Grand Cayman…Save the Mangoes!!!

I’m kidding of course – about the mangoes!  As far as I know, there are no mangoes on the island of Grand Cayman. However they do have unique and beautiful mangroves, filled to the brim with a rainbow of sponges, sea horses, jellyfish in a plethora of colors,  and barracuda (along with other non-attack fish).  And the mangroves do, by the way need saving.

I’ll get back to the mangroves in a bit though.  First, some general information about Grand Cayman:

Part of the Greater Antilles group of islands, Grand Cayman is the largest of the 3 Cayman Islands, (the other 2 being Little Cayman and Cayman Brac), and is tucked just south of Cuba in the Caribbean Sea.  If you enjoy a good snorkel or love diving, this is an excellent place to vacation.  Although the price of dining out can be a little on the high side, the water tours are so reasonably priced, that for us, it more than made up for the extra cost of our meals.

We had quite a great time in Grand Cayman, but the trip was not without its…well let’s call them…disappointments.  We flew out of Newark airport, only because we could get a direct flight for a much better rate than flying out of either of the other New York based airports.  I highly recommend always checking flights from Newark if you’re in the New York area – we saved over $600 when we flew to Hawaii!  Just as with JFK and Laguardia, Newark also has many off site parking facilities that offer reasonable rates and excellent service.  My favorite is The Parking Spot; quick, easy, and I can almost always find some sort of coupon or discount online. http://www.theparkingspot.com

We hired a taxi to take us from the airport to our resort, for which we had traded one of our timeshares. Our “resort” was a little out of the way, but we had known it would be, and sometimes prefer to stay just outside the area of main action. We were staying at a place near Welch Point, on the opposites side of the part of the island from Seven Mile Beach.  But as we approached our accommodations, my poor husband knew he was in for some complaining.  I was wondering if I could consider actually staying at this place.

First off, let me just preface this by saying I am by no means a princess.  I can certainly rough it with the best of them, and in fact, through my childhood, that’s what we did.  My family liked to camp, therefore, we camped.  So, I am no stranger to life without amenities.  That being said, now that I am an adult and can make the decisions about my vacations, I prefer to stay in nicer places – places where the fear of bedbugs won’t haunt my dreams.

Our timeshares greatly help us fulfill this requirement on many of our vacations, since they both have high trading power and we rely on the trading company’s ratings for each resort to guide us in our choices.  This was the first time they let us down.  The resort we stayed in was no where near a 4 or 5 star resort.  It was no gold crown.

I won’t bore you by going into too much detail here, but as we pulled up to the resort, the first view we saw were the dumpsters, and it didn’t improve much after that.

On the positive side, it was right on the water and there was a curious flock of chickens and a rooster that came visiting our patio everyday, which we found quite enjoyable.

Once we rented ourselves a car (which is very economical to do on Grand Cayman – I think we paid roughly $150 for the week), things seemed to turn around, as we spent a very minimal amount of time at our “resort”.

The first thing we did was find a grocery store.  This way we could eat breakfast in our room, rather than spending $50 on a barely edible breakfast at the hotel restaurant.  Then we headed out to find ourselves a decent beach!

Our Favorite Beach

Our Favorite Beach

And boy did we find one…or rather several.  The first one we went to however, did turn out to be our favorite.  It was quiet, beautiful, and there was a great little outdoor restaurant, called Alfresco’s,  right off the parking area that we enjoyed a great lunch at several times (nice wooden deck, and gorgeous breeze).  The beach is called Cemetery Beach, and is located right on West Bay Road just north of Seven Mile Beach by a mile or two.  Just as things start to thin out and become less crowded, there’s a pull-off to park and walk a short ways to a pristine beach, with crystal clear Aqua water.  It was divine. Apparently there are great dive sites just off this beach as well.  There were divers out every day we went there.

View from Alfresco's Restaurant

View from Alfresco’s Restaurant

If you continue north on West Bay Road a little further, you can turn right onto Town Hall Road. And this road will take you straight to Hell!

Welcome to Hell Grand Cayman Style

Welcome to Hell
Grand Cayman Style

Just kidding…sort of.  It will take you to Hell Road, which takes you to Hell.  No one will ever say the Caymanians don’t have a sense of humor.  There is actually a place called Hell, and except for the cute bantam chickens, you might think you’ve actually been transported to the real Hades.  Great areas of black limestone formations emerge from the Earth like scorched hands and daggers.  It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before, that’s for certain.

Limestone Formations in Hell, Grand Cayman

Limestone Formations in Hell, Grand Cayman

Blue Iguana

Blue Iguana

Pretty much on the opposite side of the island, you won’t want to miss the Blue Iguanas at the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park.  Blue Iguanas are only found on the island of Grand Cayman, and they have an incredible program there to protect and reintroduce them to the wild.  The guided tour is only given once a day (& not at all on Sundays) at 11am, and is well worth the price of admission, which also includes the botanical gardens.  You’ll want to go on a sunny day, as the heat brings out the stunning blue color.  Since there was only one other person on our tour, we had a very personalized experience with these blue dragons.  We were amazed at the level of affection they showed, running when their keeper called, stretching their necks for a nice pet, shutting their eyes in pure satisfaction.  I half expected them to start purring!

Loving Iguana

Loving Iguana

This one came running when she heard her care taker near by.

This one came running when she heard her care taker near by.

