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Overview

Lay of the Land
Only an hour's flight south of Miami, the Cayman Islands were an afterthought of the British Empire, eking out an existence from turtling, remittances from its merchant sailors, and sales of postage stamps until the 1950s, when its spectacular coral reefs began to attract scuba divers. The islands—actually the flat tops of an enormous submarine mountain range—are ringed by rugged ironshore (limestone) interspersed with white-sand beaches and stands of red mangroves, while the rocky interiors are covered by dry forest. Most of the country's population resides on the west coast of Grand Cayman (the largest of the islands at 76 square miles) in the vicinity of the capital George Town and the famous Seven Mile Beach. On the eastern half of the island are the laid-back Savannah, North Side, and East Side districts.

The "Sister Islands" of Little Cayman (10 square miles) and Cayman Brac (14 square miles) lie approximately 75 miles to the northeast. With a permanent population of less than 200 residents, pristine Little Cayman is one of the finest diving and sportfishing destinations in the world. Five miles eastward, Cayman Brac (a Gaelic word for "bluff) is distinguished by a limestone uplift that runs the length of the dagger-shaped island, with sheer 140-foot cliffs rimming the entire east side. Its 1,800 residents live in traditional Cayman cottages along the northern shore and are renowned for their seamanship; many are descendants of hardy sailors who settled here in the 1830s.

WHEN TO GO


Like much of the Caribbean, the Cayman Islands are subject to hurricanes; the storm season runs from June through November. Some hotels and restaurants, especially smaller operations, shut down for part of this time. May and October are the rainiest month and March and April the driest.

The tourist high season begins in December and runs through the end of April. Grand Cayman does a strong repeat business among vacationing families over the Christmas holidays. The weather at this time is delightful: mid-70s and 80s during the day, dropping to mid-60s at night, while sea temperatures average an ideal 80 degrees. During the humid summer, daytime temperatures rise into the high 80s and low 90s.

HOW TO GET THERE


Grand Cayman's Owen Roberts International Airport (GCM) has nonstop links to numerous U.S. cities along the Atlantic Seaboard and the Midwest, as well as Canada, Britain, Jamaica, Honduras, and Cuba. National carrier Cayman Airways operates multiple daily flights on small turboprops between Grand Cayman, Little Cayman, and Cayman Brac. During the tourist high season, the airline also offers nonstop Saturday service between Miami and Cayman Brac. More than a million cruise-ship passengers visit Grand Cayman annually. Dive boats from Cayman Brac frequently make the 20-minute run to Little Cayman; some Grand Cayman-based dive boats undertake multiday expeditions to the Sister Islands.

TOURIST INFO


Cayman Islands Department of Tourism
Windward 3, Regatta Office Park
West Bay Road
Seven Mile Beach
Grand Cayman
Tel: 345 949 0623
www.caymanislands.ky

NEED TO KNOW


Language: English
Capital City: George Town
Population: 51,000 (2011 est.)
Area: 100 square miles
Telephone Calling Code(s): 345
Electricity: 110 volts, 60 cycles (the same as the U.S.)
Currency: As of Nov 22, 2011:
1 Cayman Islands Dollars = $1.16 US Calculate Other Amounts
Entry Requirements:

For U.S. citizens, a valid passport is required. Visas are not required for U.S. citizens traveling to the Cayman Islands for short-term visits. Driving is on the left-hand side of the road. Visitors must get a temporary driver's license from a police station or car-rental agency by showing a valid driver's license from their home state.


GOOD TO KNOW


Books and Movies
Despite its colorful pirate history and gorgeous underwater scenery, the Cayman Islands haven't figured in many major novels or films. The best-known is John Grisham's 1991 legal thriller The Firm about a sketchy Memphis practice that launders Mafia money in Grand Cayman. Peter Matthiessen's critically acclaimed 1975 novel Far Tortuga portrayed the waning days of Cayman's turtle hunters. Native son Frank E. Flowers's 2004 gritty melodrama Haven, filmed entirely on location in the islands, cast Bill Paxton as a corrupt U.S. businessman on the run in Grand Cayman. The opening underwater scenes of 2011's Dolphin Tale were filmed off Grand Cayman.

Cuisine
With little arable land but abundant offshore fisheries, Cayman cuisine centers on seafood: fish, conch, spiny lobster, and especially the green sea turtle, the key ingredient in the national dish, turtle stew. Spices and seasonings are simpler than on other neighboring islands: coconut, green pepper, onions, salt, and black pepper. The most popular condiment is fiery Scotch-bonnet pepper sauce. There are also subtle Jamaican influences, as evidenced by roadside jerk stands with sides such as rice and red beans, callaloo soup, and fried johnnycakes. A traditional dessert favorite is "heavy cake, a dense confection of cassava, yam or breadfruit, coconut milk, brown sugar, and such spices as cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice.

Good Buys
The Cayman Islands' top export product is Tortuga rum cake, a sponge cake glazed with dark rum. Other local wares include baskets woven from the endemic silver-thatch palm leaves and jewelry fashioned from caymanite, a semiprecious stone with colorful, swirling bands of red and black from such minerals as manganese, iron, nickel, and cobalt.


NATIONAL HOLIDAYS


January: 1, New Year's Day 23, National Hero's Day
February: Ash Wednesday
April: Good Friday; Easter Monday
May: 21, Discovery Day
June: 18, Queen's Birthday
July: 2, Constitution Day
November: 12, Remembrance Day
December: 25, Christmas; 26, Boxing Day

Information may have changed since date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.

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