Eco-friendly ideas to entertain toddlers, teens and ages in between, in the pristine marine environment of Grand Cayman island.
Just a 70-minute flight from Miami, the British Crown Colony of the Cayman Islands is a good travel destination for families who enjoy waters teaming with life, sandy beaches and surf, and beautiful natural panoramas. The three islands of Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman may not be the cheapest destination, and they have all weathered and recovered from hurricanes, but the family that loves to vacation outdoors together will not soon forget them.
Of the many special Island festivals held throughout the year, our favorite is late October’s Annual Pirates Week with many children’s activities. For more information about the Cayman Islands please visit Cayman Islands Tourism.
Great Fun for the Kids
(Toddler to Age 8)
Stingray City – Actually a sandbar in the midst of North Sound where stingrays gather to be fed by visiting humans, the water is calm and about 2- 3 feet deep, so that even preschoolers can stand without snorkel gear or life jacket, and stroke the fuzzy, soft Southern rays who wind their ways through tourist legs to reach morsels of fresh squid and fish filets.
Snorkeling – Novices will appreciate the gorgeously welcoming bay hugging Seven Mile Beach, Grand Cayman’s most popular tourist enclave. A plethora of hotels and dive shops offer boat transport, snorkel equipment, lessons, possibly lunch and a guide, for US$38-US$60/half day, depending on your destination.
The Turtle Farm (345/949-3894) – Long a dietary staple of the island group christened Las Tortugas by Christopher Columbus, the green sea turtle is raised at this West Bay farm. Special collections of large turtles are available for “petting,” and a zoo displays caimans (a small alligator for whom the British named these islands), iguanas, agouti (a local rabbit), and other local fauna.
Fun for Older Children
(Up to Age 18)
Underwater Tours – On Grand Cayman, you don’t need to go to great lengths to view a tropical marine habitat. A semi-submersible, the Nautilus, can take up to 88 passengers (making it the largest ship of its kind in the world) aboard a comfortable window-lined vessel with tables, bench seats and lots of room. An articulate guide chronicles every move of the one hour voyage, while a young sailor in scuba gear feeds nearby fish in order to lure them closer to the windows. A one-hour voyage on the Atlantis (800/887-8571), a custom-built sightseeing submarine, costs US$84/adult, US$59 for ages 4-12.
Boatswain’s Beach (345/949-3894)- The 30-acre marine theme park is an expansion of the old Turtle Farm, which means that there are about 16,000 sea turtles there of all ages and sizes. Visitors can even sponsor the release of a particular turtle into the wild. There is a snorkel lagoon to see these fascinating creatures up close and personal, a predator tank, aviary, nature trail, and heritage street with artisans, crafts, and restaurants.
Snuba – This snorkel/scuba experience is a good way to glimpse the magic of diving for those fearful of the gear, the murky depths or just plain having to rely on a tube for breathing. Small boats hold two tanks of oxygen on the surface, while two divers, each tethered to their own tank, can dive up to 20′ below the surface. The cost is US$69 for the two hour session and children must be at least 8 years old to participate–try it through Kirk Sea Tours (345/949-7278).
Tarpon Feeding – At 9pm each evening, the seaside Wharf Restaurant (345/949-2231) sponsors a free tarpon feed to entertain diners and passersby in the know. A waiter walks onto the pier in front of diners, rings a very loud chow bell, and 2′-3′ long silvery tarpon zip into the well-lit shallows from out of the shadows. The tarpon furiously churn the water, leaping 6′ into the air in order to snag some fish flesh. The kids who assist in feeding are delighted, then terrified, then hurried off to the public restrooms for a wash up.
Fun for the Whole Family
Scuba – If your family consists of any kids 12 or older, the Caymans are the place to try scuba. Several dive shops and hotels offer a day-long “resort course” meant to get beginners into the sea very quickly. Resort course graduates are limited to depths of 40′, plenty deep to enjoy the abundance of natural beauty around Grand Cayman. Of course, PADI or NAUI graduates can bring their certification and dive to their heart’s content. A one day resort course and dive costs US$100-US$125; a half-day boat trip with escort and two tanks of air, plus all gear, typically starts at US$120.
Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park (345/947-3558)- This botanical garden, inaugurated by Her Majesty in 1994, surrounds a turn-of-the-century Rankin home. This is a small, Caribbean gingerbread cottage typical of the island’s original style. The cornucopia of tropical fruits and plants grown on the grounds, once relied on to supplement the island diet of turtle meat. The park is also home to the Grand Cayman Blue Igauna Captive Breeding Program.
Traditional Houses – It’s fun to see the Rankin home at the Botanic Park, because these are so rare amongst the undistinguished strip malls lining the tourist center of SMB. Call the National Trust (345/949-0121) for information about other traditional Cayman houses (including the unusual “wattle and daub” houses framed in ironwood and paneled in wattles of woven green-wood daubed with coral dust plaster).
Horseback Riding – Here’s an activity most of us don’t associate with the Caribbean. But thanks to a few wranglers who left the States to settle here, there are trained horses and Western riding gear. At Pampered Ponies (345/945-2262), early morning, sunset, or full moon rides are recommended. Pros will lead you through the woods along the Seven Mile Beach (also known as SMB) coast, then onto the beach and through shallow water for a trot up to Morgan’s Harbour. Take the 90-minute roundtrip tour; transportation to and from your hotel is available as well. What an unusual opportunity to gallop through the waves like they do in the movies!
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