The first time that we visited the Cayman Islands, we chose to explore the port of Georgetown. When returning on the Disney Panama Canal Cruise, we wanted to see more of what Grand Cayman had to offer. We booked the Discover Native Cayman and the Salt Water Forest tour. The tour included stops at the famous Seven Mile Beach, Hell, and then the mangrove forest.
The first part of the tour was on a small bus, and the mangrove tour on a pontoon boat. We were all excited and looked forward to exploring.
We packed into small buses, more like church vans, with about 15 people and headed out from the dock.
Our guide was native of Grand Cayman and was very knowledgeable and pleasant. He provided much information about the history and culture of the Cayman Islands, including why Country Music is the most popular genre (For decades, many natives have worked in the oil fields and off-shore oil rigs of Texas and Louisiana).
Seven Mile Beach
We first stopped at Seven Mile Beach, a long stretch of white sand and crystal clear water. With 15 minutes allowed, we only experienced a taste. It was beautiful and crowded. Beginner snorkelers can walk right in off the beach to see fish and coral. We might do that next time.
Reboarding the van, we drove farther north toward Hell. We made a brief stop, literally just pulling to the side of road for 2 minutes, to view traditional Cayman cottages. Cute, but not particularly interesting.
Hell was much less impressive than my heavy metal album covers led to believe. Here it is just a patch of jagged, limestone near the northeast edge of the island. It gets its black tones and odd shape from algae, bacteria, and fungi which erode the rock; leaving what is know as ironkast. Ivan, Hell’s proprietor, purchased it and commercialized it.
Surprisingly, I will remember Hell longer than any other part of the tour. While the field of rocks is not very impressive, the shop and post office provides a kitschy good laugh. Humorous proclamations adorn t-shirts, hats and post cards. “I’ve been through Hell to get this t-shirt.” “If you don’t like my attitude, go to Hell.”
The real reason, though, that Hell is so memorable is Ivan. Ivan, a white haired man of I guess 80 something, walks through his shop dressed as Satan, with a red suit, horns and a pitchfork. Charming and funny, with tongue firmly in cheek, he greets everyone with “Where the Hell you from?’
When we told him we were from Kentucky, he quickly pulled out a photo showing that he had been there and his that his wife was from Huntington, West Virginia. He joked that he had taken his wife from Almost Heaven West Virginia (referring to an old John Denver song) to Hell. Our brief encounter left us smiling and glad to have gone to Hell.
Our bus tour ended at the Yacht Club where we boarded our pontoon boat. The Yacht Club and surrounding area is very upscale, reminiscent of the ritzy portions of Miami.
We were all excited about the boat tour of the Mangroves. We envisioned floating through narrow jungle waterways with tropical birds flitting around. That’s not what we got.
The mangroves of Grand Cayman line one side of a luxury neighborhood with million and multimillion dollar homes (or second homes). We did pull into a small cove, just large enough for the pontoon, but nothing about this was “wild.”
Our boat guide hailed from Grand Cayman, too. He was again, very knowledgeable and gave an in depth biology lecture on mangroves as well as the plants and animals.
Mangroves are, simply put, trees that grow in salt water. They supply much oxygen for the planet, protect against storm surges, and provide habitat for many creatures.
Our guide showed us how mangrove seed pods pop open and spread.
His partner scooped out the non-stinging jellyfish from the mangroves. We could touch it if we wished. It was then released unharmed
Our guide showed us Caulerpa, a plant/algae with the largest single cell known.
We did not see a single blue iguana and only one green iguana. Green iguanas are invasive. The Caymans have allowed hunting to decrease their numbers and it has worked.
I did not see a single bird in the mangroves and was quite disappointed.
Impression of Grand Cayman
Grand Cayman Island feels American, for better or worse. I know it’s officially linked to the UK, but it’s like a piece of South Florida relocated to the Western Caribbean. Beautiful beaches and a familiar setting await. I can see why someone would want to have a vacation condo here. For cruise stops, I prefer a little more foreign feel.
Impression of the Discover Native Cayman Tour
The Discover Native Cayman Tour is good, but not great. We saw exactly what was described, but not what we expected, especially in the mangrove forest. If I had not had visions of a tropical forest with exotic birds, then maybe I would not have been disappointed.
The whole tour was very educational, but aside from our time in Hell, not that much fun. It felt more like a high school field trip. I am glad to have seen and learned things, but did not leave excited.
The Discover Native Cayman and Salt Water Forest Tour makes a good tour option for those who want an educational experience with little physical effort. It requires minimal walking; so, almost anyone can do it. You will learn about the history of the Cayman Islands and of the biology and ecology of mangrove forests. Hell adds some frivolity and humor. Overall, I rate it as a good, but not great tour, due to the dryness of presentation and underwhelming nature of the mangroves.