Vacationers appreciate the mellow civility of the islands, and Grand Cayman’s exceptional Seven Mile Beach has its share of fans. Divers come to explore the pristine reefs or perhaps to swim with friendly stingrays. Go if you want a safe, family-friendly vacation spot. Don’t go if you’re trying to save money, because there are few real bargains here.
EXPLORE CAYMAN ISLANDS
Several carriers offer frequent nonstop or direct flights between North America and Grand Cayman’s Owen Roberts Airport. Flying time from New York is about four hours, just over an hour from Miami. Only small STOL propeller aircraft serve Cayman Brac and Little Cayman.
Grand Cayman’s Owen Roberts Airport (GCM) is a modern facility located in the western, busier section of the island, roughly 2 miles (3 km) east of George Town. The current multimillion-dollar expansion and general upgrade (to meet the projected increase in arrivals over the next two decades) should be completed by late 2012. The airport is about 15 minutes from hotels situated along Seven Mile Beach, about 30 to 45 minutes from the East End and West Bay lodgings, and 10 minutes from George Town. Cayman Brac’s Gerrard Smith Airport (CYB) can accommodate smaller jets, while Little Cayman’s Edward Bodden Airstrip can only accommodate prop aircraft due to runway limitations.
In Grand Cayman, ground transportation is available immediately outside the customs area of the airport. Taxis aren’t metered, but fares are government-regulated (about $15–$30 to resorts along Seven Mile Beach, $60 to the East End). Be sure, however, to confirm the fare before getting into the taxi and whether the price quoted is in U.S. or Cayman dollars.
Round-trip airport transfers are generally included (or at least offered) by hotels on the Sister Islands, where most accommodations sit within 10 minutes’ drive of the airports.
Taxis are always available at Grand Cayman’s airport. They don’t dependably meet flights on the Sister Islands, so make sure your resort or villa company has made arrangements.
All nonstop and direct air service is to Grand Cayman, with connecting flights to Cayman Brac and Little Cayman on a small propeller plane. Cayman Airways offers nonstops from several destinations, including Miami, New York–JFK, and Tampa. All operate several times weekly except Miami, which is daily. American offers nonstop daily service from Miami. Delta flies weekly from Detroit, Minneapolis, and New York–JFK, and several times weekly from its Atlanta hub. United flies weekly from Washington Dulles and Newark, and daily from Houston. U.S. Airways offers daily nonstop service from Charlotte and weekly flights from Boston and Philadelphia. Cayman Airways also flies to both Cayman Brac and Little Cayman. Canadian carrier WestJet flies nonstop three times weekly from Toronto. There’s also an interisland charter service on Island Air.
The Bermuda Ministry of Transport maintains excellent, frequent, and on-time ferry service from Hamilton to Paget and Warwick (the pink line), Somerset and the Dockyard in the West End (the blue line), Rockaway in Southampton (the green line), and, weekdays in summer only, the Dockyard and St. George’s (the orange line).
A one-way adult fare to Paget or Warwick is $3.50; to Somerset, the Dockyard, or St. George’s, $5.00. The last departures are from Hamilton at 8:30 pm from mid-April through mid-November, 7 pm from mid-November through mid-April. Sunday ferry service is limited and ends around 6 pm. You can bring a bicycle on board free of charge, but you’ll pay $4.50 extra to take a motor scooter to Somerset or the Dockyard. Discounted one-, two-, three-, four-, and seven-day passes are available for use on both ferries and buses. They cost $19, $31.50, $44, $48.50, and $62, respectively. Monthly passes are also available. The helpful ferry operators can answer questions about routes and schedules and can even help get your bike on board. Schedules are published online, posted at each landing, and also available at the Ferry Terminal, Central Bus Terminal, Visitors Information Centres, and most hotels.
