- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 22, 2004

CAYMAN BRAC, Cayman Islands — There’s not much reason to go to Cayman Brac. No casinos. Just a few restaurants. Not much shopping. No golf.

So what do you do with a week to kill on a Caribbean island with one of the world’s best reef systems?

Scuba.

Also snorkeling, hiking, climbing and birding. And the all-important sitting on the beach.

If you want luxury, Grand Cayman is fine, but diving there can get crowded and expensive. If you prefer the type of place where Chocolate, the dive-shop dog, hosts her friends in late-afternoon romps on the beach, consider this sister island.

Cayman Brac is much smaller than Grand Cayman. It has a population of fewer than 1,300 on an island about 12 miles by 2 miles. The third sister, Little Cayman, is smaller still, with fewer than 170 residents on a 10-mile-by-1-mile island. Both islands regularly are ranked among the best dive locations in the world by readers of Scuba Diving magazine. Reef Divers runs the dive operation at Brac Reef Resort on Cayman Brac, and the shop, boats and staff are all first-rate.

Leila McWhorter, 63, of Perry, Ga., has been diving for 20 years and has done more than 300 dives, most in the Caribbean, Bahamas and Florida. A retired librarian and former teacher, she makes at least one dive trip out of the country each year. For land-based diving, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman are her favorite spots; she has been to each three times.

“Bloody Bay Wall on Little Cayman is considered the best dive site in the world, but if you’ve been on it six days, it loses some of its luster,” she says. “Cayman Brac has so much diversity. Every day that you make a dive, it’s not like the day before. Every day, it seemed to me that the dive was different.”

The visibility is excellent, and water temperatures are a comfortable 86 degrees in the summer and fall, a degree or two cooler in winter.

The coral and sponges are healthy and diverse, so the fish and other sea life are plentiful. The diving options are increased, too, with the walls so close to shore.

The walls amount to an underwater cliff with the edge about 70 to 80 feet down and the bottom thousands of feet below.

You descend, keeping a close eye on your depth gauge, and at, say, 110 feet down, you’re looking at a vertical coral formation in front and a vast expanse of deep, deep blue with darting fish, turtles and rays behind.

Because non-divers seem to ask about sharks: Yes, we encountered reef sharks and nurse sharks — both harmless to people who don’t annoy them and inclined to swim away from those who do.

There were plenty of turtles, barracuda and rays — sting, eagle, spotted eagle and southern. Smaller sightings included sea horses, jellyfish, flounder, scorpion fish, durgons and lobsters.

The wreck MV Capt. Keith Tibbetts, a Russian destroyer sunk for diving purposes, is a popular site and good for tall tales of naval battles and pirates.

Miss McWhorter calls it “one of the best wreck dives I’ve ever done. … When you are diving the Tibbetts, it’s a good idea to have two cameras, one with a wide-angle lens and one for macro,” or close-up, shots of the rich sea life living on and around the wreck.

The non-diver can find plenty to do. Snorkeling is very popular. Rock-climbing attracts visitors to the limestone cliffs.

Much of Cayman Brac is open land. A nature preserve boasts 150 species of birds. There are miles of cycling and hiking trails, rare animals to see and dramatic caves to explore.

Bonefish, which have a reputation for being hard to catch, are plentiful. Tuna, wahoo and marlin are popular game fish. Snapper, grouper and jacks attract reef anglers. The Caymans are very conservation-minded, and captains and guides will encourage release of any fish that is not going to be eaten.

During a recent visit, my wife and I stayed at Brac Reef Beach Resort. We found nothing to complain about in the accommodations, which were comfortable, with a helpful staff and good meals, and we got good reports from guests of the island’s other resort, Divi Tiara Beach Resort.

You can expect the Cayman Brac experience to be different from what you might find on other Caribbean islands.

As Miss McWhorter put it, “Because the Brac is not surrounded by businesses and homes, you get the feeling of being on a remote island.”

• • •

Cayman Brac and Little Cayman are a few miles apart, northeast of Grand Cayman and less than 500 miles from Miami.

You can fly to Cayman Brac on Cayman Airways or Island Air. Cayman Airways has daily flights from Miami and a less regular schedule from Fort Lauderdale and Tampa, Fla., and Houston, all with layovers on Grand Cayman. Little Cayman is reachable by Island Air from Grand Cayman.

When flying Cayman Airways, you may find that the schedule seems more like a suggestion; it’s a good idea to keep items you might need during your first 24 hours in your carry-on in case the rest of your luggage arrives late.

Brac Reef Resort offers seven-day winter diving packages including breakfast and dinner with pool-view rooms from $1,654 ($1,114 for non-divers); 800/594-0843 or www.islandream.com/lilcaymn.htm. Also on Cayman Brac, Divi Tiara Beach Resort, 800/367-3484.

For more information, visit www.caymanislands.ky or call 877/4-CAYMAN.


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