Even though Grand Cayman is a vacation paradise for many visitors to its fair shores, those who know it as home often struggle to see the vacation destination side of the Island through their office windows. So every now and again, a quick break to a tropical island paradise may well be in order. Fortunately, only a short hop from Grand Cayman, the two Sister Islands, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, offer an experience quite distinct from Grand Cayman.
The bigger of the two sisters, Cayman Brac is dominated by the imposing Bluff that gave the island its name – Brac is Gaelic for Bluff.
The pace of life on the Brac is a little bit slower, the birds a little more plentiful and everything feels just a touch more like a tropical island than one has come to expect when spending too much time stuck in traffic on the way to the office on Grand Cayman.
Cayman Airways has multiple daily flights to the Brac, with service to Gerrard Smith International Airport either through a Cayman Airways Boeing 737 or with the Cayman Airways Express Twin Otter. Although some travellers feel nervous about flying in the smaller Twin Otter, it is the perfect airplane for the trip to the Brac as the slower speed allows you to see much more and it just feels more islandy than boarding the same airplane that could carry you to Miami or any other destination. There are also more Cayman Airways Express flights daily than Cayman Airways flights, so you have more flexibility when it comes to scheduling your departure. Just keep in mind that because of the size of the Twin Otter, it is not able to carry some oversize luggage items, so plan to travel light or book on the Cayman Airways flight.
The Brac can certainly offer much of what Grand Cayman has – clear, tropical waters, white sandy beaches and year-round warm weather. But who wants more of the same?
The Bluff offers a number of unique options, whether from above or below. Walking along the bottom of the Bluff over the rocky shore certainly impresses the majestic beauty of the cliffs, while those with a taste for adventure can try their hand at a spot of climbing. For the more sensible, but still adventurous, there are the caves of the Brac to explore.
In the past these often served as natural hurricane shelters, although they are more likely to provide a home for the local wildlife these days. Bats certainly find shelter in the caves, especially in the aptly-named Bat Cave. A torch is always useful, as is clothing you don’t mind sacrificing in the name of adventure.
Up along the top of the Bluff the nature path offers a glimpse into the forest that has settled on the Bluff, while the Bight Road Boardwalk makes it easy for anyone to experience the unique ecology of the Island without too much hard work.
Although the Brac took a hard hit from Hurricane Paloma some two years ago, the Islands has rebounded magnificently. Not only has many of the resorts been refurbished, but the Brac has also seen the introduction of a new hotel last year. Located on the western end of the Saltwater Pond Bird Sanctuary, the Alexander Hotel opened its doors just over a year ago. Other popular resorts are the Brac Reef Beach Resort, Carib Sands, Brac Caribbean Beach Village and Cayman Breakers. There are also homes and condos for rent.
For more information on vacationing in the Sister Islands, visit the Sister Islands Tourism Association website at sisterislands.com
A unique environment
In spite of the proximity to Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac has a character all of its own. Many of the plants, birds and reptiles of the Brac differ from their cousins on Grand Cayman as well.
Sister Islands Rock Iguana
Cousin to the Blue Iguana, the Sister Island Rock Iguana lacks the characteristic blue colouration of its cousin. The body of the iguana is light in colour, but the first thing many people notice is the almost black feet. Although it is not as famous as the Blue Iguana, it is also critically endangered, especially on Cayman Brac where a limited of iguanas remain due to human impact.
Cayman Brac Parrot
A cousin to the National Bird of the Cayman Islands, the Cayman Parrot, the Cayman Brac parrot is a distinct sub-species. It is a little bit smaller, with black trim on its green feathers, a pure white crown and a maroon area on the abdomen. A good place to spot it is in the Brac Parrot Reserve on the Bluff. Be aware though that it tends to be less vocal and bold than its Grand Cayman cousin, so it can be harder to spot.
Wild Banana Orchid
Even the National Flower of the Cayman Islands has a unique cousin on Cayman Brac. The flowers on the Cayman Brac version is slightly smaller and although they share the same purple lips, the Brac version has pale yellow petals as opposed to the white petals on the Grand Cayman flower.
Top dive sites
M/V Captain Keith Tibbetts
The most unique dive site in Cayman Brac is the Captain Keith Tibbetts, a former Russian destroyer which was sunk in Cayman Brac after being decommissioned. It is unique in the Western Hemisphere as there are very few Russian warships that are diveable, and none so shallow. Although the ship was broken apart by a storm a couple of years ago, is provides a great dive site, with the guns mounted on the bow immediately making it clear that this is not just any old wreck.
Just outside the Brac Reef Beach Resort, this is the first wall dive as you travel east along the South Shore. There is a massive anchor wedged in a coral canyon, reputed to be from HMS Sparrowhawk, which was a Royal Navy survey ship and named Sparrowhawk Hill on Little Cayman Island. Whilst this is a deep dive to allow you to swim under the anchor, the reef crest is always beautiful in much shallower water. Here you can find schools of creole wrasse, chromis and plenty of parrotfish munching on the corals and algae. Large pelagics such as sharks and eagle rays often cruise the reef edge here.
This is a shore dive from the old sea pool at the site of the former Buccaneer Inn down Robert Foster Drive. The pool makes for an excellent easy entry for both divers and snorkelers. One of the dive boat moorings is actually attached to the anchor from a wreck called the Topsy which sank over 100 years ago. This shallow site is also the access point for diving The M/V Captain Keith Tibbetts. The shallow reef here is superb for all manner of fish and especially eagle rays, stingrays, nurse sharks and schools of snapper and grunt. It is only around 35 feet deep over the reef, but the hardpan area where The Topsy wreckage is found is only around three feet deep.
This shallow dive can also be accessed from the shore to the east of Scott’s Pier, near the West End Post Office. The spur and groove reef formation is in excellent condition and plays host to tons of fish. This is one of the favourite dive sites for underwater photographers, because there is just so much to see.
You can also access the wall from this dive site as this is the closest distance from the outer wall to the shore on any part of the Brac. Turtles, eagle rays and nurse sharks are common, as are moray eels. This site is also a very popular night dive.
Atlantis is the brainchild of sculptor and artist Foots, who has created his idea of what the Lost City of Atlantis may have looked like if it was underwater. Located in a flat sandy area amidst excellent patch reefs of soft and hard corals, his sculptures of arches, figures, a sundial and many other artefacts have become encrusted in algae, sponges and corals. The reefs in the surrounding area have huge barrel sponges, butterflyfish, angelfish and many types of wrasse. This is a shore diving and snorkelling site with easy access from the steps at Stake Bay in front of the Government Administration buildings. WH