Read an Excerpt
Frommer's Portable Cayman Islands
By Darwin Porter Danforth Prince
John Wiley & Sons
Copyright © 2003
Darwin Porter, Danforth Prince
All right reserved.
Beaches, Scuba Diving &
Other Outdoor Pursuits
Almost-guaranteed sunshine, one of the world's most beautiful
beaches, and the Caribbean's best scuba diving and snorkeling have
put Grand Cayman on the tourist map, where it seems permanently
Grand Cayman has a number of smaller beaches, but it's so-called
Seven Mile Beach (actually 8.9km/5 1/2 miles) is the major attraction,
with its vast expanses of powdery white sand. Unlike the
beaches on some islands to the south, such as Jamaica, Seven Mile
Beach is litter-free and also relatively free of annoying peddlers
The beach is so big that there's always plenty of room for everybody,
even in the midst of the winter tourist season and at the peak
of the cruise-ship arrivals. Most of Grand Cayman's hotels, restaurants,
and shopping centers are found along this much-frequented
strip of beach. Many scuba-diving outfitters are also located here.
Along with swimmers and beach buffs, scuba divers are attracted
to the Cayman Islands in droves and from around the world. As diver
Bob Soto puts it, "If there's any spot on theplanet that God created
just for divers, it is Grand Cayman." One-third of all visitors to the
Cayman Islands arrive here to go scuba diving or snorkeling.
There are more than 200 named and explored dive sites in the
Cayman Islands. The dive outfitters (see below) are familiar with the
best of them and will guide you to what interests you the most. The
Cayman Islands, unlike some other islands in the West Indies, have
the most reliable outfitters in the Caribbean, rivaled only by those
on the little island of Bonaire. Some of the most dramatic dive sites
have not been thoroughly explored (and unfortunately aren't on the
itineraries of most dive outfitters), owing to the massive coral reef
and drop-off that surrounds not only Grand Cayman but Cayman
Brac and Little Cayman.
Even if you're not a scuba diver or snorkeler, you'll find many
other attractions on the water, including fishing, boating, kayaking,
water-skiing, and windsurfing. If you're a landlubber, there's always
hiking, golfing, and horseback riding. But most landlubbers never
seem to leave Seven Mile Beach. Note: All prices in this chapter are
given in U.S. dollars.
1 Hitting the Beaches
One of the finest beaches in the Caribbean, Grand Cayman's Seven
Mile Beach boasts sparkling white sands rimmed with Australian
pines and palms. (Technically, the beach is named West Bay
Beach, but everybody calls it Seven Mile Beach.) This haven of
white, white sands stretches all the way from George Town to Long
Point. It tends to be crowded near the big resorts, but the beach is
so big that you can always find some room to spread out your towel.
Because the beach is on the more tranquil side of Grand Cayman,
there is no great tide and the water is generally placid and inviting,
ideal for families, even those with small children. A sandy bottom
slopes gently to deep water. The water is great for snorkelers and
swimmers of most ages and abilities, and it's so clear that you can
easily see what's swimming around below you.
Along the stretch of the beach, from one end to the other, there are
hotels and condos, many with beachside bars that you can visit. All
sorts of watersports concessions can be found along this beach, including
places that rent snorkel gear, boats, windsurfers, wave runners, paddlecats,
and aqua trikes (these two latter are floating pedal toys).
The hotels that line the beach have bars and restaurants open to
nonguests. Most of these hotels also have watersports and beach kiosks
where you can book for parasailing or windsurfing experiences, or rent
snorkeling equipment for a morning, an afternoon, or the full day.
Of all the bars and restaurants strung along the beach strip, one
of the friendliest is the Beach Club Hotel & Dive Resort, West Bay
Rd. (345/949-8100), which welcomes nonguests. The restaurant
is open daily from 7:30am to 9pm and the beach bar is open
Monday to Friday 10am to 11pm and Saturday and Sunday 11am
to 11:45pm. For divers, a special offer here is a certified boat diving
package costing $72 per person, including a two-tank boat dive.
The on-site dive shop is open daily from 7am to 5pm.
Grand Cayman also has a number of minor beaches, although
they pale in comparison to Seven Mile Beach. Visit these if you want
to escape the crowds. Beaches on the east and north coasts of Grand
Cayman are good-filled with white sand and protected by an offshore
barrier reef, so waters are generally tranquil.
In total contrast to the glitz and glitter of Seven Mile Beach, an
attractive little beach lies on the west side of George Town. Smith
Cove Public Beach is located between Coconut Harbour and Cayman
Coves. The sandy strip is small but top-notch. It's a good spot
for snorkeling and makes a nice venue for a picnic, as trees shade the
picnic tables. There are changing facilities and bathrooms here.
