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Earthly Delights on the Cayman Islands

Stingray City

Photo by Jodi Jacobson

Visitors flock to Grand Cayman Island, where crescent-shaped Seven Mile Beach is an iconic locale and the diving is world-class. But few travelers make it to the other two Cayman islands, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, nor are many aware that all three sit astride a bird migratory path, or that each is peppered with green spaces. Indeed, beyond the sands and the sea are myriad natural treasures worth exploring.

On the largest island, Grand Cayman, visitors can sign up with the National Trust for the Cayman Islands for a group hike or private excursion along the Mastic Trail that threads through a centuries-old, dry forest that remains largely untouched. The path, just over 2 miles long, is ripe with botanical diversity—tamarind, mahogany and bitter plum trees stand alongside the trail’s namesake mastic, a towering yellow tree with massive buttress roots and silvery bark. An abundance of birdcalls will accompany your trek—the iridescent Grand Cayman Parrot may be sighted— shaded by a canopy of foliage. While staring up at a 100-year-old mango tree and other overhead specimens, don't miss the delicate ground orchids.

Much less wild but no less interesting walks can be found at the 65-acre Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park. A must-see is the Floral Colour Garden, with its plants arranged by appropriately brilliant hues. (The red section blazes with heliconia lobster claw.) Nearby, the lake and wetland sit on the edge of a buttonwood mangrove forest, offering numerous opportunities to spot native and migratory birds, including green herons, blue-winged teals and common gallinules. Across the way is the trailhead for the nearly mile-long Woodland Trail, where myriad butterflies flit about.

On Cayman Brac, a solar-powered lighthouse stands at the eastern end of the island where a portion of the 2½-mile-long Old Lighthouse Trail weaves along atop the island’s signature limestone bluffs. On the gravel and limestone-laden path dotted with agave, cacti, and wild fig and red birch trees, you may hear the high-pitched whistle of the brown booby as it soars overhead.

Even if you don’t spot any parrots, the 1-mile, sun-drenched nature trail that loops through the National Trust Parrot Reserve—a key breeding ground for the Cayman Brac parrot—is worth checking out for its many other avian and botanical features. Listen closely and you may hear the call of the Vitelline warbler.

The best way to explore Little Cayman—only 10 miles long and barely 1 mile wide—is by bicycle. (Most accommodations, including the Little Cayman Beach Resort, make bikes available to guests.) Plan a round-trip pedal along the flat, two-lane road ringing the isle—to the west end in the morning, and then to the east end after lunch—stopping at any of the tiny piers, sandy beaches and trailheads along the way. Close to the resort in blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Blossom Village, the pink-trimmed National Trust House sits astride the mangrove-fringed Booby Pond Nature Reserve, a birder’s paradise. Another interesting stop is the Preston Bay Iguana Nesting Sanctuary, where along the short sandy path, you may notice a Sister Islands Rock Iguana. On the island’s east end, lay your beach towel at Point of Sand, a secluded spot for swimming and snorkeling, and, if the weather’s good, a view of Cayman Brac in the distance.


WHERE TO STAY
At luxe Le Soleil d’Or on Cayman Brac, guests can choose to stay in a two-story villa, sunny beachfront cottage with private pool and beach, the new boutique hotel farm lodge set on the limestone bluff or the secluded beach studio. Divers and non-divers alike flock to the relaxed Little Cayman Beach Resort on the same-named island. No wonder, considering their superb valet diving services, oceanfront location and convivial vibe.


WHERE TO EAT

Agua on Grand Cayman is noted for its Cayman-style and Thai-inflected ceviche, as well as Peruvian tiraditos—similar to ceviche but sliced thin, like local yellowfin tuna in an Asian-style sauce. Order the smoked wahoo pâté at Guy Harvey’s, a simple restaurant with a second-floor balcony that looks down to the harbor. On Cayman Brac, every meal is a farm- and sea-to-table experience at Le Soleil d’Or, where the menu changes daily, depending on what’s available.

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