On Grand Cayman, bus service is efficient, inexpensive, and plentiful, running roughly every 15 minutes. Minivans marked “Omni Bus” are mostly independently operated (there are 38 buses and 24 owners) and run from 6 am to midnight from West Bay to Rum Point and the East End. All routes branch from the George Town terminal adjacent to the library on Edward Street and are described in the phone book; color codes denote the routes. The one-way fare from George Town to West Bay via Seven Mile Beach is CI$1.50, to East End destinations CI$2, and from West Bay and northern Seven Mile Beach to East End CI$3. Some bus stops are well marked; others are flexible. Respond to an approaching bus with a wave; then the driver toots his horn to acknowledge that he has seen you.
Driving is easy on Grand Cayman, albeit on the left (British style). Most visitors, especially if they’re staying along Seven Mile Beach, are content taking taxis or a one-day tour to see the sights rather than renting a car. Traffic on the road from Seven Mile Beach to George Town then onto Bodden Town in Grand Cayman is terrible, especially during the 7 to 9 am and 4:30 to 6:30 pm commuting periods, despite construction of a bypass road. Fortunately, roads are generally well marked and well maintained. One major coastal highway circumnavigates most of the island (remember that no shortcuts divide the extensive East End), though you can get lost in the tangle of side roads in primarily residential West Bay. Exploring Cayman Brac on a scooter is fun and straightforward. You won’t really need a car on Little Cayman, though there are a limited number of jeeps for rent; bikes are the preferred mode of transport.
In Grand Cayman, you can find gasoline stations in and around George Town, the airport, and Seven Mile Beach. Although times vary, most open daily with hours that extend into the evening; a few remain open 24 hours a day. There are two gasoline stations on Cayman Brac and one on Little Cayman. Prices are exorbitant, even compared to those in the United States and most of the Caribbean, especially on the Sister Islands.
Park only in approved parking areas. Most hotels offer free parking. Many airport, Camana Bay, George Town, and Seven Mile Beach parking lots are free, but increasing development has prompted some major shopping centers to charge a fee if you park for more than 15 minutes (about $2.50 per hour); however, if you purchase something, parking should be validated and free. There is limited street parking, but watch for signs indicating private parking (in lots as well). Private enforcement companies are employed to discourage interlopers, placing a boot on the wheel and charging CI$75 for removal.
Grand Cayman has well-paved roads that follow the coastline. A network of main highways and bypasses facilitates traffic flow into and out of George Town. Small signs tacked to trees and poles at intersections point the way to most attractions, and local people are helpful if you get lost. Remote roads are in good repair, yet lighting can be poor at night—and night falls quickly at about 6 pm year-round.
Cayman Brac has one major road that skirts the coast, with a shortcut (Ashton Reid Drive) climbing the Bluff roughly bisecting the island. Little Cayman also provides a coastal route; unpaved sections in less-trammeled areas can become almost impassable after heavy rain. Other than that, goats, chickens, cattle, and the occasional iguana have the right of way.
Each car-rental agency has a different emergency-assistance provider. In the event of theft, accidents, or breakdowns, call your car-rental agency and follow instructions.
Rules of the Road
In the Cayman Islands, drive on the left, British style. Be mindful of pedestrians and, in the countryside, occasional livestock walking on the road. When someone flashes headlights at you at an intersection, it means “after you.” Be especially careful negotiating roundabouts (traffic circles). Observe the speed limit, which is conservative: 30 mph (50 kph) in the country, 20 mph (30 kph) in town. George Town actually has rush hours: 7 to 9 am and 4:30 to 6:30 pm. Park only in approved parking areas. Always wear your seat belts—it’s the law!
To rent a car in the Cayman Islands, you must have a valid driver’s license and major credit card. Most agencies require renters to be between 21 and 70 years of age, though the minimum age may be 25. Those over 70 may need a certified doctor’s note indicating a continuing ability to drive safely. A local driver’s permit, which costs $7.50, is obtained through the rental agency. Several dozen agencies rent cars, 4WD vehicles, and SUVs; rates are expensive—ranging from $40 to $95 per day (or $250 to $600 or more per week) in high season, depending on the vehicle and whether it has air conditioning. Many firms offer significant discounts in low season, as well as reduced three-day rates. The rental generally includes insurance, pickup and delivery service (or shuttle service to your hotel or the airport), maps, 24-hour emergency service, and unlimited mileage. Car seats are usually available upon request.
