George Town, Grand Cayman in the Cayman Islands is a Caribbean gem. Island life and adventure meet a booming financial industry and major tourism in this family-friendly beach city.
At just over 75 square miles, lovely Grand Cayman is the largest and most sophisticated of the Caribbean’s three Cayman Islands, a British Overseas Territory. The Caymans are known for their stunning beaches, incredible underwater scenery, balmy weather and a vibrant food and arts scene. They also are an idyllic location for sportsmen (scuba diving is a top draw) and nature lovers eager to learn about blue iguanas and other unusual wildlife.
But there’s more to the Cayman Islands than just fun in the sun. The quaint capital city of George Town (population about 41,000) is the heart of the islands’ robust financial services industry and is an international center of off-shore banking and investment. The town’s economy also is heavily based on tourism. It’s a popular cruise port, with as many as four ships anchoring in its harbor at one time.
The Caymans are well known as a tax haven, meaning the government levies no property, income, corporate, capital gains, withholding, inheritance or sales tax on its citizens and expatriates. It’s no surprise that Caymanians enjoy one of the world’s highest standards of living.
Grand Cayman has a wide range of exclusive neighborhoods where those tax savings can boost purchasing power. The most expensive areas are along Seven Mile Beach, which has multimillion-dollar homes and condominiums for sale just a 10-minute drive from the center of George Town. The Seven Mile Beach Corridor, scant steps from Seven Mile Beach, offers more secluded living with exclusive beachfront homes, luxurious condos and spacious villas. South Sound, which many affluent Caymanians and expatriates call home, has some of the most expensive residences in the islands.
The vibe in Grand Cayman
Life on Grand Cayman manages to be both low key and luxurious. The strong British influence means there’s an emphasis on politeness and modesty (wearing a swimsuit off the beach is frowned upon). Grand Cayman also is family-friendly, with excellent schools and numerous organized events and activities for kids. The near-perfect weather encourages an active lifestyle, with snorkeling, diving, stand-up paddle boarding and fishing popular. A more serious side of island life caters to international financial businesses chockablock with bankers, accountants and lawyers. George Town can be crowded during tourist season (December-April); in 2022 it welcomed 743,394 cruise passengers, prompting complaints about the traffic.
How the locals live in George Town
Cayman Islands National Museum, in the historic center of George Town, is one of the islands’ few remaining 19-century structures. The museum was established to collect, preserve and exhibit items pertaining to the natural, cultural and art history of the Caymans.
The Pedro St. James National Historic Site, about a 20-minute drive from George Town, is known as the cradle of democracy in the Cayman Islands. The Great House, built in 1780, was where the decision was made in 1831 to form the Cayman Island’s first elected parliament, and where it was announced in 1835 that slavery had been abolished in the British Empire.
Look for the endangered blue iguanas at the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, about a 45-minute drive east of George Town. The 65-acre site includes gardens, an orchid boardwalk and woodland trail.
Seven Mile Beach is a long crescent of coral sand a 10-minute drive from the center of George Town. It is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean and is the center of the Caymans’ tourism industry.
There are a number of shopping centers throughout Grand Cayman, each with a variety of stores. The upscale Bayshore Mall in George Town houses the flagship location of Kirk Freeport, a duty-free luxury goods retailer (Rolex, Cartier, Mikimoto and more). Closed Sundays.
For locally made thatch hats, bags and other treasures, visit the Cayman Craft Market in downtown George Town. Open 8:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Mondays-Fridays (and the occasional Saturday).
The Hamlin Stephenson Market at the Cricket Grounds sells seasonal Cayman-grown produce as well as jewelry and local crafts. Open 7:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays.
The Lobster Pot in George Town claims to be the oldest family-owned seafood and steak restaurant in the Cayman Islands. Open for lunch and dinner Mondays-Fridays; dinner only Saturdays and Sundays.
Casanova Restaurant, also in George Town, offers up Italian and seafood specialties in a waterfront setting. Open 11 a.m.-10:00 p.m. daily.
The casual George Town Yacht Club has an eclectic menu with conch fritters, pizza and braised lamb shanks. Open daily 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; open for breakfast Saturdays and Sundays.
Need to know
Owen Roberts International Airport is about five minutes from downtown George Town and is the main point of entry to the Cayman Islands. It is served by Air Canada, American, British Air, Cayman Airways, Delta, Jet Blue, Southwest and United. Island Air offers aviation services for private and chartered aircraft.
The islands have a wide range of public, private and faith-based schools, each following British or American curriculum. Public schools are based on the English model and, with a few exceptions, spaces are reserved for Caymanians.
If expat parents are employed in the private sector and earn a certain amount each month, their children must attend private schools. Among them are the Cayman International School, a private college prep school for ages 2 to 18; St. Ignatius Catholic School; and Cayman Prep & High School, with curriculum based on the British system. Triple C School follows an American curriculum for preschool through 12th grade.