Kayaking through mangroves, we float past handsome villas, speedboats waiting for their charges and sundowner pagodas nestling on immaculately manicured lawns. Yet to our left, a darting sage green blur catches my eye. This is a steely-eyed iguana nestling in its tangled marine cathedral. Further on, we squint at the newly developing marina, sleek yachts bobbing blousily near the handsome clubhouse. But look down and there are unique upside-down jellyfish at the bottom of the ocean. This pretty much sums up the Cayman Islands, the juxtaposition of soigné villas and nature, the seeds of change and ancient botany lying side-by-side.
Caribbean dream: Nature meets luxury in the Cayman Islands
29th March 2020
With their pristine coral reefs, world-class fine dining and ever-expanding portfolio of beautiful resorts, discover why the Caymans are the ultimate escape
I am here on a whistle-stop tour of Grand Cayman, taking in its flora and fauna, its stingrays, botanical gardens, enviable food scene, from fine dining to lobster shacks, and, of course, glorious untainted beaches and reefs. Although founded by Christopher Columbus in 1503, the Cayman Islands (Grand Cayman, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac) are part of the British commonwealth. From 1670, they had dependency on Jamaica, but in 1962, when Jamaica got its independence, the Cayman Islands broke its administrative links and opted to become a direct dependency of the British Crown. There seems to be evident pride in the continuing relationship. The Queen’s image adorns the bank notes — so far, so normal. What you don’t except is a broad Scottish accent to greet you from the ATM as you withdraw your cash, or a Donegal lilt to question you on arriving at the airport — all evidence of this special relationship. The islands are, of course, a global centre of commerce, with tourism the second biggest contributor to the economy.
At the Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa, I spot families in banana print kaftans feasting on mounds of fresh blueberries and waffles at the breakfast spread at Ave — for the brave, there’s the spicy Cayman scramble, made with fluffy eggs and piquant scotch bonnet sauce. But alongside the families are a sizeable number of besuited folk, readying themselves for the morning meeting. Not a bad place to cut deals.
The hotel is situated on the northern side of the famous Seven Mile Beach. Suites come with mezzanine beds for families and, underneath, one’s own library, filled with reading material for all ages — Night Animals by Gianna Marino alongside The Road to Character by David Brooks. Bathrooms come with giant bottles of Atelier Bloem toiletries, including tropical concoctions such as ylang ylang, orange blossom and geranium. Post-dinner treats are left on the bed each night — a neat package of delicate almond biscuits made by the excellent Gelato and Co.
There are numerous diversions, too, from morning yoga classes and giant outdoor chess, to a café brimming with on-trend goodies such as kombucha on tap and vegan energy bars. The icing sugar sands and aquamarine waters draw sun worshippers from morn until the first Pina Colada pangs kick in.
I spend a wonderful morning interacting with the marine residents at Stingray City, a shallow sandbar accessible by boat and home to some 50 stingrays. Then I go for a saunter around Camana Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, where we try to spot the elusive blue iguana endemic to the islands.
These gardens are bursting with life, the squawk of the Cayman Parrot echoing through the waxen fronds. A heritage house shows how life on the island used to be, with ironwood tree stilts to protect against hurricanes. We walk past fragrant allspice trees, fecund wormwood plants, breadfruit and the prosaically named silk floss tree. Between cascading silver thatch and pepper cinnamon plants, the air is heady with jungle spices.
Many of these make their way to the wonderful food to be found throughout the island. A mixture of five-star resorts and prime home-grown ingredients — mostly in the form of the abundant seafood — plus the famed annual Cayman Cookout brings chefs from around the world.
There are numerous diversions under your nose, from morning yoga classes to a café brimming with on-trend goodies, while the icing sugar sands and aquamarine waters draw sun worshippers from morn until the first Pina Colada pangs kick in
One of the most charming restaurants on the island is The Brasserie, with neat rows of herbs grown in the restaurant garden. Tacos come with succulent chilli marinated beef and one of the most intriguing ice cream combinations to be had: sorrel with garden rosemary, alongside a rather excellent scotch bonnet-infused tequila. I also feast on delicious wahu with wasabi mash at Morgan’s under twinkling garlands of festoon lights, and am wowed by the cigar and Armagnac hut in the courtyard of the The Wharf restaurant, where a harpist regales diners. Another night, I cannot get enough of the lobster linguine at buzzing Italian hostelry, Luca. And then there is the famous jerk chicken at Pepper, worth jumping on a plane for alone.
But I have to say that feasting on conch and fried green plantain in the Eastern Star Fish Fry shack, with an ice cold White Tip beer in hand, is right up there as one of my favourite foodie experiences of all time.
The Cayman Islands really seems to have it all: rare spirits in high-end restaurants; lobster shacks serving £10 lunches; family-friendly resorts and honeymooners’ havens. The island is pristine, safe and friendly at every turn. And a place where you can live off ceviche and lobster gets my vote.
- Rooms at Kimpton Seafire Resort and Spa start from US$485 (£380) per person per night, based on two sharing, room only. seafireresortandspa.com
- British Airways offers direct flights to Grand Cayman (with a short stop in Nassau, Bahamas) five days per week from Heathrow. Flights start from £630pp return. ba.com
- Cayman Sun Tours is the go-to tour company for help with organising trips around the islands caymansuntours.com
For more information, go to: visitcaymanislands.com