Blowholes, craggy limestone rocks just before East End, are great for photo ops. There’s also Barefoot Beach (as blissful as it sounds) and the Cayman Parrot Sanctuary, fantastic for kids. Stop off for lunch at Tukka to dig into tasty Australian-Caribbean fusion dishes like lionfish tacos and lobster spring rolls. While you dine, turn your gaze seawards to spot the ragged masts of the Wreck of the 10 Sail poking up through the waves.
10. Windsurf or ride through the shallows at Barkers National Park
Barkers National Park sits less than a mile from Seven Mile Beach but feels a world away. The narrow stretch of wilderness on the western tip of Grand Cayman is flecked with mangrove forest and fringed by a long white-sand beach that’s more likely to be occupied by seabirds than people.
Barkers is Grand Cayman’s hot spot for wind sports, thanks to its consistent breezes. If windsurfing isn’t your thing, there’s another way to soak up the area’s virgin beauty. Several riding stables sit along the road to the park, each offering treks along the sand. It’s worth paying extra to ride bareback so your horse can swim in the warm ocean waters.
11. Dive through the wreck of the Kittiwake
Cayman has a phenomenal selection of dive sites, especially the dramatic Cayman Trench drop-off near Little Cayman. For an unforgettable underwater experience, take a scuba trip out to former submarine rescue vessel USS Kittiwake. It was sunk off Grand Cayman’s west coast in 2011 and now forms an artificial reef teeming with marine life.
Planning tip: Dive outfits across the island offer PADI-certified courses and fun dives out to nearby sites.
12. Tread water alongside sea turtles at Spotts Beach
Nervous about diving? Pack a snorkel and mask instead and head to Spotts Beach to swim in the presence of sea turtles. Prime times for spotting them collecting seagrass from the ocean floor are first thing in the morning and in the hour before sunset when the sea cools down a bit. Remember to give turtles space and never attempt to touch them.
13. Eat Cayman classics in the Caribbean’s culinary capital
Two major food festivals – Live Street Food Festival and Taste of Cayman – and 200+ restaurants give Grand Cayman serious culinary credentials. There’s somewhere to suit every craving, whether you want Michelin-star fine dining, hearty Italian cuisine, sensational seafood or plant-based delights.
Planning tips: Get a taste of the Cayman Islands at places like Cimboco and Grape Tree Cafe. Chicken! Chicken! is the place to go for spicy jerk chicken, while Rackam’s in George Town harbor serves delectable conch fritters, a specialty of the Cayman Islands.
14. Taste local rum and beer
Several rum distilleries in Grand Cayman welcome visitors for tasting sessions. Cayman Spirits Co is a popular pick, thanks in part to its Seven Fathoms rum, stored in oak bourbon barrels and aged 42ft (or seven fathoms) below the ocean’s surface. Beer more your thing? The Cayman Islands Brewery in Patricks Island offers beer tastings and has a shop where you can pick up crates to-go, plus various Caybrew memorabilia.
15. Take an art tour of the island
The National Gallery of the Cayman Islands is an inspiring starting point for an art-themed day out. Sandwiched between Seven Mile Beach and Camana Bay, the purpose-built complex is a treasure trove of mixed-media pieces and fine art. The top floor features permanent exhibitions by local artists, while the ground level hosts rotating shows.
For art in three dimensions, look out all over the island for the giant sculptures of blue iguanas that form part of the Blue Dragon Trail, a National Trust art project featuring numerous sculptures by different local artists.
16. Watch a sunset from Cemetery Beach
Sucker for a perfect sunset? Just along from Seven Mile Beach, one of the best spots is locally loved Cemetery Beach, named for the graveyard you have to walk through to access it. A prime west-facing position means you can sink yourself into the soft sand with a bottle of beer and watch the sun dip smoothly below the horizon.
17. Descend into the Crystal Caves
One of the newest additions to Grand Cayman’s attractions is also one of the oldest natural features on the entire island. The so-called Crystal Caves in Old Man Bay were formed over 1000 years ago and house remarkable limestone rock formations. A small cluster of the 100+ caverns is currently safe for visitors. Book a guided walking tour and prepare to be wowed by icicle-like stalactites and sparkling crystals dripping from the ceilings.
Planning tip: Tours last approximately 1½ hours and include a visit to three caves as well as a nature walk through tropical forest.