We make multiple stops – “you must see the blowholes!” Steven from Toronto insisted, and “Collier’s Beach is heaven!” wrote Sherry from Winnipeg. The beach – about an hour from the main Grand Cayman centre – is vast with no end in sight, and absolutely empty. We pull over and walk the shores in silence. I run in and out of the water. My mom perches on a turquoise bench: We are the only signs of life on land, save for a few scampering crabs and a newly built sandcastle.
A grander journey proves just as rewarding. “Take the quick flight and explore beyond Grand Cayman to get the full experience,” Robin from Toronto advised. So we book the trip to Little Cayman on a tiny, 18-seat plane. Thirty minutes later – after stunning views and chatting with the pilot (there is no cockpit divider) – we are in a very different place. Here, iguanas outnumber people (3,000 to 135), the lone bank is open for two days a week, and entire afternoons are spent swinging in hammocks in silence.
Since nearly everyone who visits Little Cayman is a diver – the attraction here is Bloody Bay Wall where the sea floor drops off in a 1,824-metre vertical cliff – we are largely alone. Even when the divers return after dinner, it’s quiet: We are the only people in the beach-front hot tub watching the palm trees fade into the night sky.
We decide to grab a bite on the patio of the top-rated restaurant on TripAdvisor, which supposedly has a “relaxed island vibe” and where the “service is wonderful” and the food “fantastic and varied.”
Turns out, the service is comically bad: The waitress forgets we exist four times. But we are hungry and tired after a day of snorkelling. We mindlessly dig in to our conch ceviche.
Two hours later, as the food poisoning takes hold, my mom and I make a pact on the bathroom floor: Online reviews must no longer be blindly trusted.
The next day, as the hotel staff gets word of our misfortune: You ate there? You ordered fish?
Talking to Alyssa, a hip, young scuba instructor from B.C., I learn that the restaurant changed ownership recently, and everyone – except us and TripAdvisor – knew the place had taken a nose dive.
It’s possible that the restaurant had an off-night (maybe the snarky waitress was newly single, maybe the chef had just lost his dog). But such is the inherent problem with reviews: You are never guaranteed the same experience. So after three days of idyllic vacation, I am taught an invaluable lesson: Always ask the locals. (Oh, and don’t order ceviche after 9 p.m.)
Fortunately, it’s easy to bounce back in a hammock overlooking clear blue ocean. By the time we return to the main island, I am ready to put the most surprising recommendation to the test.
It came from Katherine Wootton Joyce, who was born in Grand Cayman and now calls Calgary home. She returns at least once a year.
She’s a local, but also a tourist, who knows all the best hideaways and insider secrets – which is why I was astounded by her all-caps “MUST-DO”: a borderline tacky-tourist submarine ride.
“If you don’t dive, it’s the next best thing,” she urged. She was right. The ride was spectacular – albeit the most touristy thing we did all week (the submarine gift shop sells gold stingray pendant necklaces). We travel 30 metres down, and I came nose to nose with a sea turtle, separated only by the window. I swear he smiled.