The major agencies have offices to the left as you depart from the airport terminal in Grand Cayman; the closest, Andy’s, is to the right. All require that you walk outdoors for a hundred yards. Make sure your luggage is portable because there’s no shuttle; if there are two of you, one can watch the bags while the other gets the car. Many car-rental firms have free pickup and drop-off along Seven Mile Beach (or second branches) so you can rent just on the days you want to tour. Consider security when renting a jeep that cannot be locked. Midsize cars here often mean subcompact.
If you own a car, your personal auto insurance may cover a rental to some degree, though not all policies protect you abroad; always read your policy’s fine print. If you don’t have auto insurance, then seriously consider buying the collision- or loss-damage waiver (CDW or LDW) from the car-rental company, which eliminates your liability for damage to the car.
Some credit cards offer CDW coverage, but it’s usually supplemental to your own insurance and rarely covers SUVs, minivans, luxury models, and the like. If your coverage is secondary, you may still be liable for loss-of-use costs from the car-rental company. But no credit-card insurance is valid unless you use that card for all transactions, from reserving to paying the final bill. All companies exclude car rental in some countries, so be sure to find out about the destination to which you are traveling.
On Grand Cayman, taxis operate 24 hours a day; if you anticipate a late night, however, make pickup arrangements in advance. Call for a cab to be dispatched, as you generally cannot hail one on the street except occasionally in George Town. They carry up to three passengers for the same price. Fares aren’t metered; the government sets rates, and they’re not cheap, so ask ahead. The tariff increases with the number of riders and bags. To travel in style by limo, you can call A.A. Transportation or Elite Limousine Services. Drivers are courteous and knowledgeable; most will narrate a tour at an hourly rate of about $25 for up to three people. Be sure to settle the price before you start off and agree on whether it’s quoted in U.S. or Cayman dollars.
Taxis are scarcer on the Sister Islands; rates are also fixed and fairly prohibitive. Your hotel will provide the recommended drivers.
In Grand Cayman most hotels and resorts provide Internet access—either free or for a small fee—for their guests; wireless is increasingly prevalent, including at the airport in Grand Cayman. You’ll also find Internet cafés in George Town. Rates range from $2.50 for 15 minutes to $10 per hour. Several restaurants also advertise free Wi-Fi hot spots. Although there are no cybercafés on the Sister Islands, most of the small hotels have high-speed access in rooms and/or public spaces. Those lacking Wi-Fi or high-speed Internet connections in rooms usually have a public computer or permit use of the office facilities. A few individual villas offer Wi-Fi.
The area code for the Cayman Islands is 345.
Calling Within the Cayman Islands
In the Cayman Islands local calls are free from private phones; some hotels charge a small fee. For directory assistance, dial 411; international directory assistance is 010. Calls from pay phones cost CI¢25 for five minutes. Prepaid phone cards, which can be used throughout Cayman and other Caribbean islands, are sold at shops, attractions, transportation centers, and other convenient outlets.
Calling Outside the Cayman Islands
From the Cayman Islands, direct dialing to the United States and other countries is efficient and reasonable, but always check with your hotel to see if a surcharge is added. Some toll-free numbers cannot be accessed, especially on the Sister Islands. To charge your overseas call on a major credit card or U.S. calling card without incurring a surcharge, dial 800/225–5872 (1–800/CALL–USA) from any phone.
The country code for the United States is 1.
LIME phone cards, which can be used for both local and international calls, are available for purchase in various denominations at many retail outlets, including supermarkets and gas stations. They can be used from any touch-tone telephone (including pay and cell phones) in the Cayman Islands. The rates on island are competitive with those of online servers and more reliable.
