I was so excited to have the opportunity to visit the Cayman Islands as part of our Carnival Cruise. Grand Cayman has a shallow harbour so we had to board a tender to take us ashore at the Port of George Town. This was something different as I hadn’t experienced this before. Top of the attraction list was Cayman Turtle Centre, the rest was icing on the cake.
Grand Cayman Island was the second stop on our 7 day Western Caribbean Carnival Cruise. Our first stop was Ocho Rios Jamaica and from Grand Cayman Island we travelled to Cozumel, Mexico although we chose an excursion on the mainland taking us to Playa-del-Carmen instead.
We decided that we would try a local tour operator for Grand Cayman Island, mostly because it is a small island and none of the Carnival excursions were really anything we wanted to do. Before leaving New Orleans my sister and I had checked Trip Advisor to see if there were any suitable options and we came across Captain Marvin’s Island Tours.
We sent an email to book an island tour which included a visit to Hell and the Cayman Turtle Centre. It was half day tour which gave us plenty of time to have a look around George Town. One thing we mixed up was that ship time is an hour different to Grand Cayman Island time! This was an unfortunate oversight as it then meant that we missed our tour time at 9am. No biggy, we hit the souvenir shop and got ourselves a t-shirt to prove that we had been there.
The next tour was at 11am and we were able to jump on that. This tour was half the cost of the Carnival shore excursions so we were very happy to have saved a few dollars here. You need to carefully consider which ports you can do this at and it really depends on what you want to do, where it is, how long it will take to complete the activity and if it allows plenty of time to get back to the port. If you are at all concerned, go with Carnival organised excursions because if you are late returning they will wait for you but if it is a privately organised tour they wont and will leave without you.
We returned to Captain Marvin’s just before 11am and boarded the mini bus. Our tour guide was a local who had 18 brothers and sisters and a total of 98 cousins on the island. Amazing, he pretty much knew every second person on the island! He was however unbelievably knowledgeable and knew everything there was to know about Grand Cayman Island.
First up we visited Hell. Yep, I’ve been to Hell and back! There is a little store here that was once a post office that still has a post box. My sister and I sent home to mum a postcard from Hell. There isn’t really much there other than the spiky black limestone formations from where Hell supposedly got it’s name but its funny to be able to say we’ve actually been to Hell and back!
Next was the Cayman Turtle Centre a conservation facility as well as a tourist attraction, I was really looking forward to this as I really love turtles and am yet to have a swim with one in the wild. It remains at the top of my bucket list. Our tour guide doubled as the guide at the Cayman Turtle Centre, he’s a typical multi-talented islander! Jack of all trades. Did you know that turtle meat is a delicacy in the Caribbean and they were hunted so severely that they nearly went extinct. What a tragedy that would have been. Our guide said it still goes on with the older generation but it is very much frowned upon now a days. I’m a bit of a fussy eater and can’t bring myself to eat kangaroo so I very much doubt I would eat turtle.
The good news is that the Cayman Turtle Centre has brought all species of turtle back from extinction in particular the endangered Green Sea Turtle and they currently have the highest numbers ever reported. The centre was established in 1968 initially used to raise Green Sea turtles for commercial purposes.
The Cayman Turtle Centre doubles as a rehabilitation centre for injured turtles and also as a breeding facility that releases turtle back into the wild to breed locally which is working significantly at increasing numbers of many species.
As you walk in you see the breeding pool which was full of mature sized turtles. It has a beach on the other side which is where the turtles lay their eggs. They need to be careful though, there are a number of large lizards that hang around the breeding pool in the hope of getting a feed before the eggs are collected.
There are a number of other pools around with different species of turtle in them including Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle. The centre suffered a severe setback in 2001 when Hurricane Michelle inundated the facility and washed away 75% of the centres breeding turtles. The centre then received a make over, expansion and was revamped to a more suitable layout. The breeding pool moved further away from the ocean in the hope that this wouldn’t happen again.
We had a look at the hatchery at the Cayman Turtle Centre which is where the turtle eggs are taken after they are laid in the sand. They are kept here in optimum conditions so that every turtle has the best opportunity to survive. We had a look around but unfortunately is wasn’t hatching season so we were unable to see it in operation. It was a great little learning centre with plenty of information about the life of a turtle around the walls.
After our visit our guide took us for a drive around the island. I think he was quite happy to show off his beautiful home and as he was semi retired he was in no hurry. He showed us were the all the stars stay when in Grand Cayman and where some famous tennis players hold a tournament each year.
Another popular attraction at Grand Cayman Island is the Stingray City Adventure. A lot of people on the cruise did this adventure and those that I spoke to said it was great. It does require you to get in the water on one of two sandbars where the stingrays will come and tourists can pat and interact with the animals in the beautiful waters of Grand Cayman Island.
The Cayman Crystal Caves is one of the newest options on Grand Cayman Island, situated in a lush tropical forest, the guided 1.5hr tour will take you through 3 impressive cave structures. View century old stalactite and stalagmite crystal structures and see some native flora and fauna.
Always a popular option is the Cayman Island Seven Mile Beach segway tour, take in the views of Seven Mile Beach while heading up to the Observation Deck soaking in 360 degree views of crystal clear turquoise beaches. Segway tours last 90 mins and all safety gear including helmets and protective padding is supplied.
Another popular activity is to hire a snorkel from one of the dive stores at George Town and grab a hire car and drive to Seven Mile Beach and snorkel away to your hearts content. If we hadn’t done our Island Tour, this would have been my next choice.
I’ve packed my bags and I’m ready to relocate, permanently, to Grand Cayman Island. One port day definitely isn’t enough and I’m itching to go back and stay a little longer, like forever. I wonder what the immigration policy is? Everyone loves an Aussie, should be easy right.
I love how laid back this island is, simple living, nice people (even though they appear to be mostly related according to our guide) I could honestly stay there for a year. The Caribbean is so exotic to Australians, probably the same as Asia feels to Americans. I will get back there one day and it won’t be one day in port, I can guarantee that.
Have you been to the Caribbean or Grand Cayman Island in particular? Leave your comments in the comment section below. Could you live there? Did you look up real estate in Grand Cayman the minute you got home like I did!
Sal, Craig & Our3kids