On our fourth day in Grand Cayman, we opted to make a trip to the capital of this island nation, Georgetown. Again, we caught the first hotel shuttle of the day to make the 15-minute drive. We stopped first at the cruise ship terminal to drop off an older couple who were trying to catch their cruise after missing its initial departure in Florida. We could easily have walked from there to the museum, our first stop, but the driver insisted on taking us all the way.
As cities of the world go, Georgetown is not particularly large, but its population of 35,000 makes it the largest capital of the United Kingdom’s 14 British Overseas Territories. I love that the town was initially called Hogsties, named for all the pigs kept in the vicinity! The bay is still called Hog Sty Bay.
We stopped first at the Cayman Islands National Museum. Though quite small, it is chock full of information and uses some really nice multi-media presentations. The museum is housed in the oldest public building in the Caymans, dating from the 1830s.
After visiting the museum, we took a stroll around the town. A few cruise ships were in port and the main streets fronting the harbor were busy with cruise ship passengers clogging the souvenir shops. A few blocks back and it was just a quiet Wednesday afternoon in a small island capital. We passed the House of Parliament, the library, the 1919 Peace Memorial and the Clock Tower constructed in 1937 in memory of King George V, and Heroes Square. It was not a long walk, but it was enough to drum up an appetite for our lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe, which surprisingly was not too busy. After lunch, we called the hotel shuttle for pick-up and spent the rest of the day lazing around the hotel.
On Thursday, I rented a car. I just did not want to keep relying on the hotel shuttle that only operated from 10 AM to 5 PM on the hour or the island bus. or the pricey taxis. We needed some wheels! Unfortunately, we did have to get another taxi to the airport to pick up the rental, but we would drop at the airport when we departed. I had opted for the smallest, most economical car but was pretty excited when we upgraded to a mini jeep! The perfect car to tool around the island.
We first drove over to the far east end of the island to visit the Cayman Parrot Sanctuary. It is an approximately 45-minute drive, but more like an hour or hour and 15 minutes when you are completely unfamiliar with the roads and tend to go around one too many times at the traffic circles. (not saying that was me, just saying that *could* happen to some people). Frankly, the driving was fine with a few little wrinkles. For example, on the one road that resembled a highway, the East-West Arterial Road, the posted speed limit was 40. Given that we were in a British territory and driving on the left, I assumed the posted speed limit was in kilometers. Certainly, the speedometer in the car used kilometers. But 40 kilometers an hour is just 25 miles an hour and seemed extremely slow for a two-lane each way highway. This was really puzzling me until I saw that there were a few places near the posted speed limits where there were those digital “Your Speed” signs and it was reading in miles per hour!
The Cayman Parrot is the only native parrot to the Cayman Islands and their national bird. C had got it in her head recently that she wanted a parrot and was thrilled to learn she could visit with the birds during our Grand Cayman vacation. The Cayman Parrot Sanctuary has much more than parrots. We were able to go into an enclosure and feed some parrots, parakeets, and cockatiels; then to another enclosure to pet some sweet little guinea pigs, held a small snake, and pet the resident agouti.
After the parrot center, we drove back towards town stopping briefly at the site overlooking the reef where ten British sailing ships wrecked centuries before. It’s the most famous wreck of the Caymans and Queen Elizabeth II dedicated a memorial to remembrance in 1994 when she visited.
When then traveled on to the historic site of Pedro St. James. On arrival we were informed that there was a large cruise ship group arriving in about 20 minutes so we would have to wait for them to view the 4-D introductory presentation. C and I cruised the grounds a little before returning to join the group for the presentation. Afterward, knowing that the group would be tramping through the home together, we had lunch at the on-site cafe. We had also opted for the self-tour of the house as the guided tour was about 90 minutes long! The house is interesting, and I would have loved to have heard more on the architecture and history, but it is not a big home, and I did not think C would hold out that long (or I for that matter).
After lunch we then had the “castle” all to ourselves. Though it was not large by today’s standards, it would have dwarfed nearly all other buildings on the island. If I remember correctly, the first floor was the food storage and preparation areas while the second and third floors were the living spaces. The most extraordinary part of the home was the wide wrap-around verandas which created additional living space with an additional room in each corner and light-filled, ventilated walkways between that could be used for extra seating or office space or whatever. The house is the oldest surviving stone structure in the Caymans and is known as the birthplace of Cayman democracy as it was here at the “castle” where in 1831 a decision was made to form the territory’s first parliament and in 1835 an envoy from the Governor of Jamaica read the proclamation ending slavery in the British Empire. It was well worth a visit.
On Friday, our sixth day, the weather had turned. It was still very warm of course, but it had grown cloudy and windy. I was glad we had joined the Stingray City tour early in the week as the wind made the sea a bit choppier. I woke up early to catch the sunrise and walked out to the hotel’s little beach. It did not look promising with all the clouds, but just when it looked like there would be no sunrise at all, a ball of red light began to glow at the base of the clouds. With the cloud cover, the light did not have much room to grow, but though small, it was dramatic.
