As I write, it’s approaching a month and half since leaving Grand Cayman—a mystical haven rimmed by reefs, turquoise waters, and angelfish the length of my arm.
The November vacation in Grand Cayman spanned a long series of perfect days. It isn’t possible to compress them into a single day’s perfect outing, or even a long weekend of perfection—but that only means you have to return.
We stayed in the northern area of Seven Mile Beach in a condo owned by friends that spilled directly onto the beach. A few steps beyond came the sea, where a varied reef bed started within just a few strokes. Flounders spotted with iridescent blue slithered along the rocky seabed right beyond the surf; little jellies sometimes bounced against the skin with a little electric bing; and in the warm-current reef-plateau feeding ground, tropical fish swam in large groups, their scales a shimmery rainbow of turquoise, lavender, silver, and even electric blue dots. Off in the depths, lion-fish hid beneath reef ledges, and large crustaceans scared me silly when hunting fish with their jabbing claws.
So, what would I recommend?
First, the dawns.
Each day of the vacation, I woke when the sky was still black. After a cup of coffee and a splash of water on the face, I slipped on the bathing suit, pulled on a cotton tunic, and grabbed the camera for a long, solitary walk up the beach as the sky filled with the colors of dawn.
The walks along the sea, luxuriating in the stillness and silence behind the surf, established the rhythm of the day. Every morning the sky bloomed in salmon pinks and lavenders. The water lapped against the beach so the edge shifted from day to day, new rocks and ledges overtaking what I’d walked the dawn before.
Second: The sea.
After a bathing suit (or three), the one item I most recommend is a cheap underwater camera. Trust me. I wish I’d known.
The Caribbean waters heave with life. It’s almost frightening once you see it—even where you think the water is clear, the light shifts and you suddenly find yourself inside a swarm of tiny needlenose fish.
The most perfect way to experience this swell of life is to snorkel. I used a child’s flotation vest and a super blasé snorkel found in a bag at the condo—but according to friends, snorkels can be wonderfully fancy now. I recommend immediately heading to a dive shop on West Bay Road as soon as you land to get professionally fitted with a modern snorkel that blocks water when you dive. Super useful. At the dive shop you can also buy fish food to offer while snorkeling. A transcendental experience is assured—a swarm of fish rushing at you all at once. Make sure you don’t hyperventilate.
Second, I recommend renting a boat for an afternoon of adventures on the eastern edge of the North Sound:
Stingray City—to swim with the sting rays on the sandbars
Star Fish Point—to bug your eyes out at how fast star fish roam
and the Rum Point Beach & Club—to sling back alcoholic mud slides while wading in the sea, imagining the pirate life while children crawl over alligators
If heading all the way across the North Sound seems too far, then a visit to the Cayman Turtle Farm is a calm adventure. Pull on a snorkel mask and swim out into the turtles. Or rent a car and drive eastward along the roads rimming the island—the hard surf pounds the cliffs and throws up conch shells.
Upstairs at Kaibo
And third: perfect Caribbean food.
Upstairs at Kaibo is a short drive away from Rum Point Beach, Northern Sound, which means it’s a ferry ride away from the east side of the Seven Mile Beach finger—or a very long drive around the island. We chose the very long drive since high winds and a stormy surge kept the ferries docked.
Michelin star Chef Laurence Tham puts together a 5 course tasting menu in the evenings, which both MP and I chose, along with the attendant 4 paired wines and one rare rum. The dinner began with chilled plum tomato soup with basil, along with Marquis de Latour from Cremant de Loire. While that was beautiful, the following course was heralded by MP as his favorite of the evening: white wine poached pear accompanied by blue cheese mouse (the mousse was incredible), baby arugula, and toasted walnut dressing with an Sauvignon blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand.
The third course was grouper—now, thanks to several restaurants visited during the vacation, my favorite fish ever. This was king crab crusted grouper brought together with sesame seeds, wilted book toy, coconut ginger infused jasmine rice (the rice was the only thing I didn’t find amazing—blame rice in India), and sweet corn veloute. This grouper became my favorite course of the dinner, perfectly paired with a Chardonnay from Italy. Following the fish course was slow roasted angus beef entrecôte with applewood bacon charlotte crushed potatoes, all this paired with a Melbec from Argentina.
Dessert was a lovely, though expected, Vahlrona chocolate pot with vanilla mousse and sable biscuit. I loved the sable biscuit. We had this with a most exquisite 23-year-old rum from Guatemala. I don’t ever reach for rum—but I long for a bottle of this. It would be perfect to keep warm over winter.
Additional Restaurant Recommendations
Calypso Grill Restaurant, West Bay—an exquisite array of seafood appetizers and dishes for dinner, including a stuffed grouper that made me cry.
Agua Restaurant, Seven Mile Beach—acclaimed selection of ceviche
Michaels, Camana Bay—beautiful dishes, many of which merge French with fish and Caribbean spices. I had an incredible Bouillabaisse.
Lauren’s, West Bay Road at Buckingham Square—the breakfast and brunch place, serving the very best crepes I’ve eaten outside France. We ordered both the Berries and Crème Anglaise and Banana and Chocolate. Divine.
What to Pack
Have a Beautiful Trip!