Cayman Islands – Visitors to the Cayman Islands enjoy a tropical paradise, but without the many hassles and inconveniences of traveling to a developing country. The Cayman Islands are located just south of Cuba (about 1.5 hours from Miami). It is an English-speaking British Crown colony with the highest per capita income in the Caribbean. The government is extremely stable and the islands are so safe that even the police don’t carry guns. Grand Cayman has all the modern conveniences, yet it is different enough to feel like you’re in another country. The Cayman Islands are on Eastern Standard Time year-round (they don’t observe Daylight Savings Time). Electricity is 110 volt, 60 cycle, same as in the U.S.
U.S. citizens are now required to have a passport to re-enter the USA, so you’ll need a valid passport to travel. Non-US/Canadian citizens may need a visa to enter. Please be sure that you are carrying correct documentation – you will not be able to board your airplane without it.
Airlines sometimes make last minute changes to flight itineraries. Please remember to verify your flight times 72 and 24 hours prior to departure (you can verify your flight times online, or by calling us or the airline). International flights require check-in at least 2 hours prior to departure. The departure tax from the Cayman Islands is included in the price of your air ticket.
ENTERING THE CAYMAN ISLANDS
When you check in for your flight, or on the plane, you’ll be given a Cayman Islands Immigration Card. Complete both the top & bottom sections before you land. As you clear immigration, you’ll show this and your proof of citizenship to the agent. He or she will keep the top part, you’ll keep the bottom: store it in a safe place, since you’ll need it to leave the country. Lost paperwork can be remedied, but at considerable hassle. If you lose your Immigration Card, get to the airport several hours before departure, and ask airline or immigration personnel what to do. You’ll also complete a customs declaration form (one per family). Carrying any contraband – like guns, drugs, pornography – is a very bad idea. Cayman has very serious laws regarding their import.
For those staying on Grand Cayman, a car rental can be very useful (if you’re comfortable driving on the left!) There are several rental agencies across the street from the airport. The rates are very reasonable (about $25/day + tax and collision insurance). If you are staying on or near Seven Mile Beach, it is not necessary to have a car. Taxis are available and there is a daily bus service which runs from 6 am until midnight depending on the route and the day of travel. The bus fare also depends on the route and varies between CI$1.50 to CI$3.00 per person. If you are staying on Cayman Brac or Little Cayman, car rental is not necessary as the islands are quite small.
Balmy breezes all year, with rare cold snaps (60s – brr!) in the dead of winter. Highs April-November: 90s, December-March: 80s. Lows usually in the 70s. Light jackets are a good idea in the winter.
Important – airlines may charge you for checking bags! AIrline policies differ and change frequently – if you are unsure about your airline’s baggage charges check the airline’s website, or we’ll be happy to assist. Small planes to Little Cayman and Cayman Brac have MUCH more restrictive baggage policies. Most airlines enforce a 3 bag limit (two checked, one carry-on) for international flights. Checked bags are usually limited to 50 pounds each. Remember to pack depth gauges in your carry-on bags. Pack lightly – Cayman is normally informal and tropical. There are a few nicer restaurants on Grand Cayman, so pack accordingly. Some items to remember: several swimming suits, mostly t-shirts, shorts and casual resort wear, comfortable shoes, flip flops, sunscreen, sunglasses, hat, insect repellent, and windbreaker or light jacket.
Credit cards are widely accepted throughout the islands. The Cayman Islands Dollar (CI$) equals US$1.25 or, the US dollar equals CI $.80. There are ATMs on Grand Cayman in town and along West Bar Road, but none on Little Cayman and Cayman Brac. Tip as you would in the U.S. Of course, tipping depends entirely on the quality of service you receive. Waiters and bartenders get 15-20% of the bill. Dive boat crew, about US$10 / trip. Your hotel maid will appreciate a few dollars or so per day, left in the room upon departure. If you’re pleased with the service, consider tipping a bit extra.
We always recommend spending a little more and buying travel insurance to protect you against financial loss in case of emergency or unplanned circumstances. Things happen: you or a family member gets sick and you’re unable to travel at the last minute (and hotel/dive packages are almost never refundable once paid for). Weather prevents you getting to the airport and you miss your flight, and you have to buy another ticket. You miss a connection and arrive two days later than planned. An airline cancels your flight, and you incur unplanned hotel expenses. An emergency back home forces you to cut your trip short. Your luggage is lost and you have to buy new clothes to wear. You get sick and have to go the hospital, and your home insurance doesn’t cover all your expenses. All these and more happen every single day, and travel insurance would cover these circumstances. Check what the policy covers before buying, of course – travel insurance isn’t perfect, but the more expensive and the more complex the trip, the more important it becomes. Travel packages can cost thousands of dollars, and route deviations can get very expensive. Please protect yourself in case of emergency!
