Exploring Cayman Brac

The Brac abounds in both natural and historic attractions. Many of the former include botanic gardens and preserves set aside to protect threatened indigenous species. The latter revolve around the maritime heritage and hardscrabble lives of the earliest settlers and their descendants up until the island developed better communication with the outside world in the 1970s.

If you’re exploring on your own, be sure to pick up the Cayman Brac Heritage Sites & Trails brochure, available at the tourist office and most hotels; it lists all the major points of interest.

The Sister Islands District Administration (345/948–2222 Ext. 4420, ask for organizer Chevala Burke | www.naturecayman.com) offers free government-sponsored guided nature and cultural tours with trained local guides Cantrell Scott and Keino Daley. Options include the Parrot Reserve, nature trails, wetlands, Lighthouse/Bluff View, caving, birding, and heritage sites. You just supply the wheels and spirit of adventure.

What to See

Cayman Brac Museum.Here you’ll find a diverse, well-displayed collection of historic Bracker implements from scary dental pliers to pistols to pottery. A meticulously crafted scale model of the Caymanian catboat Alsons has pride of place. The front room faithfully reconstructs the Customs, Treasury, bank, and post office as they would have looked decades ago. Permanent exhibits include those on the 1932 hurricane, turtling, shipbuilding, and typical old-time home life, including a child’s bedroom; the back room hosts rotating exhibits such as one on herbal folk medicine. | Old Government Administration Bldg. | Stake Bay, Cayman Brac | 345/948–2622, 345/244–4446 | Free | Weekdays 9–4, Sat. 9–noon.

Heritage House.The acre of beautifully landscaped grounds dotted with thatched gazebos and fountains includes an old-fashioned well and tannery, as well as Cola Cave (used to shelter the former estate owners during hurricanes), with informational panels. The main building, though new, replicates a traditional house; the interior has a few displays and videos depicting Brac history, but the treat is watching local artists at work. It’s a great resource for books on natural history and Caymanian crafts; daily slide shows, various cultural events, and talks by visiting naturalists are often scheduled. Call ahead before visiting to make sure that the house is open. | Northeast Bay Rd. | Spot Bay, Cayman Brac | 345/948–0563 | Free | Weekdays 9:30–1 and 2–5, Sat. 10–3.

 Parrot Reserve.The likeliest place to spot the endangered Cayman Brac parrot—and other indigenous and migratory birds—is along this National Trust hiking trail off Major Donald Drive, aka Lighthouse Road. Prime time is early morning or late afternoon; most of the day they’re camouflaged by trees, earning them the moniker “stealth parrot.” The loop trail incorporates part of a path the Brackers used in olden days to cross the bluff to reach their provision grounds on the south shore or to gather coconuts, once a major export crop. It passes through several types of terrain: old farmland under grass and native trees from mango to mahogany unusually mixed with orchids and cacti. Wear sturdy shoes, as the terrain is rocky, uneven, and occasionally rough. The 6-mile (10-km) gravel road continues to the lighthouse at the bluff’s eastern end, where there’s an astonishing view from atop the cliff to the open ocean—the best place to watch the sunrise. | Lighthouse Rd., ½ mile (1 km) south of town | Tibbetts Turn, Cayman Brac | 345/948–0319 | Free | Daily sunrise–sunset.

The Great Hurricane of ‘32. Brackers were ill prepared for hurricanes, especially the deadly storm with 200 mph winds that blustered its way over the island in 1932, destroying virtually everything in its path. Most Brackers took shelter in the caves sculpted from the Bluff. Others flooded into the McLaughlin home, which miraculously stood fast, saving 130 people. A “tear of sea” (archaic argot for a tidal wave) crashed onto shore, sending a boulder hurtling through the front door. Other than some damage from flooding, the house withstood the brunt of the storm quite well, and even the windows remained unbroken. Even younger Brackers still discuss the storm with awe, though Paloma matched its fury.

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