Be sure to take a trip to George Town during your trip to Grand Cayman.  It’s an historic little capital city with many sites to see, places to eat, art, and craft fairs galore for all your souvenir needs. You’ll want to pay attention to how many cruise ships are docked though, and go when there’s only a couple.  You need enough in port to make the town busy, but 6 cruise ships in port could really wreck your day.  Your hotel should be able to provide you with the cruise ship schedule.

Speaking of hotels, I would be remiss not to mention the Grand Cayman Beach Suites, if only for the restaurant, Hemingways.  We ate at this divine restaurant three times during our stay on Grand Cayman.  And every single time we walked through the neat, clean, nicely lit pool area of the hotel, I wished (sometimes to myself, more often aloud) that we were staying at this fine resort, instead of our sorry excuse for…well, I won’t beat a dead horse.  If we find ourselves back on Grand Cayman anytime in the near future, we will be staying at the Grand Cayman Beach Suites.  http://www.grand-cayman-beach-suites.com

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Now. For all you water lovers.  There is so much to do on Grand Cayman, or rather, around Grand Cayman, in the water.  It is definitely a top dive place in the Caribbean.  But if you’re not that adventurous, never fear – there’s plenty for you to do too!  We love to snorkel.  If you think you might be taking multiple trips where you may find yourself snorkeling, I highly recommend investing in your own snorkel gear.  You can get a set with fins, a mask, snorkel and carrying bag for well under $100.  We bought ours on Amazon.com after our first snorkeling trip, where we were told to grab a mask and snorkel out of a huge barrel of water and return it to the same barrel when we were finished (along with 20 other people).  Not that I’m a germ-a-phobe, but it did give me the heebie-jeebies.  You have to remember that there is the possibility that these small island nations do not have the same quality and health risk standards and restrictions we have in the U.S.  That being said, I’m sure they all take precautions to ensure safe use of their equipment. I’d just prefer to use my own.

Anyways, snorkeling in Grand Cayman is incredible – and cheap!!  Most tours are around $40-50, which includes the equipment if you need it.  Two of our tours were very memorable and I highly recommend both.

Sting Ray City.  You must go to Sting Ray City!  It is an experience that I will not forget any time soon. We went with Dexter’s Fantasea Tours, and they were fantastic. http://dexters-fantaseatours.com/StingrayCityCaymanIslandstourswithdexter.php They had a nice laid-back vibe that made you truly feel like you were on vacation in the Caribbean.  The price was $40 per person, and worth every penny.

The tour boat takes you well off the coast to the middle of the North Sound, where an enormous shallow sandbar awaits.  You don your snorkel gear and head for the crowd, because it’s there, that you’ll find an unimaginable amount of sting rays gliding gracefully through and around the people.  It was such a magical experience – when I first got there I was absolutely mesmerized.  Little baby sting rays sliding silently beside their mothers.  Enormous old sting rays slugging along so slowly they seem to almost stand still. Young ones whizzing by, chasing each other in sport.

Then the captain of our boat threw out some food. I guess you could say in my trance-like state, that I was unprepared for the sudden frenzy of sting ray the feeding created.  All of a sudden, instead of what I felt was a nice manageable number of silky creatures, they were everywhere – we were overrun.

So a rational person would have probably calmly assessed the situation and either a.) realized that they were not in a dangerous situation, or b.) feeling uncomfortable, simply swam away from the concentrated area.  However, we’re talking about me right now.  So what do I do?  Seeing my brave husband (loving every second of this onslaught of rays I should note) snorkel by, I jumped his back…naturally.  After sinking under the weight of his unexpected & sudden barnacle, he stands, with me clinging to his back.  Of course you have to know my husband to understand what he did next.  Did he carry me to safety and soothe my fears? No.  Did he try to reason with me and soothe my fears so I could continue snorkeling?  No – he knows me way to well to waste his time with that nonsense.  No my husband asked what was wrong, shrugged, and slipped back into the water for more snorkeling, barnacle attached.

Eventually, after a good while of tandem snorkeling, the density of rays thinned out and I was able to continue snorkeling on my own again, leaving my husband parasite free.  I dare say we gave quite a few people a nice chuckle and a good story to take home.  Moral to the story?  Be prepared for a large number of rays to head your way when your boat captain brings out the food!  Regardless of how my story may sound, it was a fabulous experience.

Save the Mangoes!  er...Mangroves, I mean.

Save the Mangoes! er…Mangroves, I mean.

The other tour we took that was wonderful and worth noting, was our snorkeling in the mangroves with Sea Elements.  http://caymanseaelements.com/tours/  This is a great tour company that works very hard to promote awareness about the important ecosystem that is the mangroves.  You will see fascinating jellyfish, anemone and sponges in vivid colors, many different kinds of fish, and you may even be lucky enough to see a sea horse.  If you’re like us, you’ll see a lot of long, large silvery fish with black markings just seemingly hovering in the water.  Try to keep your distance from these – they’re barracudas – and don’t wear jewelry or watches or anything shiny  while snorkeling in the mangroves, as this attracts them (& not in a good way).

Our tour guide was knowledgeable and quite funny.  He joked that many people come on the tour to save the mangoes, mistaking the mangroves for mango trees.  We bought my husband a tee-shirt on the tour to support the effort, and every time he wears it, we can’t help shouting out “Save the Mangoes.”

Despite our disappointing accommodations, our trip to Grand Cayman was relaxing and delightful, with enough still to do there to warrant another trip in the future.

Until next time, may your journeys bring you great happiness and enlightenment!

 

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