Begin exploring the capital by strolling along the waterfront, Harbour Drive, to Elmslie Memorial United Church, named after the first Presbyterian missionary to serve in the Caymans. Its vaulted timber ceiling (built from salvaged wreck material in the shape of an upside-down hull), wooden arches, mahogany pews, and tranquil nave reflect the island’s deeply religious nature.
Just north near Fort Street, the Seamen’s Memorial Monument lists 153 names on an old navigational beacon; a bronze piece by Canadian sculptor Simon Morris, titled Tradition, honors the almost 500 Caymanians who have lost their lives at sea. Dive-industry pioneer Bob Soto, wife Suzy, and daughter-in-law Leslie Bergstrom spearheaded the project, which Prince Edward unveiled during the 2003 quincentennial celebrations.
A few steps away lie the scant remains of Fort George, constructed in 1790 to repel plundering pirates; it also functioned as a watch post during World War II to scan for German subs.
In front of the court building, in the center of town, names of influential Caymanians are inscribed on the Wall of History, which also commemorates the islands’ quincentennial. Across the street is the Cayman Islands Legislative Assembly Building, next door to the 1919 Peace Memorial Building. A block south is the horseshoe-shaped General Post Office, built in 1939 at the tail end of the art deco period. Let the kids pet the big blue iguana statues.
Cayman Islands National Museum.…Built in 1833, the historically significant clapboard home of the national museum has had several different incarnations over the years, serving as courthouse, jail, post office, and dance hall. It features an ongoing archaeological excavation of the Old Gaol and excellent 3-D bathymetric displays, murals, dioramas, and videos that illustrate local geology, flora and fauna, and island history. The first floor focuses on natural history, including a microcosm of Cayman ecosystems, from beaches to dry woodlands and swamps, and offers such interactive elements as a simulated sub. Upstairs, the cultural exhibit features renovated murals, video history reenactments, and 3-D back panels in display cases holding thousands of artifacts ranging from a 14-foot catboat with animatronic captain to old coins and rare documents painting a portrait of daily life and past industries such as shipbuilding and turtling, stressing Caymanians’ resilience when they had little contact with the outside world. There are also temporary exhibits focusing on aspects of Caymanian culture, a local art collection, and interactive displays for kids. | Harbour Dr. | George Town, Grand Cayman | 345/949–8368 | www.museum.ky | $8, $5.60 Sat. | Weekdays 9–5, Sat. 10–2.
Need a Break? | Full of Beans Cafe.…On the surprisingly large, eclectic, Asian-tinged menu using ultrafresh ingredients, standouts include homemade carrot cake, mango smoothies, cranberry-Brie-pecan salad, and rosemary-roasted portobello and pesto chicken paninis. Their espresso martini will perk up anyone wanting a pick-me-up. Owner Cindy Butler fashions a feast for weary eyes as well, with rotating artworks (many for sale) and stylish mosaic mirrors contrasting with faux-brick walls and vintage hardwood tables. | Pasadora Pl., Smith Rd., | George Town, Grand Cayman | 345/943–2326, 345/814–0157.
Maritime Heritage Trail
The National Trust for the Cayman Islands, National Museum, National Archive, Sister Islands Nature Tourism Project, and Department of the Environment have collaborated on a series of land-based sightseeing trails on Grand Cayman and the Sister Islands that commemorate the country’s maritime heritage. Shoreside signs around the islands denote points of access and explain their historic or natural significance, from shipwreck sites to shorebird-sighting spots, chandlers’ warehouses to lighthouses.
Brochures and posters are available at the National Trust and tourism offices on each island, as well as at many hotels. They provide additional information on turtling, shipbuilding, salvaging, fishing, and other sea-based economies. The project provides visitors with interactive edu-tainment as they explore the islands.
National Trust.…For a wonderful map of the historic and natural attractions, go to the office of the National Trust. The Trust sells books and guides to Cayman. The fabulous website has more than 50 information sheets on cultural and natural topics from iguanas to schoolhouses. Take advantage of the regularly scheduled activities, from boat tours through the forests of the Central Mangrove Wetlands to cooking classes with local chefs to morning walking tours of historic George Town. Stop here first before you tour the island. Be forewarned: though the office is walkable from George Town, it’s an often-hot 20-minute hike from downtown. | Dart Park,558 S. Church St. | George Town, Grand Cayman | 345/749–1121 | www.nationaltrust.org.ky | Weekdays 9–5.