The smallest and most tranquil of the three Cayman Islands, Little Cayman has a full-time population of only 170, most of whom work in the tourism industry; they are easily outnumbered by iguanas and rare birds. This 12-square-mile (31-square-km) island is practically pristine and has only a sand-sealed airstrip, sharing its “terminal” building with the fire department and a few other vehicles. The grass runway was finally paved with blacktop a few years ago, and locals no longer have to line up their cars at night to guide emergency landings in by headlight. But some things don’t change. The speed limit remains 25 mph, as no one is in a hurry to go anywhere. In fact, the island’s population of resident iguanas uses roads more regularly than residents; signs created by local artists read “Iguanas have the right of way.”
With little commercial development, the island beckons ecotourists seeking wildlife encounters, not urban wild life. It’s best known for its spectacular diving in world-renowned Bloody Bay Marine Park, including Bloody Bay Wall and adjacent Jackson Wall. The ravishing reefs and plummeting walls encircling the island teem with more than 500 different species of fish and more than 150 kinds of coral. Fly-, lake-, and deep-sea fishing are also popular, as well as snorkeling, kayaking, and biking. And the island’s certainly for the birds. The National Trust Booby Pond Nature Reserve is a designated wetland of international importance, which protects around 20,000 red-footed boobies, the Western Hemisphere’s largest colony. It’s just one of many superlative spots to witness avian aerial acrobatics.
Secluded beaches, unspoiled tropical wilderness and wetlands, mangrove swamps, lagoons, bejeweled coral reefs—Little Cayman practically redefines “hideaway” and “escape.” Yet aficionados appreciate that the low-key lifestyle doesn’t mean sacrificing the high-tech amenities, and some of the resorts cater to a quietly wealthy yet unpretentious crowd.
Which isn’t to say Little Cayman lacks for lively moments. Halloween parties and Mardi Gras festivities bring out wildly imaginative costumes and floats. It’s just one of those rare places that attract more colorful types who are in search of privacy, not just the ardently ecocentric. That doesn’t provide a license for misbehavior on this beautiful, idiosyncratic landfall. But this is definitely a place to mellow out; drugs won’t be needed. As one regular cackles, “If the island were any more laid-back, it’d be double-jointed.”
• Wall-to-Wall Fun. Divers can’t miss the hallowed Bloody Bay, lauded by every Cousteau worth his sea salt.
• Booby Watching. Even if you’re not a birder, learning about the rare red-footed booby from its fanatics at the National Trust and spying them through telescopes are more fun than you’d think.
• Beachcombing. A jaunt to Owen Island or Point o’ Sand rewards you with practically virgin strands, breathtaking views, and scintillating snorkeling.
• Pirates Pointing. A meal with Gladys Howard at her peerless little resort is memorable not only for the food but the company.
• Something Fishy. The deep-sea fishing is superior, but the light-tackle option should lure any angler.
Little Cayman is bracketed by lighthouses at the West and East Ends, whose terrain couldn’t be more different. The semiarid East End has a remote, end-of-the-world feel: Limestone sinkholes called karst stitched with xeric shrub give it a pitted moonlike appearance. The West End is much greener. But beaches, snorkeling, nature trails, and bird-viewing areas embroider the entire island. One main road, mostly paved, essentially circumnavigates the coast. Several packed-dirt side roads crisscross the island, often accessing the more remote beaches. These can become muddy and almost impassable in heavy rain.
When to Go
Though diving and fishing excel in summer as well, the traditional high-season months of December through April apply to Little Cayman, as they do to hotels in much of the Caribbean. Most of the small resorts shut down September through most of October, during the height of hurricane season.
Getting Here and Around
Interisland service between Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac, and Little Cayman is provided several times daily by Cayman Airways at Edward Bodden Airfield, which accommodates only STOL craft.
Bikes, usually offered for free by the resorts, are the preferred way of getting around the island; dive operations will pick you up, and the hotels also provide airport transfers. A car is suggested only if you rent one of the more isolated villas or if you plan to explore the farther-flung part of the island on a regular basis. Parking is rarely a problem. Another flexible touring option is a moped. McLaughlin Rentals offers mopeds ($50) and SUVs ($80–$100).
Resorts offer airport transfers. Two companies offer land tours (in addition to fishing, kayaking, and other options). Island tours are usually $50 per person (though each additional person is generally discounted, as are children). LCB Tours has a safari bus for larger groups. Maxine McCoy’s MAM’s Tours can accommodate up to 15 passengers in two minivans, though she’s often off-island.
Information…LCB Tours.Little Cayman Beach Resort,Blossom Village, Little Cayman345/948–1642, 345/948–1033. …MAM’s Tours.65 Mahogany Bay, Candle Rd.,West End, Little Cayman345/926–0104, 345/917–4582www.mamstour.ky.
The main resorts’ dining rooms accept reservations from nonguests pending availability. Otherwise, there are two full-fledged restaurants, both affiliated with villa/condo properties. The choices are limited, with seafood obviously reigning supreme, but the caliber of the few kitchens is generally high.
Accommodations are mostly in small lodges, almost all of which offer meal and dive packages. The chefs in most places create wonderful meals despite often-limited resources. You won’t find any independent restaurants, but if you are staying in a villa or condo you can usually have dinner at one of the resorts (be sure to call ahead). Dive packages represent exceptional savings. Most resorts prefer a five- to seven-night stay in high season, but the minimum isn’t always strictly enforced. Still, rooms for shorter stays may not become available until two to three weeks prior to your trip dates.
There is no visitor center on Little Cayman, but each hotel, hotelier, and staffer overflows with information and suggestions. You can also consult the websites of the Sister Islands Tourism Association (www.itsyourstoexplore.com) for information on Little Cayman.