Bird-watching is sensational on the Sister Islands, with almost 200 species patrolling the island from migratory to endemic, including the endangered Cayman Brac parrot and brown booby. The best place to spy the feathered lovelies is on the north coast and in the protected woodland reserve on the Bluff. Other species to look out for include the indigenous vitelline warbler and red-legged thrush. The wetlands and ponds in the West End teem with herons and shorebirds, including splendid frigates, kestrels, ospreys, and rare West Indian whistling ducks. Most coastal areas offer sightings, but the best may be just inland at the Westerly Ponds (which connect during rainy season; otherwise boardwalks provide excellent viewing areas). A hundred species flap about, particularly around the easternmost pond off Bert Marson Drive by Mr. Billy’s house: The old Bracker feeds them late afternoon and occasionally early morning, when the whistling ducks practically coat the entire surface of the water.
Diving and Snorkeling
Cayman Brac’s waters are celebrated for their rich diversity of sea life, from hammerhead and reef sharks to stingrays to sea horses. Divers and snorkelers alike will find towering coral heads, impressive walls, and fascinating wrecks. The snorkeling and shore diving off the north coast are spectacular, particularly at West End, where nearby coral formations attract all kinds of critters. The walls feature remarkable topography with natural gullies, caves, and fissures blanketed with Technicolor sponges, black coral, gorgonians, and sea fans. Some of the famed sites are the West Chute, Cemetery Wall, Airport Wall, and Garden Eel Wall.
The South Wall is a wonderland of sheer drop-offs carved with a maze of vertical swim-throughs, tunnels, arches, and grottoes that divers nickname Cayman’s Grand Canyon. Notable sites include Anchor Wall, Rock Monster Chimney, and the Wilderness.
Notable diving attractions around the island include the 330-foot MV Capt. Keith Tibbetts, a Russian frigate purchased from Cuba and deliberately scuttled in 1996 within swimming distance of the northwest shore, accessible to divers of all levels. Many fish have colonized the Russian frigate—now broken in two and encrusted with magnificent orange and yellow sponges. Other underwater wrecks include the Cayman Mariner, a steel tugboat, and the Prince Frederick, a wooden-hulled twin-masted schooner that allegedly sank in the 19th century.
Oceanic Voyagers, a 7-foot-tall bronze statue created by world-renowned marine sculptor Dale Evers, depicts spotted dolphins cavorting with southern stingrays and was sunk off the Brac’s coast near Stake Bay in January 2003 as part of the Cayman Islands’ yearlong quincentennial celebration. An artist named Foots has created an amazing underwater Atlantis off Radar Reef.
Other top snorkeling/shore diving spots include the south coast’s Pillar Coral Reef, Tarpon Reef, and Lighthouse Reef; the north shore counters with Greenhouse Reef, Snapper Reef, and Jan’s Reef.
Cayman Brac offers superior bonefishing along the shallows off the southwest coast and even finer light-tackle action. The offshore waters mostly compose a marine park, so fishers go out a few hundred feet from the dive buoys, themselves ranging ¼ to ½ mile (½ to 1 km) from shore. The pristine environment teems with wahoo, marlin, and sushi-grade tuna. Most charter-boat operators also run snorkeling trips; a memorable excursion is to Little Cayman Brac, passing several fanciful rock formations.
Public footpaths and hiking trails filigree the island, with interpretive signs identifying a staggering variety of resident and nonresident bird species that call the Brac home. You’ll also find reptile habitats, indigenous flora, and historically and geologically significant sites. Arguably the most scenic route traverses the eastern Bluff to the tip, where the remains of a lighthouse stand sentinel over the roaring Caribbean. This is one of the routes taken by early Brackers scaling the Bluff via the steep Lighthouse Steps up past Peter’s Cave, then down the 2½-mile (4-km) Lighthouse Footpath adjacent to Major Donald Drive (aka Lighthouse Road). This was used to bring cattle to pasture, as well as to access plantations of cassava, peppers, beans, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, mangoes, bananas, and other crops. The panoramas are awe inspiring, especially once you reach the lighthouse. Even though the path along the edge is fairly even, it’s not suitable for the elderly, very young, or infirm due to high winds (don’t venture onto the dramatic bleached limestone outcroppings: A sudden gust could send you hurtling into the air with the brown boobies that nest in ledges and caves here). It’s a compellingly desolate, eerie area, as if future spacefarers were terra-forming the moon with hardy “maypole” cacti, century plants, aloes, and wind-lashed silver thatch palms bowing almost as if in deference to nature.
Climbing the Brac is rocking, but precautions are vital. Sturdy hiking boots are mandatory, since you’ll traverse a wide variety of terrain just accessing routes. Leather gloves are also recommended, as most of the high-quality limestone is smooth but has sharp and jagged areas. Two ropes are necessary for many climbs, the longest of which requires 19 quickdraws. Gear should include ascending devices like prusiks and Tiblocs and shoulder-length slings with carabiners. Don’t attempt climbs alone; you’re on your own even in teams should disaster occur. Agree upon rope tug signals, since the wind, waves, and overhangs make hearing difficult. Always analyze surf conditions and prevailing winds (which are variable) before rappelling, and double-check rap setup, anchors, and harnesses. Though titanium glue-ins replaced most of the old stainless steel bolts, many are deteriorating due to stress corrosion cracking; avoid any old bolts.
Peter’s Cave offers a stunning aerial view of the picturesque northeastern community of Spot Bay. The climb is easier from atop the Bluff; the other access is steep, and purchase isn’t always easy even with railings. The chambers feature few formations but some pretty multihued striations. Great Cave, at the island’s southeast end, has numerous chambers and photogenic ocean views. It’s the least accessible yet most impressive. You won’t fund Bruce Wayne or his Boy Wonder in the Bat Cave, but you may see Jamaican fruit bats hanging from the ceiling (try not to disturb them), as well as nesting barn owls. The bats play a crucial role in the ecosystem’s food chain because they devour overripe fruits, thereby pollinating plants, disseminating seeds, and reducing insect pests. There are some whimsical formations, and sections cracked and crawling with undergrowth, trees, and epiphytes. Rebecca’s Cave poignantly houses the graveside of an 18-month-old child who died during the horrific hurricane of 1932. A plaque commemorates her short life (“Daughter of Raib and Helena ‘Miss Missy’ Bodden”), and people still leave flowers. It’s actually a ¼-mile (½-km) hike inland along a well-marked trail called the Saltwater Pond Path, which continues to the north side. Today it’s a prime bird-watching walk lined with indigenous flora like red birch, jasmine, silver thatch palms, agave, dildo cactus, balsam, cabbage trees, duppy bushes, and bull hoof plants.