Culture + Style

From Beachside Bliss to Tax-Free Shopping: The Cayman Islands Revealed

Retreat to the beach for blissed-out relaxation on the Cayman Islands. (Photo: Alamy)

Beaches of breathtaking perfection, exceptional cuisine, duty-free shopping and spectacular underwater scenery: The Cayman Islands offer all the ingredients for the perfect tropical island getaway.

Caymans 101: A Brief History

The Cayman Islands were not always the idyllic destination they are today. Less than 300 years ago the only creatures that lived on these islands were mosquitoes, turtles and crocodiles.

During the 16th and 17th centuries ocean-going ships would stop by the islands to stock up on the plentiful turtle meat, but it wasn’t until the 1730s that the first hardy souls chose to settle permanently on the islands. Theirs was a simple life of subsistence farming, trading in turtle meat and thatch rope making.

The rapid growth of a tourism industry in parallel with a financial services industry has dramatically changed life in the Cayman Islands in the past 40 years or so. Once described as “the islands that time forgot,” the Cayman Islands now enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the Caribbean and are home to residents of more than 100 different nationalities.

blue iguana
If you’re lucky, you’ll spy the Islands’ famed blue iguana. (Photo: Alamy)

Seven Mile Solace

Grand Cayman, the largest and most developed of the three islands, has carved itself a niche in the luxury end of the tourism market, and the world-famous powdery sands and crystalline waters of Seven Mile Beach are the perfect setting for a number of exclusive resorts, not least of which is the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort.

It’s the perfect place to unwind and soak up the sun, indulge in some delicious meals and enjoy a massage at the onsite spa, but if the urge to be more active strikes, water sports of almost every description can be practiced in the calm, turquoise water in front of the resort.

The resort embodies the spirit of Cayman: It’s a place where guests can do as little — or as much — as they like. If you want to jet around on a wave runner, snorkel over coral reefs or enjoy a pampering spa experience, it’s all available just steps from your hotel room — but if a hammock and a palm tree are what the day calls for, that can also be arranged. Stop by the concierge’s desk and tell them what you’re interested in, and they will be delighted to assist.

A few minutes’ walk from the beach, a very different scene awaits: one filled with superb restaurants, lively bars and luxury boutiques. Curious travelers need venture only slightly further afield to discover some of Grand Cayman’s exotic flora and fauna, its fascinating history and a variety of land-based attractions.

George Town
Shop ’til you drop in George Town. (Photo: Alamy)

No Sales Tax? Sweet Deal.

Because there is no sales tax in the Cayman Islands and no import duty on luxury goods, shopaholics will find many goods available at much lower prices than they are accustomed to. Jewelry, gems, watches, perfumes, leather goods, sunglasses and photographic equipment are all tax exempt and can result in a savings of 20-30%.

George Town has the lion’s share of the shops, most of which are open Monday to Friday, or when cruise ships are in port, although there is also a growing number of luxury boutiques in Camana Bay, which can be a less crowded option.

For authentically Caymanian souvenirs to take home, consider some locally distilled rum or the delectable rum cakes from the Tortuga Rum Company. Pure Art Gallery & Gifts is a great place to pick up paintings, prints and crafts by Cayman-based artists, while the One 345 clothing brand features casual attire with humorous, typically Caymanian phrases and sayings printed on T-shirts and tank tops.