If you’re bringing your own mobile phone and it’s compatible with 850/1900 Mhz GSM network or TDMA digital network, you should be able to make and receive calls during your stay, especially from Grand Cayman. Be sure, however, to check with your home provider that you have roaming service enabled, and note that charges can be astronomical depending on your calling plan. Renting a cell phone if you’re planning an extended vacation or expect to make a lot of local calls may be a less expensive alternative than using your own. Mobile-phone rental is available from LIME (formerly Cable & Wireless) and Digicel; you can stay connected for as little as CI$5 per day plus the cost of a calling card (denominations range from CI$10 to CI$100). International per-minute rates usually range from CI¢35 to CI¢60. You can rent phones for use on-island from either LIME or Digicel.
Travelers to the Cayman Islands should not note any problems at customs. It typically takes fewer than 10 minutes to clear, even during large on-island events. Items to declare upon arrival include any large video or camera equipment so that Immigration does not assume the traveler may have work permits or is trying to film/shoot photos professionally without prior consent. Some perishable foodstuffs and plants may require permits. Regulations regarding pets are strict and complex. In brief, they must be at least 10 months old; you must fill out an Import Permit application and include a medical certificate, rabies lab report, and fee, and implant a microchip or tattoo the animal for identification purposes. For all information and appropriate downloadable forms, consult the Cayman Islands Customs website.
Obviously seafood reigns supreme in the Cayman Islands, where it’s served everywhere from tiny family-run shanties to decadently decorated bistros. But befitting Grand Cayman’s reputation as a sophisticated, multinational destination (with residents from 113 countries at last count), you can find a smorgasbord of savory options from terrific Tex-Mex to Thai to Italian. Menus could highlight by-the-book bouillabaisse or barbecue, kebabs or cannelloni, ceviche, or sushi. This is one destination where larger resorts generally have excellent restaurants. Two must-try local delicacies are conch, particularly fritters and chowder, and turtle (protected but farmed); the latter is stewed or served as a steak. Many restaurants offer kids’ menus, and vegetarians should find acceptable options.
Meals and Mealtimes
Most restaurants serve breakfast from 7 to 10 am, lunch from noon to 3 pm, and dinner from 6 to 11 pm. But these hours can vary widely, especially at remote resorts on Grand Cayman’s East End and West Bay, as well as on the Sister Islands, which have few independent eateries. Every strip mall along Grand Cayman’s Seven Mile Beach has at least one restaurant open late (often doubling as a lounge or nightclub); many beachfront bars also offer late dining, especially on weekends. Restaurants are likeliest to shutter on Sundays, especially in the less-trafficked areas. Since most markets also close, prepare for contingencies, especially if you’re staying at an individual villa or condo. If you arrive on Saturday, when most villa and condo rentals begin, make sure you do your grocery shopping that afternoon. Most grocery stores will be closed on Sunday.
Unless otherwise noted, the restaurants listed are open daily for lunch and dinner.
Major credit cards are widely accepted, even on the Sister Islands, though some smaller local establishments only accept cash.
Reservations and Dress
Grand Cayman is both cosmopolitan and conservative, so scantily clad diners are frowned upon or downright refused seating. Many tonier establishments require long pants and collared shirts for gentlemen in the evening (lunch is generally more casual). Footwear and something to cover bathing suits (a sarong or sundress for women, T-shirt and shorts for men) are required save at some beachfront bars. The Sister Islands are far more casual. Reservations are strongly recommended for dinner at most restaurants throughout the islands.
We mention dress only when men are required to wear a jacket or a jacket and tie.
Beer, Wine, and Spirits
Beer, wine, and spirits are readily available at most restaurants. Some pricier restaurants take great pride in their wine lists. Aficionados of local products may want to try the refreshing Caybrew beers (the nutty, smoky dark amber pairs well with many foods) and Tortuga rum (the 12-year-old is a marvelous after-dinner sipper in place of Cognac or single-malt Scotch).