It was Good Friday, which turns out to be quite a big holiday in the Caymans. I had not realized the strength of the Christian belief such that places that are open nearly all year round are closed only on Christmas Day and Good Friday. While looking around for someplace that would be open, one site noted that they had live music six days a week and would do so seven if Cayman law were amended to allow it! Normally, I am quite thorough in my research of vacation destinations, but I did not anticipate this. I found that a lot of entertainment and restaurant venues would be closed on Good Friday, limiting our options. But in the end, we just wanted to hang out and I wanted to drive.
We first made our way back to Hell as C wanted to check out the gift shop. Imagine our disappointment that though the sign for Hell indicated it was open daily, it was in fact closed on Good Friday. (There is a lot to unpack there, but I will leave that to the reader to do so). From there we headed to the Dolphin Center, just across from the Cayman Turtle Center. Though we did not intend to book any dolphin experience, a fellow tourist had mentioned there was an observation area that we could enter for free. We spent about an hour watching the dolphins as they swam and jumped either on their own or in their interactions with the paying guests.
For lunch, we stopped at a delicious Mexican place in town that was luckily open on the holiday. Then we drove the hour or so to Starfish Point at the tip of the landmass on the right side of North Sound. I had hoped the drive would reveal beautiful ocean or other views but frankly, it was a bit on the boring side. Initially, we passed through the same towns we had the day before and it was largely shopping centers and residential homes. There seemed little in the way of beaches on the less populated, eastern part of the island. As we cut up Frank Sound Road, the only road the cuts north/south in the east, the few houses quickly gave way to dry scrubland. Even along the northern road to Rum and Starfish points I found few spots worthy of a stop.
Once we arrived in the vicinity of Starfish Point, we saw where a good chunk of the local population was spending their Good Friday. I had never thought of Easter as a party kind of holiday, much less Good Friday. But it seems in the Caymans that it very much can be. Camping over the Easter weekend is a Cayman tradition and the popular beaches, like Starfish Point, are covered over with pop-up tents with friends and families eating and drinking, cooking and talking, and swimming. We made our way over to Starfish Point, hoping we might see some starfish in the shallow waters, but there were far too many people and boats (including a BBQ boat selling food to those not cooking themselves). No one stopped us from wading in the water, but no one interacted with us either. C and I were the odds one out. We were not local, we did not know people, it was not our holiday. We got ice cream at the very busy Kaibo restaurant nearby before we headed back.
On Saturday, our last full day on Grand Cayman, we headed back over to the East End to visit the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park. We arrived soon after the opening – I wanted us to be there before the free Easter festivities for local kids commenced. After days of clouds, the morning was hot and humid. In many areas of the park, one could walk beneath a canopy of plants but between individual gardens the path lay directly in the sun. There were a few other visitors but we had little interaction and it was almost like having the park to ourselves. Visiting the park was also a chance to see the endangered blue iguanas, only found on the island of Grand Cayman. We were able to see some roaming around the park but also in the conservation center on the property.
That evening we had one final activity – a tour that would include a visit to Bioluminescent Bay. I had read that it was not advised to swim in the bay given the type of algae involved can be harmful to humans and humans can be harmful back. But we were still up to seeing the phenomenon. Our boat left the dock about an hour before sunset so that we could watch the sun sink as we motored from the inlet near Governor’s Creek across the North Sound, returning again to Starfish Point. The Easter revelers were in rare form with music from the campers on shore and that from several party boats competing. C and I stayed on the boat chatting with some other tourists (who as incredible luck would have it live only a few blocks from us in Virginia!) while most of our boat’s occupants jumped into the shallow waters. It did not take long for many of them to rush back onto the boat for some treatment for jellyfish stings! I am not sure what our tour guides were using as luckily C and I had no need, but there were at least eight on our boat that needed treatment.
Ironically, our next stop was the Jellyfish Bar – where our tour guides tried to lure us off the boat into the one-foot-deep waters to learn about jellies and hold them. After a good third of our boat had just experienced some stings, it was a little bit of a hard sell, but the guides explained this interesting fact: jellies cannot sting the palm of the hand or the sole of our foot. The guide scooped up a jellyfish and deposited it into the palm of our hands. Both C and I even gave it a try and lo and behold it was true. Though afterwards it is key to use the sand to “wash” our hands to remove any of the minuscule barbs the jellyfish may have left behind to ensure we do not transfer them to other parts of our body where it will in fact hurt.
After our educational jellyfish stop, the sun had set and night had fully come, we motored into Bioluminescent Bay for those who would participate. From the boat, C and I could see some of the glow, but it was not nearly as impressive as we thought it might be. Maybe it would have been better in the water, but I was happy to just stay on the boat to see the sunset, enjoy the oohs and aahs from our fellow travelers, and the cooler air as we headed back in at the end of the trip. It was a great way to end the trip.
All in all, it was a good vacation for C and me; we had just the right amount of activity, including a once-in-a-lifetime stingray experience, and lazing about. I was so proud of C for getting out of her comfort zone — kissing a stingray, holding a snake, holding a jellyfish, riding a scooter, and her willingness to snorkel her second and third times ever after a not great first experience several years before. After the challenging previous months, we needed some wins and we found them in Grand Cayman.