The Cayman Islands

By Dale Leatherman, Contributor

Convenience, safety, great beaches and a growing golf complement make these islands a great destination for families with diverse interests.

Columbus called this trio of tiny islands "Las Tortugas," because the waters offshore were full of turtles. The waters were also full of glorious reefs and walls, underwater treasures which later led to the islands' reputation as one of the world's best places to scuba dive. But there's much more to the Caymans than diving. The islands, slightly larger in area than Washington, D.C., are also a prime destination for anyone seeking fine food and lodging and a variety of activities in a beautiful setting - including golf.

Not only are the Caymans convenient (480 miles from Miami), they are virtually crime-free. The islanders have one of the highest standards of living in the region and are well-educated, devoted to church and family, and friendly to visitors. English is their language - the King's English -- befitting the islands' status as a British colony.

Because of its position in the Caribbean, the islands are usually protected from storms, and the weather is balmy year-round.

Grand Cayman is the largest and liveliest island, with luxury hotel and condominium properties fronting on the white, tidy sands of Seven Mile Beach. Condos outnumber hotels, providing capacious suites for families. Along with a plethora of land and water sports (including snorkeling with stingrays at famous Stingray City), the island has 36 holes of golf and another nine underway. There's the 18-hole Links at Safe Haven, next to the Westin Casuarina Hotel; a Jack Nicklaus nine at the Hyatt Britannia (link to shawn's story); the Sunrise Family Golf Centre; and a Greg Norman nine opening at the new Ritz Carlton in 2004.

Prior to 1994, the only game on Grand Cayman was the Hyatt Britannia. The Links at Safehaven changed that, becoming the first 18-hole route on an island better known for its scuba diving and beaches. The Roy Case-design, centerpiece of a growing waterfront community with channels leading to the sea, was created by filling marshy lands. A modest 6,525 yards, it is extremely demanding, with fairways that narrow to hour-glass landing areas and hide balls in Scottish-style mounding. Water is a companion on many holes, including the par-3 eleventh, which plays 235 yards into the breeze off the North Sound, with water on the left and the sound on the right. The par-five eighteenth hole hugs the lake all the way home, defying you to cut corners. It makes for a fun and challenging finishing hole.

Grand Cayman has more than 100 restaurants, many featuring Caymanian specialties such as conch fritters, savory turtle stew (the national dish), "fish rundown" (fish cooked in coconut milk with breadfruit and cassava), and thick, rich rum cake. Fresh seafood and exotic fresh fruits are plentiful and cleverly prepared.

You can have wonderful underwater experiences with any of Grand Cayman's scuba operators, but the best diving is in the Sister Islands, a 35-minute flight from Grand Cayman. With the exception of the new Club at Little Cayman, accommodations on Little Cayman and Cayman Brac are not luxurious. However, the service and dining is usually quite good at the dive resorts.

Little Cayman, ten miles by one mile and largely uninhabited (resident population: 170), is a place to recapture your soul. The diving is so good as to be almost surreal, with more than 56 beautiful reefs, wrecks and walls. When the dive and fishing boats depart each morning, a hush falls, and the sandy road circling the island is deserted except for crossing iguanas. It's an ideal time to stroll, to bike, to swim in a secluded lagoon, or to doze in a shaded hammock. For total solitude, request a sumptuous packed lunch and a rowboat to take you to deserted Owen Island.

Cayman Brac, 12 miles by one mile, rises from sea level to a 144-foot bluff. The climb to the lighthouse is as wild, deserted and scenic as it gets. Footpath established a century ago lead to spooky sea caves and sinkholes. Though the bonefishing and deep-sea fishing are superb, Cayman Brac is best known for diving. Of the 50 dive sites, the main attraction is a 330-foot Russian warship sunk in 1996. For more information on the Cayman Islands, visit or call (877) 4-CAYMAN ?

The average temperature in the winter is 75 degrees Farhenheit, while it rises to an average of 85 degrees in the summer. December through April is usually considered the most temperate because the humidity is the lowest. The summer is the rainiest time of year.

Dale LeathermanDale Leatherman, Contributor

Dale Leatherman is a full-time freelance travel writer specializing in golf and adventure travel. For nearly 20 years her "beat" has been the Caribbean, where she can combine golf, scuba diving and other sports. She has also written about golf in Wales, Scotland, Australia, Costa Rica, Canada and the U.S., particularly the Mid-Atlantic region.

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