The charming Cayman Islands continue to be a coveted Caribbean getaway for both adventure- and relaxation-seeking travelers. Coral reefs and shipwrecks call to divers as the rum punch calls to the beach bums. Honeymooners hike through the 200-year-old Mastic Trail while parents take their children for interactive swims at Stingray City. Whichever way you choose to mellow out, the Cayman Islands can oblige.
The Cayman Islands are an archipelago of three islands that sit 150 miles south of Cuba. The largest, Grand Cayman, is full of gargantuan resorts with all-inclusive options, perfect for those who prefer preplanned itineraries and don't mind sharing the sights with cruise crowds. Meanwhile, the less-traveled Cayman Brac and Little Cayman boast some of the best diving in the Caribbean.
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The best time to visit the Cayman Islands is between March and June when the hotel rates drop. The islands are warm year-round with average highs holding steady in the 80s. January and February are the coolest months with average lows in the high 60s. The rainy season spans from May through October – though showers usually only last for a few hours at a time. The islands' location in the western part of the Caribbean shields them from being hit too hard by the annual hurricane season, which lasts from June to November. If you don't want to sacrifice weather for a break on hotel prices, plan a trip for the region's dry season, which runs from November to April.
Data sourced from the National Climatic Data Center
Take note of the Cayman Islands' dress code; swimsuits are OK on the beach or cruise ship, but you should dress more formally off the beach and in town.
The official currency of the Cayman Islands is the Cayman Islands dollar, which is roughly equivalent to the U.S. dollar. Since the Cayman Islands dollar to U.S. dollar exchange rate can fluctuate, be sure to check what the current exchange rate is before you go. However, U.S. dollars are pretty readily accepted in the Cayman Islands, as are major credit cards.
As for tipping, restaurants usually expect a 15 percent tip, though check the bill carefully because gratuity might already be added. Taxicab drivers anticipate anywhere from a 10 to 15 percent tip. Note that the service charge at hotels is usually included and ranges from 6 to 12 percent.
Similar to most Caribbean destinations, your trip to the Cayman Islands is not complete without a healthy dose of seafood. Arguably, one of the best places to sample the region's seafood is at Blue by Eric Ripert. The renowned restaurant sits inside Grand Cayman's Ritz-Carlton outpost, and as such it's a splurge, but a worthy one, according to past diners, especially if you're on the hunt for an extensive wine list. For a less formal atmosphere, try Hemingways, also on Grand Cayman. Though the occasional DJ can throw off the fine dining setting, Hemingways still earns high marks from visitors for its fusion of Asian and Caribbean flavors. The Calypso Grill in West Bay is equally lauded, mostly for its wide deck that overlooks Morgan's Harbour. If you're set on dining here, past visitors recommend you make reservations in advance. If you find yourself on Cayman Brac for a daytrip, travelers suggest enjoying lunch at Captain's Table, popular for its tacos and grouper dishes.
Travelers would be remiss if they didn't try conch stew – or conch fritters, conch soup or conch salad – but luckily, during conch season (from November to April), most menus feature this specific sea snail. Johnny cakes, which are deep-fried dumplings, are another mouth-watering specialty, as is the flavorful jerk chicken. For these and other traditional eats, try Big Tree Bbq in Gun Bay.
And if you or your traveling companions are vegetarian or vegan, consider a meal or two at VIVO, which specializes in organic, gluten-free and vegetarian or vegan dishes. Past visitors were particularly delighted by the coconut dishes, including the coconut ceviche, which is made with coconut "bacon," as well as the "calamari," or deep-fried young coconut calamari-style served with a side of spicy tomato.
Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman experience little crime, but you should lock your valuables in the hotel safe for the duration of your trip; theft of small tech items like smartphones and laptops has been on the rise. There are also a few health issues to keep in mind during your trip.
Mind the sun
The sweltering Caribbean heat could take you by surprise, so it may be best to take it easy on your first day on the islands. Remember to wear sunglasses, drink water and apply sunscreen regularly during your trip. This will not only help you avoid sunburn, but also heat stroke, the symptoms of which include fever, chills, headache, nausea or dizziness.
Respect the bugs
Dusk in the Cayman Islands brings out the "no-see-ums," tiny gnats that like to pester and bite. Slather on some bug spray and insect repellent before heading out for a night on the town.
Dive with care
Divers in the Cayman Islands should receive proper training before attempting even the most basic expeditions, and never dive alone. Keep an eye on weather conditions, as strong currents can wreak havoc on your underwater adventure.
You also need to be cautious about decompression sickness, or "the bends," which can occur upon ascending to the surface too quickly (causing nitrogen bubbles to form in a diver's blood and tissues, resulting in joint pain, itchy, swelling skin, confusion, loss of balance and shortness of breath). Swim to the surface slowly (no more than 30 feet per minute) and take breaks when ascending after deeper dives. If you feel the symptoms of decompression sickness, diving experts strongly advise seeking medical attention immediately.
The best way to get around the Cayman Islands is by car. Rental agencies are located right across the street from the Owen Roberts International Airport (GCM) on Grand Cayman, and taxis are available at the airport's arrivals area. Fares from the airport to your hotel can vary widely based on your accommodation's location; expect to pay at least $20 one-way.
Rental cars and mopeds are also available on the smaller Cayman Brac and Little Cayman. Private boat operators can help you get to either of those islands from Grand Cayman; Cayman Brac and Little Cayman also have their own airports with daily flights operated by Cayman Airways.See details for Getting Around
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All citizens of the United States are required to have a valid passport to enter the Cayman Islands. There is a departure tax for travelers 12 and older that is included in the cost of airfare. For more information on entry and exit requirements, visit the U.S. Department of State's website .
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