As a Caymanian I am ashamed to say that when it came to taking vacation time, I used to always leave the country. However, with our borders closed I have been enjoying exploring my own backyard, from nature walks to weekends at Cayman Kai to diving as many sites as I can, I have enjoyed Grand Cayman in ways I hadn’t fully embraced before. The natural next step was to get on a plane and explore Cayman Brac, having only spent a little time there in my childhood.
So, in late August we packed our suitcases and checked into our flights for a five-day stay in the Brac. Having been gratefully “stuck” on Grand Cayman for almost two years, I wanted a change of scene, and the Brac delivers on this. Being from Grand Cayman, I am not used to elevation; driving up a hill while still being in the Cayman Islands always catches me off guard. I was excited to get out there and stay active, exploring different terrain than I see in my day-to-day life on Grand Cayman.
We stayed at Le Soleil d’Or, a stunning and sprawling property which, as its crown jewel, features a 20-acre farm. Our “room” was the Beach Club, a one-bedroom studio apartment located two miles down the road from the main resort, on the beach and with a swimming pool that is shared with other guests but feels like your very own.
Greeted with fresh fruit cuts and juice from the farm as well as freshly baked cookies from the resort’s chef, we felt immediately spoiled. We made the most of the resort’s farm – enjoying a farm tour and a cocktail experience with Restaurant Supervisor Emmanuela Quesada, who uses many of the farm’s produce to craft delicious cocktails for guests to enjoy alongside the restaurant’s farm-to-table menu exquisitely created by Chef Mario Uxa. Chef Mario previously worked at Blue at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, and has a passion for Caribbean flavours and fresh produce, enjoying working synonymously with the farmers to create an ever-changing menu that highlights the farm’s freshest picks. Breakfast is included in your stay, with the hundreds of chickens housed on the farm providing fresh eggs prepared to your preference each morning.
Active Pursuit is a bicycle touring and rental company set up by Ken Hydes to offer visitors a different way to see the Brac. Rental Assistant Ruel Angcaco maintains the fleet of bicycles on offer at the store and was also our helpful tour guide, taking us on a quick bike ride to Rebecca’s Cave. It was a leisurely bike ride along South Side Road that showed the Brac’s small community – the cars made way for our bikes and many beeped or waved at Ruel, affectionately known as “the Bike Man.”
We rented bikes from Active Pursuit again on another day of our trip (you can choose to take guided tours or to rent) and challenged ourselves by biking up the Bluff Road to the Parrot Reserve. While challenging, it was good to work off some of the “Brac bread” we had enjoyed from Pioneer Bakery!
“Within the Cayman Islands, Cayman Brac offers such a diverse topography blended with an unbelievable amount biodiversity and, punctuated by a rich history, it lends itself to exploration and discovery,” says Kenneth Hydes, owner of Active Pursuit. “Experiencing this by any means is awe-inspiring but to do so by a structured bike tour with Active Pursuit gives you the opportunity for a full and immersive experience with knowledge operator who is eager to share their love of the Brac.”
Of course, the obvious difference between Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac is the Bluff. Offering 140 feet of elevation, there is ample opportunity to climb and see the sights – if you are brave enough. Enter Rock Iguana Ltd., which offers guided rock climbing and rappelling tours as well as climbing courses and drop-in yoga classes to stretch those muscles and calm the mind after an exciting day outdoors. We signed up for their ocean cave rappelling and climbing tour, and I braved my fear of heights to climb a couple of marked paths on the Bluff and to rappel down from a cave 50 feet in the air. It was terrifying but exhilarating, and I was keen to go back and push my limits some more!
We took a shore dive at Sylvia’s Reef, guided by Brad Wilbourn, a divemaster working with Brac Scuba Shack. He took us through the fairly shallow (approximately 50-foot) shore dive, which was filled with coral reef that felt at once similar to yet different from dive sites on Grand Cayman. Underwater sights included crabs, lionfish, angelfish and more and there is a wide range of dive sites to explore, including wrecks, so it is impossible to do it all in one trip.
As Brac Scuba Shack co-owner Liesel van der Touw explains, “Cayman Brac diving is incredibly diverse, from shallow hard pan sites to dramatic, breathtaking sheer walls.”
After enjoying the treats from Pioneer Bakery and the delicious farm-to-table breakfasts at Le Soleil d’Or, we were keen to stay active. A two-hour hiking route along Long Beach on an overcast day provided just what we needed to get our legs moving and see the sights. The rough ironshore and majestic backdrop of the Bluff make this a hike you don’t want to miss. We also spotted a group of brown boobies flying overhead – the Brac is home to the only breeding colony of brown boobies in the Cayman Islands.
One recommendation we didn’t need to hear twice was to get poolside massages from The Beach Spa, a mobile spa service on Cayman Brac. Kelly Edwards, the spa therapist we were lucky enough to be paired with, had magic hands, and after a day of rock climbing and hiking we were grateful recipients of a 60-minute deep-tissue massage. The treatment was conveniently done right at Le Soleil d’Or’s Beach Club, where we were staying. Nothing is easier than rolling off a massage table and straight into bed to get the most restful sleep of your vacation.
“All of our clients adore the luxury and ease of our in-home spa service,” said Kelly. “Whether you want to indulge in a full spa package or just a pedicure, with just a call we arrive with everything in hand – all clients need to do is relax.”
The Brac won’t disappoint – even without planned activities there is so much to do just by driving around the island and stopping in at each of the caves, driving up to the lighthouse at the top of the Bluff for an awe-inspiring view, and learning more about the history and culture of the Brac at its museum, which features a particularly haunting exhibit on the “1932 Storm,” a category 4 hurricane that left in its wake irrevocable damage to property and lives. After a busy day exploring, be sure to stop into Barracudas for their housemade pizza and a game of darts or shuffleboard. We ran into our dive guide there and appreciated the chance to learn more about the Brac from the locals’ perspective.
In short, I am grateful for the opportunity to take a vacation to explore my own islands, rather than another country. There was so much I didn’t know and I feel more closely tied to my home as a result of our trip. The ability to travel and eat well, stay active and enjoy new sights all just a 20-minute flight away is something we can all take advantage of!
About the author
Anna Wootton is the Digital Marketing & PR Manager for Dart’s business development and real estate companies and assets, including Dart Real Estate, Provenance Properties, Cayman Alternative Investment Summit (CAIS), Camana Bay and The Residences at Seafire. Born in the Cayman Islands, with British heritage and a Canadian passport, Anna is multinational with a Caymankind heart. Anna has a background in journalism and a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature from University of British Columbia. She has worked for Dart for the past seven years.