To most of the world, Grand Cayman is the Cayman Islands, a glitzy shopping mecca and global financial center where resorts line the fabulous white-sand Seven Mile Beach and the wealthy from around the world spend time sipping cocktails and discreetly playing with their millions.
It does have another side – literally. If you head east, you can escape the cruise-ship crowds, experience local culture, discover underwater marvels and explore the undeveloped interior.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Grand Cayman.
Although it’s really only about 5½ miles long, this gorgeous strand has flawless white sand and crystal-blue waters – it's just as pretty as a postcard. It's lined with resorts and vacation properties, but the beach itself is public. The main public beach-access point – just south of the Kimpton – has a big parking lot, a playground, beach volleyball and lounge-chair rental, with beach bars and plenty of other diversions nearby. Crowded but fun.
A relatively new attraction to Grand Cayman, this network of mysterious limestone caves is located deep in the island's interior. There are some 105 caves on the property, though only three are open to the public (so far). Look for impressive stalactite and stalagmite formations, lots of hidden rooms and connecting passageways, and a gorgeous interior lake. And, of course, bats. The excursion is pricey but cool.
Ask a local where they like to spend a sunny day and they will likely direct you to this gorgeous strip of sand at the northern end of Seven Mile Beach. It's rarely crowded – not because it's haunted but because there are no big resorts in the area. You can park on the street or in the lot across from West Bay Cemetery.
Easily one of the best snorkeling spots on Grand Cayman, this series of coves has shallow, calm water, pretty rock formations and a nice variety of sea life, including colorful fish and a resident octopus or two. The beach offers a changing area and bathroom, as well as some shaded picnic tables in the sand.
Tucked between resorts, the tree-shaded parking lot here opens onto a sweet section of Seven Mile Beach that is rarely crowded. There's a reason they call it Governor's Beach: this quiet stretch of sand fronts the governor's mansion.
Come here to see a veritable treasure trove of the island’s native species. A series of walking trails traverses the lovely landscaped gardens, which include a rainbow-themed Color Garden, the historical Heritage Garden with a traditional Caymanian house as its centerpiece, an orchid garden (in bloom in late May and June) and the longer woodland trail. The park is also an excellent birding destination.
Red-cushion sea stars dot this little patch of sand and sea, which can sometimes be crystal clear and sometimes murky and yellow, depending on what the current's dragging in. Soaking in a foot of water all along the beach, the starfish are easy to spot from above the surface, with or without snorkel gear. Just don't lift them out of the water, as this can kill the sensitive creatures.
The island's oldest building, this Caribbean great house was built in 1780 by one of Cayman's founding families (with enslaved people doing the heavy lifting). Over the years the structure has served as jailhouse, courthouse and parliament building. It was here in 1831 that the decision was made in favor of a public vote for elected representatives. And here, in 1835, the Slavery Abolition Act was announced. Nowadays the house is fitted with antiques and reproductions to evoke the era.
The first national park in the Caymans, Barkers combines low scrub, dense mangroves and long, sandy beaches. There are no amenities here, or even a sign indicating that you've entered the park. But it's a beautiful spot for cycling, horseback riding or kitesurfing. The beach is often deserted. Unfortunately, beach-cleanup crews have a hard time keeping up with the trash that the tide brings in.