Electric current on the Cayman Islands is 110 volts–60 cycles, U.S. standard. Hotels generally have plug adapters and transformers available for guests who bring appliances from countries that operate on 220-volt current.
Health concerns are minimal in the Cayman Islands, and Grand Cayman offers some of the Caribbean’s finest medical facilities. Though there have been isolated cases of dengue fever (one or two annually, contracted elsewhere), the last on-island outbreak was in 2005. Airlift to Miami for serious emergencies is available. Physicians are highly qualified and speak English. Be sure to pack prescription medications; consider wearing a MedicAlert ID tag if you suffer from such chronic conditions as diabetes, epilepsy, or heart disease. Though many hospitals offer reciprocity with U.S. insurers, you can also purchase medical-only insurance. Tap water is perfectly safe to drink throughout all three islands. Be sure to wash fruit thoroughly or, better yet, peel it before eating. The subtropic sun can be fierce, especially at midday. Be sure to wear sunglasses and a hat, and use high-SPF sunscreen (most U.S. brands are available). Beware of dehydration and heat stroke; take it easy the first couple of days. Insects can be a real nuisance during the wet season (July–November); bring along repellent to ward off mosquitoes and sand flies. Shops also stock numerous name brands.
Medical Insurance and Assistance
Consider buying trip insurance with medical-only coverage. Neither Medicare nor some private insurers cover medical expenses anywhere outside the United States. Medical-only policies typically reimburse you for medical care (excluding that related to preexisting conditions) and hospitalization abroad and provide for evacuation. You still have to pay the bills and await reimbursement from the insurer, though.
Another option is to sign up with a medical-evacuation assistance company. A membership in one of these companies gets you doctor referrals, emergency evacuation or repatriation, 24-hour hotlines for medical consultation, and other assistance. International SOS Assistance Emergency and AirMed International provide evacuation services and medical referrals. MedjetAssist offers medical evacuation.
Though crime isn’t a major problem in the Cayman Islands, take normal precautions. Lock your room, and don’t leave valuables—particularly passports, tickets, and wallets—in plain sight or unattended on the beach. Use your hotel safe. Don’t carry too much money or flaunt expensive jewelry on the street. For personal safety, avoid walking on the beach or on unlighted streets at night. Lock your rental car, and don’t pick up hitchhikers. Using or trafficking in illegal drugs is strictly prohibited in the Cayman Islands. Any offense is punishable by a hefty fine, imprisonment, or both.
Banks in the Cayman Islands are generally open Monday through Friday from 9 to 3. Post offices are open weekdays from 8:30 to 4 and Saturday from 9 to 1. Shops are usually open weekdays from 9 to 5; in outer shopping plazas they are open from 10 to 5. Shops are usually closed Sunday except in hotels or when cruise ships are visiting. Pharmacy hours vary, most opening between 7 and 9 am, closing between 6 and 10 pm.
In the Cayman Islands public holidays include New Year’s Day, Ash Wednesday (46 days before Easter), Good Friday (Friday before Easter), Easter Sunday (usually March or April), Discovery Day (May 19), Queen’s Birthday (June 16), Constitution Day (July 7), Remembrance Day (November 17), Christmas, and Boxing Day (December 26). The last refers to boxing extra presents for charity, not prizefighting!
Diving is a major draw; the Bloody Bay Wall, off the coast of Little Cayman, is one of the Caribbean’s top dive destinations, but there are many sites convenient to Grand Cayman where shore diving is also good.
On Grand Cayman, a dive or snorkeling trip to Stingray City is very popular. There’s good off-the-beach snorkeling in West Bay Cemetery, at Rum Point, and at Smith’s Cove in Grand Cayman.
On land, Grand Cayman has the most to offer, with plenty of tours and activities, including semisubmersible tours of the bay.