On North Sound along the northern coast, Rum Point lies 40km
(25 miles) north of George Town and offers one of the best beaches
in Grand Cayman, though it is also one of the most remotely located.
You can reach the beach by taking the Rum Pointer ferry (p. 51).
Calm, clear waters make this tree-shaded beach an excellent spot for
swimming. Snorkeling is also good here, with rainbow-hued fish and
swaying sea fans composing the majority of the underwater life. There
are changing facilities here, along with public toilets and showers. Onsite
is the Wreck Bar if you want a drink. Saturday afternoon from 2
to 5:30pm is the big time here, with a barbecue and live entertainment
right on the beach. The watersports operation here is run by
Red Sail Sports (see below).
One of our favorite beaches is on the north coast, bordering the
Cayman Kai Beach Resort, directly to the southwest of Rum
Point. This beach is a Caribbean cliche of charm, with palm trees
and beautiful sands. You can snorkel along the reef to Rum Point.
The beach is also ideal as a Sunday-afternoon picnic spot. Bathrooms
and changing facilities are available here. Awesome Charters
(916/406-9345) leads deep-sea fishing, bonefishing, and snorkeling
The best windsurfing is found in the East End, at the beach near
the settlement of Colliers, reached along Queen's Highway and
lying near Morritt's Tortuga Club.
2 Scuba Diving & Snorkeling
What they lack in nightlife the Cayman Islands make up in watersports,
especially diving and snorkeling. Coral reefs and coral formations
encircle all three islands and are filled with loads of marine
life, which scuba divers and snorkelers are forbidden to disturb.
Important: For our recommendations of the best scuba-diving and
snorkeling sites, be sure to refer to chapter 1, "The Best of the Cayman
The full diving scene in the Cayman Islands would fill a book
unto itself, and has done just that. If you're a serious diver, pick up
one of three comprehensive guides published: Diving Cayman
Islands by Jesse Cancelmo (Aqua Quest Publications, 1997), The
Dive Sites of the Cayman Islands by Lawson Wood (Contemporary
Books, 2001), and The Cayman Islands Dive Guide by Stephen
Frink and William Harrigan (Abbeville Press Publishers, 1999).
It's easy to dive close to shore, so boats aren't necessary, although
there are plenty of diving boats available. For certain excursions, we
recommend a trip with a qualified dive master. There are many dive
shops for rentals, but they won't rent you scuba gear or supply air
unless you have a card from one of the national diving schools, such
as NAUI or PADI. Hotels also rent diving equipment to their
guests, and will arrange snorkeling and scuba-diving trips.
Universally regarded as the most up-to-date and best-equipped
watersports facility in the Cayman Islands, Red Sail Sports maintains
its headquarters at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cayman, West
Bay Road (877/REDSAIL in the U.S., or 345/945-5965;
redsail.com). Other locations are at the Westin Casuarina (345/
949-8732) and at Rum Point (345/947-9203). Red Sail has a
wide range of offerings, including deep-sea fishing, sailing, diving,
Red Sails offers certified divers a variety of boat dives each day. A
two-tank morning or afternoon dive goes for $85, with a one-tank
afternoon boat dive costing $55. Special dives include a one-tank
Stingray City dive for $60 and a one-tank night dive for $60. Full
PADI open-water certification costs $500, and all types of scuba
gear can be rented.
Red Sails offers the most comprehensive watersports program on
the island, including all equipment rentals for everything from a
banana-boat tube ride to kayaking and water-skiing.
The company also offers boating trips, including parasailing excursions.
Catamaran sails are offered, the most popular being a 4 1/2 hour
jaunt to Stingray City, with lunch and snorkeling included, that goes
for $75 for adults or half price for children 12 and under. Two-hour
sunset sails along the North Sound cost $30 for adults or half price for
children 12 and under, and you can also book a dinner catamaran
cruise for $65 for adults or half price for children 12 and under. Glass-bottom
boat snorkeling trips are offered at $40 per person with equipment
included. And these are only some of the offerings. Although
there are many other outfitters on the island (see below), Red Sails will
be able to handle most of your needs above and below the water.
