It's a winning combination that makes for so much more than meets the eye. Sure, Grand Cayman has plenty of the requisite luxury resorts lining its stunning Seven Mile Beach, but that's only the beginning. Because this island has taste — in everything from food to art and fashion. It even has a novel perspective on how the great outdoors should be done (hint: it's much more than beaches). Read on for a guide that will fill the days of your next island visit with Michelin-worthy meals, world-class art, and adventures beyond the expected.
Think the Caribbean is all Jerk and conch (as if that would be so bad)? Think again. Just ask Eric Ripert, chef extraordinaire of New York City’s three-Michelin-star restaurant Le Bernardin — and the mastermind behind the Cayman Cookout. Now in its 15th year, the event — held every January at the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman — is a veritable who’s who of haute cuisine, with celebrity chefs (to name a few: José Andrés, Emeril Lagasse, and Kwame Onwuachi) descending on the island to eat, drink, cook, and be merry in over-the-top experiences like a private-jet day trip to Jamaica hosted by Ripert himself, plus cooking demos and a star-studded gala.
No matter what time of year you come to Grand Cayman, you can catch Ripert’s culinary creations at Blue, his restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton — and the island’s most coveted reservation since 2005. The elegant dining room plays host to an ever-changing tasting menu, where dishes like tuna foie gras and bread-crusted queen snapper demonstrate Ripert’s inimitable talents — and the Cayman Islands’ exceptional gastronomic bounty.
Venture to the capital of George Town and you’ll find plenty of options for seaside dining, but the newest spot in town, Ms. Piper’s Kitchen + Garden, is easily the most fun. Set amid a charming cottage and beachfront lawn lined with pretty pink umbrellas, the tropical café combines flavors from around the world with a decidedly island flair. Sip on limoncello lemonade or a berry Negroni in the garden, then indulge in grilled branzino, risotto Milanese, or Korean ribs with pineapple in the dining room.
The appeal of Rum Point Club is obvious: It’s the rum, which you’ll find in everything from the Colada Colada to the Rumslide. (Curiously, the Mudslide, made with vodka, was also invented here). However you drink the Caribbean’s signature spirit, you can do it with toes in the sand and island barbecue in hand while watching the sunset over the pier. For the best arrival to this waterfront gem, ask your Exclusive Resorts concierge to book a charter boat.
In West Bay, Le Petit Bar is a cozy bolthole where wine is serious business. The lengthy list — curated by sommelier Christian Esser — tops more than 200 labels, all of which pair exceptionally with elevated Caymanian dishes like wahoo crudo and seafood charcuterie.
The Great(er) Outdoors
It’s true, Seven Mile Beach is about as magical as white sand and blue sea can get (even if it is technically only 6.3 miles long). And Stingray City — where you’ll be surrounded by dozens of harmless stingrays in open water — is nothing if not an Instagram opportunity. But don’t stop there. Grand Cayman and its surrounding islands are brimming with natural wonders beyond the beaten path.
Case in point: the Cayman Crystal Caves, a sprawling network of caverns adorned with naturally occurring stalactites, stalagmites, and black diamonds. Long a secret source of shelter for locals (and even further back, pirates looking to stash their booty), the underground caves spread across 200 acres just below the lush tropical forest above.
See more of Grand Cayman’s endemic flora and fauna at the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, a 65-acre preserve that serves as a breeding ground for rare species like the West Indian Whistling Duck. Anthophiles can explore the floral garden and orchid boardwalk; a visit to the Blue Iguana Conservation is a must for a chance to see the Blue Iguana, a once-endangered species that is now on the rise thanks in part to the center’s efforts.
Explore the Grand Cayman’s neighbors on a day cruise organized by your Exclusive Resorts concierge. Little Cayman is an adventurer’s paradise for hiking, scuba diving, cycling, kayaking, and snorkeling. On Cayman Brac, enjoy a slower way of life with birdwatching, fishing, or beachcombing on the quiet shores of Hawksbill Bay.
Art and Culture
For a taste of contemporary island culture, your first stop should be the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands, where Caymanian works in painting, photography, and sculpture are on display in two modern galleries and the surrounding gardens. A platform largely for local artists, the museum’s permanent collection and temporary exhibitions showcase prolific artists such as Al Ebanks (whose works have gone for upwards of $50,000) and Nasaria Suckoo Chollette.
For art you can take home — including works from many of the artists you’ll see at the National Gallery — head to the Ritz-Carlton Art Gallery, whose rotating exhibitions are curated by another local creative, Chris Christian.
In George Town, the Cayman Craft Market brings together all of the island’s most talented makers and creatives. Browse hand-braided thatch bags and hats, Caymanite and black coral jewelry, and wood carvings, plus local flavors like Jerk spices and pickled peppers.
More retail therapy awaits at Camana Bay, Grand Cayman’s answer to the shopping mall, where luxury boutiques like Polo and Caymanian brand NKY sit among towering palm trees and sidewalk cafes. You’ll also find live music and other performances, plus a weekly farmer’s market and regular events like yoga and book readings.