Grand Cayman’s Seven Mile Beach is one of the Caribbean’s finest long stretches of sand. Little Cayman has the best beaches of the Sister Islands, especially Owen Island and Point o’ Sand.
Rock climbers have now discovered the Brac’s limestone bluff.
You should not need to change money in Grand Cayman, since U.S. dollars are readily accepted, though you may get some change in Cayman dollars. ATMs accepting MasterCard and Visa with Cirrus affiliation are readily available in George Town; you usually have the option of U.S. or Cayman dollars. The Cayman dollar is pegged to the U.S. dollar at the rate of approximately CI$1.25 to $1, and divided into a hundred cents, with coins of 1¢, 5¢, 10¢, and 25¢ and notes of $1, $5, $10, $25, $50, and $100. There’s no $20 bill. Traveler’s checks and major credit cards are widely accepted. Be sure you know which currency is being quoted when making a purchase.
Prices throughout this guide are given for adults and unless otherwise indicated are in U.S. currency. Substantially reduced fees are almost always available for children, students, and senior citizens.
It’s a good idea to inform your credit-card company before you travel, especially if you’re going abroad and don’t travel internationally very often. Otherwise, the credit-card company might put a hold on your card owing to unusual activity—not a good thing halfway through your trip. Record all your credit-card numbers—as well as the phone numbers to call if your cards are lost or stolen—in a safe place, so you’re prepared should something go wrong. Both MasterCard and Visa have general numbers you can call (collect if you’re abroad) if your card is lost, but you’re better off calling the number of your issuing bank, since MasterCard and Visa usually just transfer you to your bank; your bank’s number is usually printed on your card.
If you plan to use your credit card for cash advances, you’ll need to apply for a PIN at least two weeks before your trip. Although it’s usually cheaper (and safer) to use a credit card abroad for large purchases (so you can cancel payments or be reimbursed if there’s a problem), note that some credit-card companies and the banks that issue them add substantial percentages to all foreign transactions, whether they’re in a foreign currency or not. Check on these fees before leaving home, so there won’t be any surprises when you get the bill.
All visitors to the Cayman Islands must have a valid passport and a return or ongoing ticket to enter the Cayman Islands. A birth certificate and photo ID are not sufficient proof of citizenship.
At the airport, each adult passenger leaving Grand Cayman must pay a departure tax of $25 (CI$20), payable in either Caymanian or U.S. currency. It may be included in cruise packages as a component of port charges; it isn’t usually added to airfare—check with your carrier—and must be paid in cash by each traveler prior to entering the secure area of the airport.
A 10% government tax is added to all hotel bills. A 10% service charge is often added to hotel bills and restaurant checks in lieu of a tip. There is no VAT or comparable tariff on goods and services.
At large hotels a service charge is generally included and can be anywhere from 6% to 10%; smaller establishments and some villas and condos leave tipping up to you. Although tipping is customary at restaurants, note that some automatically include 10%–15% on the bill—so check the tab carefully. At your discretion, tip another 5% or more to recognize extraordinary service. Taxi drivers expect a 10%–15% tip. Bellmen and porters expect $1 per bag, more in luxury hotels (especially if you bring lots of luggage). Tip the concierge (if your resort has one) anywhere from $10 to $100, depending on services rendered and length of stay. Tips are not expected simply for handing out maps and making the occasional dinner reservation. Spa personnel should receive 15%–20% of the treatment price (but verify that a service fee wasn’t already added).
Comprehensive trip insurance is recommended for all vacations purchased through Vacays4U. Comprehensive policies typically cover trip cancellation and interruption, letting you cancel or cut your trip short because of illness, or, in some cases, acts of terrorism. Ask about insurance policies that cover evacuation and medical care. Some also cover you for trip delays because of bad weather or mechanical problems as well as for lost or delayed luggage.
Always read the fine print of your policy to make sure you’re covered for the risks that most concern you. Compare several policies to be sure you’re getting the best price and range of coverage available.