West Bay, Cayman Islands

Photo: Ray Bodden from USA (Inside the Reef  Uploaded by RaviC) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Ray Bodden from USA (Inside the Reef Uploaded by RaviC) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Did you give up on Grand Cayman a long time ago? You probably traded in large, formal resorts for more authentic, laid-back hotels. Maybe you opted for islands known more for their friendly people and gorgeous beaches than their off-shore banking and cruise ports. Fair enough. But there’s more to the island than just George Town. It might be time to revisit the Cayman Islands’ largest island.

After landing, head north. You’ll pass Seven Mile Beach, probably the farthest you made it last time. Keep going. The resorts are starting to disappear. The pastel houses aren’t as close together. You must be going the wrong direction. But you’re not. You’ve almost reached West Bay, the northwestern tip of Grand Cayman.

Once you enter the gates of Cotton Tree, you’ll be happy for the relative seclusion. It doesn’t feel like you’re walking into a hotel. This could easily be a friend’s vacation home. The owner, who returned to Grand Cayman after traveling the world, wants her guests to feel what she always searched for in a hotel: that home-away-from-home spirit. The four beachfront, plantation-style cottages–Almond, Cocoplum, Sea Grape, and Thatch–have gourmet kitchens, spa bathrooms, and French doors overlooking the turquoise water. They’re stocked with local artwork, Apple TV, and morning necessities in the fridge. Plus flip-flops, just in case you forgot yours.

Photo: Cotton Tree West Bay Hotel
Photo: Cotton Tree West Bay Hotel

Watch the sun rise with a cup of coffee from your patio. Take a nap on the daybed by the freshwater pool. Pick bananas, mangos, or guavas from the tropical garden. They’re so fresh that they taste like a different fruit. Relax among the Seagrape trees during a coconut bliss massage in the open-air spa pavilion. And decide not to go out your first evening. With cocktails flowing from the honor bar and a nearby restaurant–Ristorante Pappagallo–that will deliver calypso calamari, raspberry filled tortelloni, and tiger shrimp alla busara right to your door, you can just relax.

The next day you can start exploring. Bike through Barkers National Park, the Cayman’s first national park. You’ll end up on quiet, rocky Barkers Beach. Explore Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park to see endangered blue iguanas and unique orchids. Go to Hell. The black, limestone formations here are what many believe the place of eternal punishment must look like. Snorkel among parrotfish, Sergeant Majors, and even reef sharks off Cemetery Beach. And tour the Tortuga Rum and Rum Cake Factory. Not so much for the tour as the tasting.

Just be sure you have a cocktail and a west-facing view as the sun begins to set. West Bay Beach–the northern end of Seven Mile Beach–is a good spot in the sand. As is the overwater deck at Calypso Grill. Either way, as you toast the end of the day, you’ll be glad you gave Grand Cayman another chance.

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