The Largest of The Swish Uber-Rich Tax-Free Banking Haven Cayman Islands, A Caribbean UK Overseas Territory That’s More Miami than Manchester
Seven Mile Beach, Grand Cayman. May 12, 2015
Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
The taxi lady said we, Liam & I, wouldn’t make it. That we should have arranged for the taxi to pick us up earlier. We said we’d be grand. ‘It’s the Caribbean. The laid-back Caribbean.’ Not so laid-back as it turns out. It was 06:03 when we presented ourselves, somewhat flustered & still adjusting to the god-awful early start, at the check-in desk in Grand Cayman’s Owen Roberts International Airport. Our flight to Kingston, Jamaica, was scheduled for 07:00. But it seems they are strict on the 06:00 check-in deadline. Very strict. Even a double-barrelled Irish charm offensive didn’t work. The Cayman Airways crew steadfast refused to do anything except smile at us while highlighting the plentiful one-hour-prior-to-departure-check-in-deadline-for-international-flights signage; they even, bless them, gave us a personal copy to take away. The last thing they did was to relieve us each of US$75 for rescheduling our booking for the same flight in 24 hours’ time. Dang.
In hindsight, the missed flight was something of a blessing. It meant we got to properly see Grand Cayman, the largest of the three swish Cayman Islands. We’d only just arrived from Cuba, 240 kilometres to the north, the evening before – Grand Cayman was a 17-hour layover on route to Jamaica, 290 kilometres to the east – so hadn’t seen any of the island except for an evening stroll around its capital George Town (and with bustling & decrepit Cuba still fresh in my memory, the contrasts with quaint, sleepy, colourful & polished George Town were stark). So with an unexpected 24 hours at our disposal, nothing to do & nowhere to go, we hopped on the airport Wi-Fi, hired a car, waited for the car hire office to open, drove back to our hotel to secure a room for one more night, & promptly set out to tour the island, something easily accomplished in a day – the 190 km² island measures no more than 35 kilometres long by 13 kilometres wide. So, and as it turned out, we managed to ‘Escape for a day’ on Grand Cayman by failing to escape the island in the first place.
– Don’t mind if we do. Advice from the free ‘Escape for a day’ foldout map I acquired while on Grand Cayman.
BRIEF HISTORY, BANKING, COST OF LIVING & MONEY
First sighted by Christopher Columbus on his fourth & final voyage to the New World in 1503, the three islands of the Cayman Islands, the flat tops of three pinnacles reaching up from the depths of the Cayman Trench, remained uninhabited save for turtles, lizards & alligators until the 1660s, shortly before the 1670 Spanish-British Treaty of Madrid that officially decreed the islands a British possession and a dependency of Jamaica. The islands were not permanently settled until the 1730s, the earlier wannabe settlers of the 1660s having fled following attacks by pirates, marauders who continued to use the islands thereafter to repair their damaged ships and stock up on water & turtle meat.
Shipbuilding was once a major source of income for the islands but since the early 1950s, when the first commercial bank was established on Grand Cayman & legislation enacted to grow the banking industry in the tax-free economy, it has been all about money (& to a lesser degree tourism); there are now over 400 banks and 100 trust companies licensed on the islands, a staggering number given their collective 260 km² landmass. Today the islands are a largely self-governing UK Overseas Territory headed by a governor appointed by Her Majesty’s Government. Caymanians are proud of their constitutional links with the UK; they have resisted going their own way, even after Jamaica’s independence in 1962, and any hint that the UK may wish to divest itself of the islands is met with strong opposition. With an English-speaking population of some 60,000, up from 10,000 in the 1970s, the islands enjoy easily the highest standard of living in the whole Caribbean region, but at a cost – Expatistan.com lists Grand Cayman at 2nd, only behind Zurich, Switzerland, on its worldwide Cost of Living index. Ching ching!
George Town || Colour, Culture, Banks & The Cruise Ship Hordes
My snoop around George Town on the evening of arrival was brief. And it would have been all I saw of the island were it not for the missed flight early the next morning.
The island’s financial hub & its supremely wealthy but somewhat modest capital, George Town is awash with shops/malls, restaurants, wooden architecture & banks (of course). It’s also a rather historic place boasting a number of signposted historic sites of interest: I meandered to Heroes Square to see the Wall of Honour listing the names of 500 Caymanians who have contributed to the betterment of the island; I saw the 1937 Clock Tower built in the memory of King George V; I saw the awesome roof of the town’s 1920s Elmsile Memorial Church, named after a Presbyterian missionary who preached in Cayman in the 1840s; and I poked around the small 18th century, but restored in 2014, Fort George that defended Grand Cayman from Spanish marauders and pirates – it also boasts a small replica lookout used by the Home Guard during World War II to watch for German submarines. I saw and enjoyed all that late in the afternoon/early in the evening at a time when George Town was very quiet, eerily so; I hear the town is anything but quiet when the cruise ships dock. I’m glad I missed that spectacle, and my flight.
Doing Grand Cayman || Seven Mile Beach, East End & Rum Point
OK, so a disclaimer. We didn’t visit West Bay’s Cayman Turtle Farm (a place where endangered sea turtles are raised to be slaughtered for meat, according to Lonely Planet) or the world-famous Stingray City, the island’s top attraction where you can swim with Southern Stingrays in an area sheltered by a reef. But we did drive the whole island in our white Hyundai Tuscon, amply killing the day we had at our disposal. And it all started off with a dip in the warm waters of the island’s undisputed jewel, the oh-so fabulous Seven Mile Beach.
Caribbean Island Hopping || Grand Cayman to Jamaica
We needed two attempts but we eventually got our Caribbean island-hopping flight to Jamaica, making sure this time that we made check-in with sufficient time to spare.