Escape to laid-back Little Cayman

by cayteye

Christopher Columbus must have thought his luck was in when he discovered Little Cayman. With 22 miles of spectacular coastline and coral reefs it's now a favourite destination of modern-day explorers

Captain Jack Sparrow could have named it himself. Gliding tentatively towards the 2000 meter deep Bloody Bay Wall off Little Cayman, images of Pirates of the Caribbean, spilling blood on the surface above it spring to mind.
Plunging into a vast submarine trench, the world famous Bloody Bay Wall is said to be one of the most pristine underwater sites in the world and is part of a unique ocean reef system. Little Cayman in the British West Indies has no rivers or springs flowing into its seas, so the water is incredibly clear. Sinking to the top of the wall at just 18 feet below the surface, I move towards the edge, wide eyed as such a sudden drop emerges before me. Then the sheer, unbroken cliffs, lush coral gardens, giant sponges and elaborate sea fans of Bloody Bay Wall spread out into the abyss below.

National Geographic rated it as the best diving in the Caribbean. Whilst most sites in the Caribbean have fallen prey to pollution caused by over development, golf courses and general over-fishing, Bloody Bay Wall remains untainted.
I am diving with Reef Divers, based at the Little Cayman Beach Resort, who take us to the Great Wall West section. The 90 degree drop leads to a wall covered with marine life, red and purple sponges and fat white tunicates. A great Barracuda that's being cleaned by a shark-sucker glides past me, glaring at this intruder in its world. Then two of the most sociable Grouper fish emerge from behind bulbous clumps of red and yellow coral. Lappy and Paddy stare at me with snaggle toothed grins as I drift up behind them. Their zebra stripped flanks and polka dot fins contrast with their pouting lips. Groupers are now protected after being over fished. But these two are used to the attention they allow themselves to be stroked. Apparently it helps clean them now that most of their cleaner fish have been eaten by Lion Fish.

Little Cayman is very different to its two sister islands, offering seclusion and laid-back, small-scale exclusivity. First discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1503 and rarely visited (except for the occasional pirate) until recently, Little Cayman is now a haven for photographers, naturalists and, of course, divers.
Located 87 miles northeast of Grand Cayman and five miles west of Cayman Brac, the island has 22 miles of stunning coastline and incredible coral reefs, teeming with over 150 kinds of coral and more than 500 species of fish. So, despite being only 10 miles long by 1 mile wide, with just 200 permanent residents, there are 4 dive centres, that are all very different in character.

It takes just a few minutes by car to get from the tiny Cayman Airways airport (that doubles up as a post office and fire station ) to get to the Little Cayman Beach Resort, even with its 25mph speed limit to protect the island’s 2,000-odd population of Grey lesser Cayman Island Iguana (who tend to stand aimlessly in the middle of the road). Driving round the island itself only takes about an hour. At the resort we settle by the Beach Nuts poolside bar, with its colourful collection of driftwood Bar Art. Every year guests try to one-up each another by collect it from the beach and using paints from the par to create more complex pieces. We sip rum punch in the hot tubs before lunch is served in the Bird of Paradise Dining Room, which offers a buffet of gourmet international and Caribbean-inspired cuisine. The resort offers 28 pool view rooms encircling a tropical courtyard and 12 ocean front rooms, located directly on the beach and a little bit of luxury after a hard day's diving.

In the evening however, we head next door to the Pirates Point Resort run by Texan Gladys Howard. Now in her 80s, the Cordon Bleu chef was awarded the Queen's "Badge of Honour" by Prince Edward in 2003 for her volunteer work in environmental conservation with the National Trust in Little Cayman. Gladys even laid the moorings for the Great Wall west section of Bloody Bay Wall. Pirates Point Resort is very different in style to most dive resorts and feels more like a second home for guests. Diving and dining is relaxed and the kitchen never closes. There are only 11 rooms and every Friday there are pre dinner drinks and a sushi night at Gladys’s house, just by the resort. Diving is also much more personal, with 6 dive instructors who all go out on the dive boat and guide a pair of buddies each. The boat leaves the resort at a leisurely 9 in the morning, there are only two dives a day and they return at about 2pm.

We join Gladys for dinner at Pirates point where drinks are served by gangly dive instructor, Bob, who despite being in his 50s is still wearing the tiniest pair of shorts I’ve ever seen. Bob’s been there for 22 years and he serves us the pinkest, seared tuna, prepared by Michelle, who is also a dive instructor. It’s a very sociable set up at Pirates point and the instructors from Reef Divers are even there for dinner. Gladys sits at our table and tells us she is off to Vietnam soon as she heard it was the next fashionable place for cooking. “ my time is running out in my little hour glass so I’ve gotta make the best of it” she says before settling down for a lively game of dominos in the Aladdin’s Cave like bar, decorated in maritime kitsch, pirate chairs and sculptures made from washed up drift wood and suspended from hooks across the ceiling.

Friday night is party night in Little Cayman, so we head back to our resort for the popular karaoke night. Visitors from other resorts make the trip to the Little Cayman beach resort specially for this occasion. Some of them continue on to the Hungry Iguana, the island’s only nightclub, for a moonlight boogie . But I decide to sit on the beach in the moonlight , feet buried in the cool sand, sipping rum punch.

Little Cayman has plenty to offer. For nature lovers there’s the bone fishing in the Tarpon Lake, the East End blow holes to explore, or the Booby Pond Reserve which is home to the largest colony of red-footed boobies in the western hemisphere. There's even the marine research centre, the Little Cayman Research Centre, which you can visit. If you just want to relax then head to the secluded beach, then at Sand Point you can watch the sun go down over Cayman Brac. And of course there’s the diving. So with waters warm enough to dive at any time of year and plenty of Rum Punch and Conch fritters to keep you going through the balmy evenings, Little Cayman is a perfect spot for a laid back Caribbean retreat.