Discover the natural beauty of the underwater coral chutes and the abundant caves on Cayman Brac.
I’m in one of the many caves on Cayman Brac, one of two “sister islands” to Grand Cayman. As I grab the curves of the dark walls to steady myself, a ray of light peeps in from above to light my way as bats flutter overhead. My guide tells me tales of island residents who sought shelter from hurricanes in these caves as I convince my daughter that the bats will not nest in her hair.
The caves are beautiful and abundant on Cayman Brac, a narrow island which has a towering limestone bluff that runs most of the 12-mile length of the island. It is in these bluffs that the caves are nestled, one of the many small diversions to be found amidst the delightful days of scuba diving that bring most visitors to Cayman Brac.
Scuba diving on Cayman Brac is fantastic with sheer walls of coral, plunging thousands of feet into the ocean abyss, much like the cliffs topside soar skyward. Amidst the underwater coral walls, and a reason I’m always happy to return to Cayman Brac diving, are tons of chutes—tunnels of coral, many with just enough room for divers to navigate. The formations are stunningly beautiful with sunlight streaming through their crevices as brilliant fish try to camouflage themselves in dark corners. The chutes, the wall diving, and healthy reefs for both diving and snorkeling are enough of a reason to visit Cayman Brac. But then there’s still the mystery of the caves.
Cayman Brac has two main roads, one flanking the south side of the island and a second flanking the north. Most of the island’s natural attractions are off those main roads. In a half day, you can tour the entire island by traveling on one of the roads and returning on the opposite. A nice luxury offered by the tourism department is that if you provide the transportation, they’ll offer a guide, free of charge, with advance booking. I just asked my hotel to make the arrangements.
I start out with my guide from Brac Reef Resort, the island’s main resort and my accommodation of choice, which is on the west end of the island near the airport. Our first stop is Rebecca’s Cave, a haven for residents from the brutal 1932 hurricane which had winds blasting almost 200 mile per hour. The cave’s rock walls are more solid than any that man could ever build.
Next stop is Bat Cave, home to fruit bats, an animal vital to the island’s ecosystem because they help with pollination and also feed on mosquitoes. Down the road on the southeastern tip of Cayman Brac is First Cay, the spot where Christopher Columbus is believed to first have encountered the Cayman Islands. Cliffs tower 140 feet into the air at this scenic spot, also a favorite refuge for pirates who buried their treasure among the cliffs.
A long dirt road then leads to a light tower marking the eastern end of the island. From atop the cliffs, you can stare into the churning ocean far below, should you dare to. Some adventurers go so far as to scale the face of the mighty bluff. Others choose to walk the pretty nature trail that leads to the nesting grounds of booby birds, a bird that feeds by plunging into the ocean below for fish and squid.
Along the opposite north side of the island, there are more caves and nature trails. There are also some cultural sites like the Cayman Brac Heritage House which displays the works of local artisans, and the Cayman Brac Museum, which delves into the island’s history and the 1932 hurricane.
The hub of activity on Cayman Brac is back on the west end with Brac Reef Resort (www.bracreef.com; tel. 800-594-0843). Packages with a meal plan start at US$589 for three nights based on double occupancy including transfers, breakfast, dinner and diving, or $393 for non-divers. The resort’s rooms are casual but nice, but the real attraction is the resort’s enormous sandy beach and a lovely roofed pier—it’s the perfect place to rock on a swing at sunset or snorkel underneath to see eagle rays at dusk.
Everywhere on the resort grounds, you can use paint to personalize conch shells and driftwood, which provide colorful reminders of visitors’ memorable vacations. Somewhere amidst the artifacts is a shell my daughter painted years ago, but there are so many painted items, that I can’t begin to search for hers. After all, I’m on island time.
Most visitors to Brac Reef Resort choose meal plans because restaurants on the island are quite limited. Some venture, however, to Biggies for the all-you-can eat lunchtime Caribbean buffet for US$18 (tel. 345-948-2449), or to local favorite Aunt Sha’s, for conch fritters and other Caribbean fare (tel. 345-948-1581). Captain’s Table serves good fish, burgers and southwestern lunches for around $10, though dinner entrées are a little pricey for the island at $18 to $30.
Aside from Brac Reef Resort, most tourist accommodations on the island are condo rentals. Carib Sands Beach Resort (www.caribesands.com; tel. 345-948-1418), where Captain’s Table is situated, has one to four bedroom condos on a pretty beach and is a good bet for families. Or try the Cayman Breakers near First Cay and the stunning east end (www.caymancondosonline.com; tel. 345-948-1463).