Grand Cayman and its sister island Cayman Brac could not be more different.
While the former has a wall-to-wall stretch of hotels that can feel more
like a tourist trap than a Caribbean escape, the latter is a sleepy, uncrowded,
14sqm hideaway that offers some of the most stunning vistas in the archipelago.
Brac” (Gaelic for bluff), as locals call it, was not always so tranquil. In the
17th and 18th Centuries, pirates stopped regularly on the
island to take shelter from storms and to stockpile water, wood and food -- especially
turtles, which they nearly wiped out.
to Marina Carter, author of Pirates
of Cayman, the Brac was located along the Spanish galleon trade route from
the New World to Europe. Each year, Spain sent ships to bring back gold from mines
in Lima, Potosi and Mexico. “A successful attack on one of these treasure ships
was like winning the lottery for a pirate,” Carter said. “The galleons were
well-protected, but there was lots of other commercial traffic in the Caribbean
which pirates could prey upon.” French and Spanish pirates sometimes attacked Cayman Brac
because the British governor lived on the island and it was considered the seat
of the British government. The Cayman Islands remain a British overseas
just 90 miles northeast from Grand Cayman (a half hour flight), the Brac now attracts
divers, hikers, rock climbers and birders. English is widely spoken and US dollars
are accepted as readily as Cayman dollars (though they are worth 20% less
because of the exchange rate).
other Caribbean destinations where high crime rates plague tourism, Brac locals
do not even lock their doors because of the island’s safety, efficiency and by-the-book
religious conservatism. The less than 2,000 friendly residents actually celebrate
the island’s pillaging past every fall during Pirates Week, with events like underwater treasure diving,
fireworks and costume contests.
Running the length of the island, Cayman Brac’s namesake limestone bluffs
have been used as a navigational landmark since Christopher Columbus’s heyday. The
craggy grey rock is pocked with caves and sinkholes, and rises to a 140ft sheer
cliff at its eastern end. Local lore claims that Blackbeard and other
buccaneers hid their treasure in these caves, and a few of them are open to the
Despite its name, the Bat Cave does not always have fruit bats hanging around
in it, and limestone cracks allow sunshine and various vines, underbrush and
trees to flourish inside. Rebecca’s Cave is named after an 18-month-old girl
who died inside it during a hurricane in 1932. People still leave flowers at
The Great Cave is the hardest
to access, but its multi-hued stalagmites and stalactites make it the most striking.
Peter’s Cave overlooks Spot Bay and the south side bluffs and can be reached by
trails from above or below. The hauntingly desolate Lighthouse Footpath, home
to flocks of brown boobies, is an eerie mix of palm trees, spiky scrubs with
bright flower buds and jagged lunar-looking boulders. Customized guided nature
and cultural tours can be arranged for free by emailing the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism.
prodded, guides may tell the island’s most infamous tale of pirates’ booty,
discovered in an area called Slaughterhouse on the southeastern coast of the
island. Local historian and fisherman, 73-year-old Tennyson Scott said that
when he was 14, he set out to find buried fortune with a friend. “We were
kids,” he recalled. “You want to believe you could find treasure.” They came
across a boulder with a skull etched into it and found an easy place to dig.
After getting knee-deep, Scott hit something hard -- what he assumed was the
island’s limestone foundation. A few years later, someone came by with a metal
detector and the machine went off at the same spot. Scott had struck a large
flat stone placed on top of a buried chest. The treasure trove was filled with
coins, silver and paper money -- at least, that is how the story goes. The
chest was never turned into authorities and was reportedly traded for cash.
Other plunder found on the island, according to Carter, include Spanish silver
coins and a clock made in Barcelona in 1729.
grow weary of treasure hunting, hit the sandy beaches along the Brac’s southwest
coast, where most of the hotels and vacation rentals are clustered. They will most
likely be blissfully deserted. Locals joke that when a family sees
another group picnicking on southside’s Public Beach, they leave
for a less-populated stretch of sand.