Divetech, Cobalt Coast Resort, 18 Seafan Dr., Boatswains Bay
(866/622-9626 in the U.S., or 345/946-5658; divetech.
com) is one of the genuinely excellent dive operations in the
Cayman Islands. It's one of the best organized and most attentive
outfitters, with a fine reputation and a location near deep marine
walls and drop-offs that divers find superb-in fact, the best shore
diving on island. The operation is headquartered in a clapboard-covered
cottage on the grounds of the recommended Cobalt Coast
Resort (p. 68), on Grand Cayman's most northwestern tip, far from
the touristic glitter of Seven Mile Beach. Don't come here expecting
a sandy beach: The coastline is treacherously jagged, covered with
bruising rocks that can puncture the side of any watercraft that ventures
too close. Consequently, Divetech boats moor at a massive
36m (120-foot) concrete pier that juts seaward. From here, within a
relatively short distance, divers have access to a cornucopia of dive
options that are difficult to duplicate anywhere else.
Many, but not all, of the Divetech's clients opt to stay at its well-recommended
associated hotel, Cobalt Coast. (Those who don't
stay at Cobalt Coast must either drive or make special arrangements
for transportation from hotels on other parts of the island.) Prices
are invariably cheaper when they're clustered within one of the
resort's many dive packages, but for a rough idea of prices, a two-tank
dive for certified divers costs $85, and a 3 1/2 hour resort course
for a first-timer goes for $100. Open-water certification costs $425.
Guided shore dives are $35 during the day or $45 at night. Canadian-born
Nancy Romanica is the organization's founder and creative
force. She's also an authority on the curious pastime known as
free-diving, recommended only for very experienced divers, where
aficionados (without scuba tanks) reach alarming depths using only
their carefully trained lung capacities. The cost for a guided free dive
and a lesson (usually taught by Nancy herself ) is $100 per person
for a half day and $200 per person for a full day.
Ocean Frontiers, East End (345/947-7500; ocean
frontiers.com), specializes in scuba diving and snorkeling trips in
the East End, where divers find some of the best coral reefs in the
Caribbean, including such shipwreck sites as HMS Convert and
Marybelle. This is the best outfitter for experienced divers. Taking
out small groups, Ocean Frontiers avoids the crowds along Seven
Mile Beach. It offers regular scuba diving: $60 for one tank, $85 for
two tanks, and $129 for three tanks. Snorkeling is also offered on
Wednesday, a half day costing $35. Equipment can be rented.
The most enduring and longest-established dive operator in
Grand Cayman is Bob Soto's Diving Ltd. (800/262-7686 in
the U.S. or 345/949-2022 to make reservations). Owned by Ron
Kipp, the operation includes full-service dive shops at Treasure
Island, the SCUBA Centre on North Church Street, and Soto's
Coconut in the Coconut Place Shopping Centre. This is the best
outfitter for novices. A full-day resort course, designed to teach the
fundamentals of scuba to beginners who know how to swim, costs
$120: The morning is spent in the pool and the afternoon is a one-tank
dive from a boat. All necessary equipment is included. Certified
divers can choose from a wide range of one-tank ($55) and
two-tank ($85) boat dives daily on the west, north, and south walls,
plus shore diving from the SCUBA Centre. A one-tank night dive
costs $60. Nondivers can take advantage of daily snorkel trips
($30-$50), including excursions to Stingray City. The staff is helpful
and highly professional.
Don Foster's Dive Cayman, North Church Street, George Town
(345/907-9821), dating from 1982, is one of the best and most
respected dive outfitters. A big, well-run operation, it features one-tank
dives for $45 and two-tank dives for $75. Night dives cost $55, with a
resort course going for $75 and open-water certification costing $450.
The outfitter also features snorkeling from 2 to 4:30pm daily at
Stingray City, at a cost of $30 per person. Equipment can be rented.
Seven Mile Watersports, West Bay Road (345/949-0332;
7mile.ky), operates from the Seven Mile Beach Resort and
Club and is particularly sensitive to the requests of individual divers.
The outfitter takes out only 15 divers at a time in its 12m (40-ft.)
dive boat. Most of its diving jaunts are to the north wall. A one-tank
boat dive costs $55, with a two-tank dive going for $75. A special
feature is a three-tank dive, including lunch, for $150. A one-tank
dive at Stingray City costs $55 per person. There is also a snorkel
excursion, called the Sunset Trip, which makes stops at Stingray
City, the Coral Gardens, and the Barrier Reef. Offered each Tuesday,
it leaves at 3pm and lasts until dusk. The Sunset Trip costs $40.
Off the Wall Divers, West Bay Road (345/945-7525), also
caters well to the individual diver as it specializes in custom dive
jaunts for groups of 2 to 10 (no more) divers. The outfitter offers
training resort courses and full certifications, plus Nitrox certifications.
Excerpted from Frommer's Portable Cayman Islands
by Darwin Porter Danforth Prince
Copyright © 2003 by Darwin Porter, Danforth Prince.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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