Very rare in the Cayman Islands – the policemen don’t even carry guns. But take sensible precautions… as you would anywhere. Don’t leave valuable lying around, and don’t flash large amounts of cash in public. Your hotel has a safe-deposit service for your valuables – take advantage of this, for your own peace of mind.
EATING AND DRINKING
Of course, fresh seafood is heavily featured at many restaurants. Their West Indian heritage is reflected at many restaurants with lots of influence from their North American cousins. Ethnic restaurants are popular including Italian, Greek, Chinese and Indian, just to name a few. There are also European-style restaurants with world-class chefs. Many places feature live music and gorgeous ocean views. The water is safe to drink – just like in the U.S.
If you’re staying on Little Cayman or Cayman Brac, there are few dining options outside those at your resort – you will, however, enjoy a wide variety of foods served buffet style at Little Cayman Beach Resort and Cayman Brac Beach Resort!
Also available: soft drinks (U.S.-type and more exotic flavors), juices, beer and stronger liquids. Locally produced liquor is reasonably priced, but imported brands can be very expensive.
Staff at the hotels and dive shop will be able to help you resolve almost any problem that comes up. If you’re unhappy with your hotel room for any reason, tell the front desk or manager, and ask them to resolve the situation. For serious situations, emergencies, or assistance with problems you can’t resolve locally, call us at Bay Adventures (Miami) at 305-892-4280 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. IMPORTANT: if you believe you are being charged unfairly for something, get a receipt and the name of the person who insists on payment – otherwise there is no recourse for getting your money back!
You can direct dial from your hotel room to the US. Hotels will add a long distance surcharge, so check first. Many travelers return home to huge unexpected phone bills. Most US cell phones will work from all of the Cayman Islands. Here are some useful phone numbers. From the U.S., direct-dial 1-345 plus the numbers below:
Check with your hotel for to make arrangements for land activities on Grand Cayman. Popular activities include:
Take an island tour. Several companies in George Town offer island tours ranging from local culture and heritage to nature trails and eco-systems. The Great Cayman Outdoors Experience is a full day tour that combines horseback riding along the beach, a submarine adventure, shopping for eco-crafts and a nature tour.
Go to Hell! This tiny town is located on the rugged northwestern coast. Buy some souvenirs from Hell at the gift shop (where the proprietor wears red cloths and horns) or send a postcard from Hell complete with a “hell” postmark.
Visit the Turtle Farm. This is the only self-sufficient turtle farm in the world. You’ll see hundreds of turtles ranging from tiny hatchlings to huge adults weighing hundreds of pounds.
Rent a car and drive around the island on your own. Rentals are inexpensive (about $25/day plus tax and insurance). The southern and eastern coasts are much more rugged than civilized Seven Mile Beach. The shops and restaurants are replaced with local towns and scenic vistas. Before heading out of town, stop by the National Trust of the Cayman Islands for copies of historical walking tours and other information. They are located off Old Courts Road and Eastern Ave. (949-0121).
Visit Pedro St. James, the oldest building in Grand Cayman (located along the southern coast). Very little has changed since Englishman William Eden and his slaves lived here in the late 1700s. Walking through the house and grounds will take you back to that plantation life-style era.
Visit the Cayman Islands National Museum (located in the heart of George Town facing the ocean) to learn about the island’s history.
And a few more suggestions –
Your vacation begins the moment you walk out your front door. Enjoy!
Use our advice as a starting point for your own exploration, and you’ll find that great sunsets, exhilarating diving, and the beautiful waters are only the beginnings of a great vacation. Have a great trip!
SCUBA DIVING TIPS
DIVE GEAR – tanks and weights are provided. You bring (or rent) the rest. Remember mask, snorkel, fins, regulator, BC, booties, slate, dive light, depth gauge, bottom timer or watch, computer/dive tables, camera, logbook and weight belt (without weights). A mesh bag packed inside your gear bag for traveling, can be handy for carrying and rinsing your gear. Bring extra: mask and fin straps, snorkel keeper, batteries. Ocean water temperature varies from about 74 in the winter to the mid 80s in the summer. A light tropical shorty or dive skin is great for summer and fall; you may want more thermal protection in the winter.
REEF DIVING – The reefs in the Cayman Islands are not far off shore. There is diving on all sides – north, south, east and west….so no matter what the wind is doing, there is almost always calm water somewhere. The famous Stingray City is in the North Sound area. Most all dive shops offer weekly trips there (or sometimes several times a week depending on demand).
Cayman has some incredible wall dives. Normally a two-tank boat dive will consist of a deeper wall dive first, followed by a shallower reef dive.
They are very serious about reef preservation in the Caymans. They practice no-hands diving, don’t touch and only take photos. Please also steam-line your equipment and clip your gauges to your BC. Remember that your group leaders and boat crews are there to help you enjoy yourself, so don’t hesitate to ask questions, discuss problems, or make a request. Remember to stay well-hydrated for diving – drink lots of water during your entire trip.
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