|Little Cayman is the smallest of the
three islands which constitute the country known as Cayman Islands. It is located
approximately 75 miles east-northeast of the largest and best known of the three islands,
Grand Cayman Island. About 8 miles further east from Little Cayman is the island of Cayman
Brac. I don't have official census figures available, but my best information is that
Grand Cayman has approximately 40,000 people living on it. Cayman Brac has about 3,500
residents, and Little Cayman can only boast about 100 full-time residents.
The island itself is tiny by anyone's standards. It is cigar-shaped, running east/west, and the long dimension is about 10 miles. In most places, it is less than a mile from the north shore over to the south shore. The highest point on the island is approximately 50' above sea level. The land was created by volcanic uplift millions of years ago, so the ground is made of very worn and pitted volcanic rock which is covered by sand and powdered coral.
As one would surmise from the population figures, Little Cayman is relatively undeveloped. There is a total of seven stop signs on the island, and of course no traffic lights. There is one road which runs around the perimeter of the island, and almost half of it is now paved. In addition, there are two roads which connect the north shore directly with the south shore. The maximum legal speed on any of the roads is 25 km/hr. The airport is but a dirt runway, and all control for that runway is done by the tower on Cayman Brac.
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Commercial facilities on the island are limited. There is a
general store (Village Square, Ltd.), which sells food, a few building supplies, and now
even some clothing and home appliances. There is another store (The Iguana Crossing) which
serves as a combination car rental agency, liquor store, T-shirt emporium, newsstand, and
insurance agency. Also in the same shopping mall is the island's one banking facility:
Cayman National Bank. They are only open for a few hours each Wednesday, thus giving a
whole new meaning to the phrase "bankers' hours". Down the road a bit there is a
real estate office, which is actually a branch office for a realtor on Cayman Brac (Tranquil Realty, Ltd.).
Also, each of the dive resorts operates a little curio shop with trinkets for sale.
And that is about the extent of it. One doesn't go to Little Cayman for the shopping!
The reason people do go to Little Cayman is for the SCUBA diving. It is absolutely fabulous. I've been diving all over the world, and from my experience nothing beats the diving off Little Cayman. It is just not possible for me to use enough superlatives in describing those reefs and be able to do them justice.
There are 5 dive resorts on the island, and this results in a
steady stream of tourists traveling to and from the island. These resorts are generally
all-inclusive enclaves which offer package deals covering room, board, and dive trips. One
of them, Paradise Villas, follows more of an a la carte approach, and the dining facility
for that resort is the one open restaurant/bar on the island. This is the Hungry Iguana
Restaurant/Sports Bar, the scene of many a late-night celebration.
Rather than give my own description of the resorts, I'm going to offer links you can follow to learn more about them. Select any of the resort names below and you will be taken to the web page for that resort.
So if you want to come to Little Cayman for a dive vacation, where should you stay? The answer very much depends on your personal preferences. If you study the web pages for these resorts you will notice distinct differences in emphasis; they really are quite different from each other.
Shore diving is possible on Little Cayman, but it's not for the infirmed or the faint of heart. Most of the Bloody Bay and Jackson Bay sites are accessible from shore, though often a long surface swim is required to reach them. (Mixing Bowl and the far north Jackson Bay sites, such as Cascades and Paul's Anchors, are the exception, I'm afraid.) The south shore sites are much harder to reach from shore, since most of the south shoreline is covered by rocky ironshore.
Getting to Little Cayman is relatively easy, though not necessarily painless. One must first go to Grand Cayman. There are several different carriers which connect to Grand Cayman, and the set of such carriers seems to change frequently. The "best deal" seems to change with the phase of the moon, and perhaps even more frequently. Once on Grand Cayman, the only way to continue on to Little Cayman is via a commuter plane. There are several flights a day offered by Cayman Airways and also by Island Air. Reservations with Island Air must be made directly, either by phone, fax, or their web page. Use your favorite search engine to locate the URL. No sooner to I put a link here than Island Air changes it, so I'm getting tired of trying to track their web page addresses!
The reason I said the trip to Little Cayman was "not painless" is that it is
impossible to leave California during the day and get to Grand Cayman in time to catch an
Island Air flight to Little Cayman. You must either overnight somewhere along the way
(e.g. Miami, Grand Cayman) or else take a red-eye flight out of the west coast. I always
take the red-eye option, which means I'm "in transit" from around midnight (west
coast time) until at least 3 in the afternoon Little Cayman time. (The Caymans are on
Eastern Standard Time all year; they do not switch to daylight savings time during the
Once you get to Little Cayman, the preferred mode of transportation is via bicycle. If you are really lazy, you can rent a jeep from Perry McLaughlin (and only from Perry!).
The unit of currency in the Cayman Islands is the Cayman Islands Dollar, usually abbreviated "CI". Although this currency floats on the international monetary exchanges, it is remarkably stable. I have never seen the exchange rate change, relative to the US dollar. Any merchant will gladly accept US currency, and he treats the US dollar as being worth $.80 CI. Of course, when you pay in USD you will receive change back in CI currency rather than US currency. The reason is that the merchant can take the US currency to a bank and get $.82 CI for it. On the "buy" side, the banks are going to demand $.84 CI from you before they give you $1 USD in return.
The Cayman Islands are officially classified as a "British
Overseas Dependent Territory", whatever that means. They are a member of the British
Commonwealth, and HM the Q is the official head of state. There is a governor, appointed
by the Queen. The country is governed by an elected legislative assembly, and the members
of that assembly are called "MLA" (member, legislative assembly). It is my
impression that the Legislative Assembly can do just about anything it wants, as long as
it is only concerned with domestic matters, and in those cases the approval required of
the governor in order for a bill passed by the Legislative Assembly to become law is
purely perfunctory. In matters of foreign relations, the Crown controls all.
The Caymanians are very loyal to the Commonwealth, and I cannot imagine a separation ever occurring. As a matter of fact, the Cayman Islands used to be administered by an office of the Jamaican government back in the days when Jamaica was also part of the Commonwealth. When the Jamaicans went their path of independence from the Commonwealth, the Caymanians held a plebiscite to determine whether they wanted to continue as a part of Jamaica, become an independent country in their own right, or remain a member of the British Commonwealth. The vote was overwhelmingly in favor of option #3, and I have no doubt the outcome would be the same if it were put to the test today.
The people of the Cayman Islands are a diverse lot, and one of
the things that has most impressed me by their culture is the lack of racial tension. I
have never been to any other country which seemed to me to be so color blind as the Cayman
Islands. It's beautiful! Just based on what I see walking around the islands, and not
based on any official census figures, I would estimate that about 10% of the population is
very directly descended from the early Scottish and Welsh fishermen who settled the
islands. They are fair-complected and often blue-eyed. Another 10% is black, probably
reflecting the long ties the islands enjoyed with Jamaica. The remaining 80% are
distinctly Caucasian but with darker skin pigmentation than northern Europeans.
As I mentioned, this
business of race doesn't seem to matter much to the Caymanians. Now, how do the rest
of us get to this stage of enlightenment?
The language of the country is English, though the first-time visitor may have a hard time verifying that. The Caymanians speak English with a distinctive lilt that is all their own. It is neither American nor British English, and I sometimes have a very hard time understanding them when they are talking with each other. They can turn the accent off an on at will, though, and when speaking with a visitor to the islands the accent is in the "off" state. In that case, there is rarely a problem understanding them.
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