Grand Cayman may be known more as a port for cruise ships than a Caribbean destination, but that doesn’t mean this ritzy member of the Cayman Islands isn’t full of great things to see and do. It’s a short hop from the United States and cities such as Miami, Atlanta and Houston offer seasonal non-stop flights. Our Forbes Travel Guide team just got back from the tropical gem and we’ve got an itinerary that explores the best the island has to offer — from lounging on postcard-worthy Seven Mile Beach to indulging at Blue by Eric Ripert, the Forbes Travel Guide Tastemaker’s outpost at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman.
One of the greatest things about visiting Grand Cayman is while your day may seem jam-packed on paper, everything here moves at a rather leisurely pace. Start your first day out with breakfast at Jessie’s Juice Bar in Camana Bay. Considering you’ll be in a bathing suit for the majority of the next two days, you’ll want to kick things off with something light—and we suggest that start in the form of a freshly squeezed fruit and vegetable juice (we love the Green Akaliser with leafy greens, herbs, cucumber, celery and watermelon) or a delicious smoothie (try the Suped Up Berry Smoothie with mixed berries, açai, agave, milk and banana).
After you’ve had your healthy breakfast, make your way down to Camana Bay’s marina to meet up with a captain from Cayman Private Charters. You’re heading out on a half-day boat adventure to one of Grand Cayman’s highlights: Stingray City. This sandbar in the middle of the North Sound is protected by a reef that creates a calm area in the ocean that’s filled with stingrays accustomed to swimming with tourists (read: you don’t have to worry about getting stung). You’ll be able to feed these massive slimy animals a couple of squid—just be sure to keep your thumb tucked in as they suck up their food like a vacuum.
Stingray City is the real draw, but your captain will take you to several other places on your four-hour trip: Rum Point for a Mudslide; Starfish Beach to check out the namesake creatures; and Coral Garden for some snorkeling. And if you happen to be visiting during conch season (between November and April), your captain may just whip up some delicious conch ceviche on board.
But in the event that you weren’t lucky enough to score some fresh conch, head straight to Ortanique for lunch when you get back to shore. The restaurant sits on The Crescent at Camana Bay, overlooking the marina. Chef-owner Cindy Hutson and executive chef Sara Mair (of Top Chef 3: Miami) whip up contemporary yet authentic Caribbean dishes—we highly suggest trying the fritter of the day, ceviche and the Red Stripe beer steamed middleneck clams. After refueling at Ortanique, check out the shops that Camana Bay has to offer—ranging from Island Company’s flowy linen shirts to NKY Collections’ haute couture.
Whether you need some extra time on the beach or prefer to rest in the comfort of your room’s air conditioning, head back to your hotel for some downtime. One of the best hotels on the island is The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, which sits on Seven Mile Beach. Here you can relax on one of the plush lounge chairs on the white sand beach or claim the floating cabana that’s anchored just off the shore (and “Aqua Butlers” will even bring your tropical drinks right to you).
Once you’ve gotten your rest and freshened up, it’s time to head back to Camana Bay for dinner. Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink is a must-try for anyone visiting Grand Cayman. It’s owned by Miami chef Michael Schwartz, and it’s a farm-to-table restaurant—a bit of an anomaly on the island. Local chef Thomas Tennant is in charge and churns out fantastic dishes, but the real thing to look forward to is lionfish. Whenever you see lionfish on the menu, you have to order it. This unique fish has invaded the Atlantic and the Caribbean, eating other baby fish along the way. It’s covered with poisonous spines, so it’s dangerous to catch, but it’s delicious to eat. Finish things off with the signature (and decadent) chocolate cremoso.
After a busy first day, your second 24 hours are rather relaxing. Get your day started right with breakfast at The Waterfront, a new urban diner at Camana Bay. Until recently, Grand Cayman was lacking a true diner, and on an island where brunch is such a popular activity, that’s quite surprising. You really can’t go wrong with anything on the menu, though you cannot leave without trying the enormous cinnamon bun—it’s the size of a side plate and it’s amazing.
With a full stomach and satisfied taste buds, head back to The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman to change into your bathing suit and catch some rays (and today we mean sun). The luxury hotel has two pools (one on the beach side and one on its “resort” side). But if you prefer to get the best of both worlds, we suggest setting up camp on one of the lounge chairs on the beach. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, or just need a drink to cool you off, order lunch (and a Caybrew to wash it down) from Bar Jack, the hotel’s pool/beach bar.
If you feel you’ve gotten enough sun for the day, book a treatment at the hotel’s relaxing spa, Silver Rain, a La Prairie Spa. The sleek spa is the ultimate indulgence; the menu even boasts a caviar massage. And if you can’t seem to tear yourself away from the Caribbean sun, you can book a massage in the privacy of your own cabana.
In less than two days, you’ve explored most of what Grand Cayman has to offer, and the only way to end your trip is with a rewarding dinner at Blue by Eric Ripert. In true Ripert form, The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman’s fine-dining restaurant is a lesson in decadence. The cuisine is in the same tradition as New York’s Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Le Bernardin. The seafood-focused menu can be experienced in several ways, but we highly recommend the tasting menu. The options are constantly changing, but a signature dish is tuna-foie gras, which is thinly pounded local tuna atop foie gras and a toasted baguette, and topped with chives. Just when you thought the gastronomic indulgence was over, you’ll be sent to your room with two tasty macarons to seal the deal.
Photos Courtesy of Cayman Islands Department of Tourism, Patrick Gorham-iStock:EXTREME PHOTOGRAPHER and DonRiddle