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Explore the Cayman Islands Like a Local

From hyperlocal cuisine and a great drink or two to must-see sights and lesser-known gems, this longtime Grand Cayman resident and founder of Cayman Spirits Co. shares tips for how to make the most of your vacation in this Caribbean paradise.

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Heritage Kitchen is a favorite spot in West Bay on Grand Cayman for local specialties.

Courtesy of the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism

Though he’s lived on multiple continents, Walker Romanica has called Grand Cayman his home for more than three decades and founded Cayman Spirits Co. in 2008, making him the ultimate guide to a trip filled with good food and relaxing times in the Cayman Islands. His distillery produces small-batch spirits using local ingredients and West Indies distilling techniques, including Seven Fathoms Rum, which is aged under the sea. Also a partner and director of real estate and hospitality companies in Cayman, Romanica serves on the board of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association.

What does this true-blue Caymanian like best about this destination boasting the Caribbean’s highest standard of living? For one thing, there’s so much to soak in here, including experiences best uncovered through conversations with its affable residents. “Get out of the hotels, explore, and talk to the locals,” he says. “I’ve been here a long time and still feel like there’s more to discover every day.”

Authentic cuisine at Grand Cayman restaurants

Known as the culinary capital of the Caribbean, Grand Cayman has plentiful options for dining. “But if you’re looking for a true taste of Cayman, you’ll have to look past lists and advertisements for the most well-known spots,” Romanica says. Heritage Kitchen is a charming oceanfront spot in the West Bay with a menu that changes daily featuring Caymanian specialties and the most flavorful escovitch sauce (a spicy marinade) around.

In East End, on top of a scenic hill overlooking the water, Vivine’s Kitchen is part restaurant, part grandma’s house. Try her fresh juices, snapper, curried goat, or the special of the day, ordered through the kitchen’s swinging door. If it’s closed, head to Big Tree BBQ across the street for Caymanian lobster and stewed conch.

For a place with local epicurean delights served with cloth napkins, book a table at Thatch and Barrel at the Pedro St. James historical site in Savannah, which overlooks the sweeping cliffs that border the island’s south shores. The restaurant sources ingredients directly from farmers for favorites like Cayman-style beef flatbread, 1503 roast fish (named for the year Columbus encountered Cayman), and pepper jelly brie. Arrive early for an hour-long tour of the historic grounds and linger for the top vantage point on Grand Cayman to watch the sunset.

Festivals celebrating food, culture, and turtles

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Pirates Week celebrates the swashbuckling heritage of Cayman Islands with parades, floats and costume contests.

Courtesy of the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism

“Cayman has a ton of festivals and events year-round that you can research in advance to help plan your trip,” says Romanica. Each April, the annual Taste of Cayman Food & Drink Festival attracts renowned chefs, performers, and foodies to Camana Bay for culinary competitions, demos, and tastings. During Pirates Week, held in the fall, all three islands celebrate their swashbuckling heritage through costume contests and a float parade, cardboard boat regatta, steelpan competition, and pirates landing.

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Cayman Carnival is one of many cultural events during the spring carnival season.

Courtesy of the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism

In late winter, Red Sky at Night is a multidisciplinary arts festival sponsored by the Cayman National Cultural Foundation, with live performances from dancers, actors, musicians, and storytellers, plus artistic and creative displays. Batabano, part of the springtime carnival festivities, marks the start of the turtle nesting season and is a Caymanian term for the tracks in the sand left by sea turtles crawling onto land to nest.

Off-the-beaten-path outdoor adventures


Colorful reefs make the Cayman Islands a popular destination for scuba diving.

Courtesy of the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism

The water at Barkers Beach seems to change hues a thousand times a day as the sun hits different angles, and the lush tropical foliage and mangroves make it a haven for a walk to explore this national park. For those craving more active pursuits, join the kite surfers who flock to this spot from November to April seeking gusts for the ultimate hang time. Or take a day trip to Cayman Brac for rock climbing and rappelling on ragged limestone cliffs perched over the cerulean water.

Least-populated, Little Cayman is a scuba diver’s dream. At Bloody Bay, you’ll find more than 15 dive sites and the distinctive seascape at Jackson’s Bight features crevices, tunnels, and chutes.

For a more active water adventure, take a stand-up paddleboard to Owen Island, adjacent to Little Cayman, which Romanica says is “a picture-perfect deserted island to play out your castaway fantasies for the afternoon.” Other secluded beaches include Cayman Kai and Smith Cove on Grand Cayman and Point of Sand on Little Cayman.

Can’t-miss Grand Cayman sights

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Get up close with stingrays at Stingray City.

Courtesy of the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism

Of course, there are some celebrated sights that no Cayman Islands vacation would be complete without. Pair a trip to Stingray City, a sandbar in Grand Cayman’s North Sound filled with dozens of graceful undulating stingrays, with a visit to the newly redeveloped Rum Point for food and cocktails and time swaying in a beachfront hammock. Snorkel or kayak in Bioluminescent Bay with Cayman Kayaks to see the water light up. Stroll around George Town, with its boutiques, cafés, and colorful wooden buildings on the waterfront, and catch the sunset from Seven Mile Beach.

“I’m biased,” says Romanica, “but the rum distillery tour is one of the top-rated attractions in the country and definitely a must-do.” It ends in the tasting room with samples of Gun Bay Vodka, Governor’s Reserve Rum, a seasonal Distiller’s Special, and Seven Fathoms Rum. Cayman Spirits Co.’s signature spirit is so named for the depth under the ocean at which it’s matured, where gentle ocean currents increase the spirit’s contact with wooden barrels.

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