Grand Cayman’s famous Seven Mile Beach ranks among the Caribbean’s most expansive – and expensive. But, as always, we thrifty Mainers left the strand’s inflated prices, high-rise hotels and crowds behind and stayed on the island’s eastern side in laid-back Bodden Town, where free-range roosters and chickens easily outnumber tourists.
We knew that we had chosen wisely when, on the first morning of our vacation, a TV reporter and cameraman materialized on the property to document the Turtle Nest Inn winning a 2012 Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence.
Indeed, the setting alone deserves an award. The eight-unit two-story inn faces east, with a pool and terrace overlooking a deserted beach. Waves break on the offshore reef, which forms a natural lagoon and deters boat traffic. Coconut palms sway in the constant breeze, and sun-bleached queen conch shells line the patio’s perimeter.
The inn promises “intimacy and elegance at the beach” and delivers beautifully. Our apartment on the top floor was spacious, spotless, comfortable, airy and bright: white tile floors; high ceilings with fans in the full kitchen, bedroom and living room; plenty of windows; and a balcony. Paintings by local artists dot the white walls. The room rate includes a week’s rental of a Hyundai i10 (for those brave enough to drive on the left).
An ice machine, a water cooler and a selection of books, newspapers and brochures are located in the downstairs lobby. The Turtle Nest also provides: beach towels, snorkel gear, a kayak, beach shoes, a gas grill, a library of movies on DVD, coolers and even a plastic bucket for beachcombing. (Our needs were met before we knew we had them.)
Late January’s warm, dry weather enabled us to fill much of each day strolling around Bodden Town, which evokes an earlier West Indies era; sunbathing in comfortable lounge chairs poolside, a stone’s throw from the sea; collecting sea glass and worn shards of pottery and pieces of china that wash up; and snorkeling in incredibly clear water amid a spectacular, diverse coral garden where numerous types and hues of fish congregate.
Known for its rich underwater life, Grand Cayman is the only place in the world where humans are welcome to interact with stingrays. Thus, the highlight of our trip was an afternoon catamaran cruise with Capt. Dexter to Stingray Sandbar, where we frolicked in about 4 feet of water with the docile, velvety-skinned creatures. With Simon, the first mate, guiding us, we each held one in our arms, its prehistoric eyes meeting ours, as its giant wings flapped.
We returned the several miles to port under sail, then drove to the delightful Bodden Town Art Shop, where we bought an original painting of, you guessed it, a stingray.
Another must on Grand Cayman is a brief visit to Hell, a town named for its quarter-acre of blackened calciferous rock, where souvenir shops sell postcards to send from the post office next door. So, yes, we’ve been to hell and back.
George Town, the capital of the Cayman Islands and a busy cruise-ship and duty-free port, also merits a few hours for sightseeing and browsing in such upscale shops as Guy Harvey’s, Cathy Church’s Underwater Photo Gallery and Pure Art.
More our style was the gift shop at the kitschy Pirate Caves back in Bodden Town, where the owner traded us a frame-able print of the historic pink Rankin House for a stack of magazines that we had finished reading.
Since very little food is grown or produced on the island, dining out tends to be expensive. That said, we ate with the locals under the stars at several affordable and authentic Caymanian restaurants near Turtle Nest: grilled mahi mahi at Southcoast; steamed snapper “island-style” with sautéed onions and peppers at Seaside Paradise; fried grouper and chips at Chester’s; jerk chicken with beans and rice at Rankins Jerk Center; and fried wahoo, plantains, cassava and corn bread at Grape Tree Fish Fry. Desserts brought coconut tarts and rum raisin ice cream.
In George Town, the island’s British heritage showed in the form of a curried vegetable roti from Singh’s Roti Shop and Island Taste’s “patties,” turnovers filled with meat or veggies.
We concluded our culinary adventure with scrambled eggs (from all those chickens!), English toasting bread (from Foster’s IGA) and homemade guava jelly (from the Saturday morning farmer’s market) as we watched the year’s first full moon rise over the Caribbean.
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This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.