An inter-island flight across the ninety miles of sparkling sea between Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac will take you to another world. The Brac has a very different atmosphere to Grand Cayman and the local ‘Brackers’ are proud of their strong island community and its quite individual character.
The island has about two thousand permanent residents and its wild, rugged landscape is a contrast to what tourists find on Grand Cayman and even on the Brac’s close neighbour, Little Cayman.
Named after the Gaelic word for ‘bluff’, the Brac has the Cayman Islands’ highest elevation – rising to some 43 metres at the north-eastern point.
Caves, natural forest, wild birds and history make Cayman Brac an interesting destination in its own right, or somewhere to spend a few days as part of a Cayman Islands tour. Underwater, Cayman Brac has some of the Caribbean’s best diving.
Find out more about Cayman Brac diving
Cayman Brac is slightly larger than Little Cayman, covering around 14 square miles. The main settlements on the island are West End (close to the airport), Stake Bay and Spot Bay on the northern shore. It’s worth hiring a car on the Brac, and the island features an unusual free service whereby a guide from Nature Cayman
will accompany visitors on a tour of the natural attractions of the island free of charge so long as you provide the transportation. It’s a great way of gaining a real insight into what the Brac is all about.
For an understanding of Cayman Brac’s relationship with the ocean and what it was like to live on the island in times gone by, it’s worth visiting the Brac Museum in Stake Bay. It’s Cayman’s oldest museum and there are displays on boat-building, the turtling industry and artefacts from some of the oldest houses on the island as well as what happened to the community during hurricanes.
For many visitors a stay on the Brac isn’t complete without visiting the underwater treasures of the surrounding coral reefs. Famously, the Brac has the wreck of the Captain Keith Tibbetts – a former Russian warship – that was sunk deliberately in 1996 as an artificial reef. At three hundred feet long this is a spectacular wreck to explore with gun turrets and a resident population of fish, stingrays and eels regularly seen. Cayman Brac’s reefs are some of the most varied in the islands and encounters with Nassau Grouper, Caribbean Reef Sharks, Eagle Rays and stingrays are common.
Underwater visibility is especially good here, with up to fifty metres on the clearest days. The water is warm too from a low of about 25·5°C (78°F) in winter and up to 30°C (86°F) in summer. Depending on the weather it is also possible to make excursions over to the marine park at Bloody Bay on the north shores of Little Cayman to dive the drop-off. Deep-sea fishing and angling are also good on the Brac with Wahoo, Mahi-Mahi and Tuna readily found in the deep offshore waters, as well as Yellow-Fin Tuna and Blue Marlin.
Above water the Brac has a variety of attractions. The island is large enough to allow visitors to explore safely, but not big enough to get lost. A drive to the lighthouse leads you to a lookout point at the top of the bluff, a great spot for viewing nesting Brown Booby (Sula leucogaster) birds (between November and June). White-Tailed Tropic Birds nest here too – from January to September.
Cayman Brac’s most famous resident is the Brac Parrot (Amazona leucocephala hesterna) a small shy bird with brilliant green, red and black plumage.
These birds used to be found on Little Cayman but the resident population there was wiped out by a hurricane almost one hundred years ago. Walkers may enjoy an excursion along boulder strewn ‘Long Beach’ from Spot Bay towards the foot of the Bluff, and a view of the rock outcrop known as ‘Little Cayman Brac’.
Cayman Brac has its own parrot reserve, situated on the central bluff towards the eastern end of the island. This site, just over three hundred acres in total, preserves a tract of ancient woodland and offers walkers an unrivalled chance to see some of the wide variety of plants and birdlife of the island. Apart from the rare Brac parrot the forest is also home to the Vitelline Warbler (Dendroica vitellina), which is also a threatened species.
The best time for birding on the Brac is during the winter – from October to May - when exotic migrants shelter on the island. It’s possible to see dozens of different birds with a little luck and the lucky visitor may see species including Yellow-Bellied Sap Suckers, Summer Tanagers, Yellow-Throated Warblers and even, on occasion, a Peregrine Falcon.
Find out more about bird watching in the Cayman Islands
Another unique aspect of the island is the number of caves dotted around the edge of the cliffs. Many of them have been used as hurricane shelters in the past and include Rebecca’s Cave at the West End, Peter’s Cave and the Great Cave on the south coast. The caves are marked by signposts by the roadside and many have wooden steps allowing access into the interior or along forest trails leading to the caves themselves. Cayman Brac is an island with a natural feel, and a wild environment that rewards the visitor who takes a little time to explore it.
Responsible Travel would like to thank the Cayman Islands tourist board for their sponsorship of this guide