Visitors are only just returning to Cayman Brac after hurricane Paloma hit in 2008. But its unspoilt, rugged charm, is drawing them back to this quirky and least developed island of the Caribbean.
Cayman Brac is a quiet, laid back place consisting of families that mostly stem from the few core settlers of the 1850s. There are only two hotels and 15 restaurants and everything moves along slowly on "island time". Most days fisherman still congregate on the dock to quietly play dominoes, whilst waiting for the groceries to be shipped in.
The Brac hasn’t had much attention since Hurricane Paloma. For Brackers, like Tenson Scott, this is a good thing. “We don’t want any more crazy American women” he tells me. (Although he is now very good friends with the ‘crazy American woman’.) The 70-year-old former fisherman owns the small cottage shop NIM’s Things (Native Island Made.) in Spot Bay.
The Brac has fewer sandy beaches than its sisters, Grand Cayman and Little Cayman, but it has plenty of iron shore. And Tenson ventures down to the beach most days to ply Chiton off the ironshore bay. These prehistoric-looking slugs in hard shells are plastered all over the rocks. “We call them sea beef” says Tenson. The Chiton, as well as Caymannite shells and rocks are used to make quirky pieces of jewellery to sell in the shop. Tenson is quite a storyteller, so you might want to form an exit strategy before you go in. He talks about fishing, dogs, and that he definitely doesn’t want many more tourists, despite relying on them for business.
I’m taken on a tour of the island by a local guide Keino. He tells me that the south side has only been developed in the last 30 years as Brackians didn’t believe it was safe from hurricanes. ‘I hope I never have to live through that again' says Keino. He tells me that when Paloma struck, his wife didn’t want to leave the house “but she will do if it ever happens again'. He says that they had to smash the windows of their home to ease some of the pressure caused by the winds. ‘Next time – and pray to God there isn't a next time – but we will go to a proper shelter, or a cave.’
And Cayman Brac is full of caves. David takes me to the Bluff, to see them. The Bluff is a large limestone wedge-shaped ridge that runs along the spine of the 14-mile long island. It’s nearly 30 million years old and starts at sea level in the west end, reaching a height of around 40 meters in the east, the highest point in the Cayman Islands. There are plenty of opportunities for hiking and nature walks on the Bluff. Well marked trails lead to a variety of dramatic caves such as Rebecca's Cave, Peter's Cave and Skull Cave, and easy to follow nature trails lead to the 180 Parrot Reserve. Another of the Bluff's secret treasures is its rock climbing. It’s never really been promoted officially, as like free-diving; the government are worried that something could go wrong. But lots of climbers go there under their own steam and the infrastructure is quite simple. Many of the climbers who set up routes on the Bluff have homes on the island and visit several times a year. Bluff View House is a small guest cottage for climbers on the south east coast, and has route maps and ropes you can borrow.
The best time to visit Cayman Brac is from January through to March when the water is still warm and it is mostly dry. (the rainy season is in the summer.)
Free nature tours are available at email@example.com.
Eating and Drinking
For something a little more upmarket, try The Alexander Hotel. Opening in 2009 it strikes a real contrast to the rest of the island’s quirky eating establishments. Its poolside restaurant Casa Braca focuses on Caribbean cuisine, with some North America influences. Inside the hotel its elegant restaurant offers sophisticated fine dining and fantastic cocktails- try the French martini - a delicious vodka, Chambord and pineapple concoction.
Other more Bracian places to eat and drink include Edd’s Place near the airport in the West End. Locals hang out here in the evening, eating golden jerk .
The Captain’s Table at Stake Bay (345 948 1418) has vaguely nautical decor, with oars over and around the bar and pieces of boats forming the restaurant's entryway. Every Saturday night, its karaoke party draws in more business than any other bar on the island. Begin a meal here with shrimp and lobster cocktail or a conch fritter, and then try one of the soups, such as black bean or a tomato-based conch chowder. Main dishes include everything from the catch of the day, often served pan-fried, to barbecue ribs. Lunch features burgers, salads, and sandwiches.
Also try La Esperanza. Found mid way along the north shore at The Creek, it offers an interesting mix of being an American, Caribbean, seafood restaurant, a bar with entertainment, a grocery, car rental, boat dock, four apartments and two rental homes. It also featured as ‘the Sand Bar’ in the 2010 film Cayman West, the story of a fading Hollywood underwater action star whose life takes on new meaning when he's forced to spend time on Cayman Brac and with the local dive community (948 2252).
The Alexander Hotel also offers 29 comfortable and 29 deluxe rooms and has two grand suites. The grand suites include two queen bedrooms, two bathrooms, a parlor and kitchenette in each suite, which are finished in the style of Caribbean summerhouses.
The hotel has great views of the Caymanian shores, and is within 2 minutes walk of the beach. It’s built by a salt water pond, a nature reserve where you can go bird watching for the endangered West Indian Whistling Duck & many other migratory birds. The hotel is hoping to cut a trench into the pond and create a harbour, putting an end to its local nick-name of the ‘stinky pit’.
For intimate bed and breakfast accommodation, try Walton's Mango Manor Bed & Breakfast at Stake Bay. Nestled amongst the fruit trees and ponds, it also offers two separate villas and a seaside gazebo with hammocks swinging between coconut trees (www.waltonsmangomanor.com; (948 0518)).