How to Unwind in Style on Grand Cayman Island

Sure Grand Cayman is a grand place to relax, but you'll want to schedule time to swim with sting rays, dive its artificial reef, see classic cars, shop and visit Cayman's version of "Hell" 

Credit: meadorni

It just got easier to visit the largest of the Grand Cayman Islands, and if you need an infusion of tropical luxury, this is the place to be

Now that West Jet has direct flights from Toronto to Grand Cayman, this Caribbean destination is far more accessible for Canadians. Here, life moves at a leisurely – and luxurious – pace, both above and below the water.

Here’s a look at where to stay, play, dine and shop in this Caribbean paradise.

Where to Stay

You will certainly want to stay oceanside as the views of the clear blue Caribbean Sea are stunning. Want the best indoors and out? Go straight to the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, located on 144 acres of property at Seven Mile Beach. It’s by far the best accommodation on the island (with prices to match) but its service, dining, leisure and recreational facilities make the splurge justifiable.

There are five restaurants on site including the AAA Five Diamond Award winner Blue by celebrity chef Eric Ripert, as well as a tennis centre created by Nick Bollettieri, a Greg Norman-designed nine-hole golf course, two outdoor pools and an oceanfront Jacuzzi. Guests have use of floating aqua lounge dining tables and bed lounges, access to steam rooms, saunas and whirlpools at the onsite La Prairie Spa, and can sign up for snorkelling lessons and sailing classes.

Swim with the Stingrays

Despite its name, a stingray won’t actually sting you; instead the friendly creatures will swim around you as you descend from your boat into the clear three-foot deep waters. Take a half day trip out to Stingray City Sandbar, where a whole fleet of southern stingrays have been trained to head toward the sound of a motor boat at the promise of food. Once you get into the water they’ll let you touch them; an unforgettable experience.

Dive an Artificial Reef

Not many sink a boat on purpose, but the Cayman Island Department of Tourism saw an opportunity to use a defunct ship, the Kittiwake, as an underwater attraction, and sunk it for this purpose. The ship rests at the bottom of the ocean just off the country’s famous Seven Mile Beach and is a spectacular sight for snorkellers and divers.

Book a boat ride to the dive site with a licensed Kittawake tour operator, then explore the artificial reef and its inhabitants.

Explore the Shops

The town of Camana Bay stretches across 500 acres from Seven Mile Beach to the North Sound and includes an observatory, restaurants, residential and office spaces as well as sports facilities and a school. However, as a visitor to the Cayman Islands who includes shopping as a key holiday activity, this is the place to spend an afternoon.

Along with some internationally known brands such as Audi, Mac Computers and NKY Collection, the many stores unique to the island are a treat to browse. Foodies will enjoy the Bay Market, a specialty food store, as well as the Bon Vivant Kitchen Studio with kitchenware and accessories.

The Caribbean Canvas Company carries island apparel, and you may want to end the afternoon at the West Indies Wine Company, a wine shop and bar, or one of the fine dining restaurants at Camana Bay such as Abacus.

Credit: Cassandra Anderton

Head to Hell

On Grand Cayman, Hell is not a bad place to be. This group of black limestone formations in the island’s West Bay area is about the size of half a soccer field and is a top tourist attraction for its moonscape-like properties amidst a sea of green foliage. While you aren’t allowed to walk in Hell, a nearby gift store allows you to send “postcards from Hell” and the owner, dressed as Satan, enquires “Where the hell are you from?”

See Classic Cars

Car buffs will be delighted to discover an immense collection of unforgettable cars at the Cayman Motor Museum, the creation of businessman Andreas Ugland, who wanted a central location to showcase his collection of more than 80 exotic and classic motorcars and motorbikes. Here you’ll find the original 1960s Batmobile, Queen Elizabeth the II’s first limousine, almost a dozen classic Ferraris, and Sir Elton John’s 1963 class Bentley. It’s also got an antique coffee grinder collection, and rents out space for events.

Credit: Cassandra Anderton

Eat Local

When it comes to dining, Grand Cayman offers everything from roadside grills to farm (and ocean) to table dining.

If you’re opting for the former, tryHeritage Kitchen in West Bay just off Boggy Sands Road. There you can sample local conch fritters, or fill up on local grouper, snapper, and wahoo.

Another worthy option for breakfast, lunch or dinner is The Brasserie and the adjacent Brasserie Market Café. The restaurant sources most of its produce from its own farm (some of it planted in the restaurant’s backyard) as well as from its two fishing boats which bring in fresh catch daily.

Catch the Annual Cayman Cookout

Time your trip to catch the annual Cayman Cookout (January 16-19, 2014) sponsored by Food and Wine Magazine and the Ritz Carlton, and rub shoulders with top celebrity chefs. This year’s chefs included Eric Ripert, who lead the Cookout, Anthony Bourdain, Jose Andres, Spike Mendleson and Canada’s chef Dale Mackay. Over four days festival attendees take cooking lessons on the beach and enjoy wine grazing lunches, wine dinners and auctions.