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Last year, Christopher Columbus Condos was excited to become the first development on Seven Mile Beach to implement turtle-friendly lighting. Today, we are delighted to announce that thanks to this update, 142 baby sea turtles hatched on our beach earlier this week.

A few weeks ago, the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (DOE) began monitoring a nest that was found next to one of our beach huts. They determined that because of our turtle-friendly lighting, the eggs would not have to be moved to another location. On November 12, the eggs hatched and the tiny turtles made their way to the sea with a little help from the DOE and cheers from onlooking CCC guests.

CCC’s turtle-friendly lighting was installed as part of a partnership with the DOE in an effort to help preserve the sea turtle community. This was the first nest on our beach since the lighting was installed, and we hope for many more in the coming years.


*Photo courtesy of property manager Lisa!

What is turtle-friendly lighting?

Turtle nesting season occurs yearly between May and September, and hatchlings appear between July and November. Momma turtles come up onto the beach to lay their eggs, and then after 50–60 days, the hatchlings emerge and begin their journey back to the ocean.

When baby turtles hatch, they use the light of the moon to help navigate them to the ocean. Bright, blue-spectrum lighting on buildings can mimic the lighting of the moon, disorienting the hatchlings and leading them into dangerous places like further up the beach, nearby properties, or even roads. LED lights sit more on the orange end of the light spectrum, which doesn’t bother or confuse turtle hatchlings.

Due to the endangered status of green, loggerhead, and hawksbill turtles, the DOE is working on an official policy that would require new developments on Seven Mile Beach to implement turtle-friendly lights. These regulations would be based on similar ones enacted along the Florida coastline, which have been incredibly successful and world-renowned in helping preserve the turtle population.


Attractive and environmentally friendly

In addition to helping out our turtle friends, LED lighting is more energy-efficient and aesthetically pleasing. The warm lighting creates a cozy, modern atmosphere outside the condos and around the pool. Enjoy watching the stars without distracting bright lights, and don’t worry, you’ll still be able to see your way back inside after taking in every second of gorgeous Cayman sunsets on the beach.

Owner Keith Holloway who oversaw the lighting installation last year says, Christopher Columbus is “invested in keeping the property current and modern for the enjoyment of our guests.” New lighting is one of many improvements that have been made in recent years, including in-unit wi-fi, enlarged laundry facilities, a roomy oceanside gazebo, and more.

*Photo courtesy of condo owner Marsha O'Daniel. This was taken in 2014 when the DOE came to CCC's section of the beach to assist some turtle hatchlings and allowed lucky viewers a chance to see the baby turtles up close.


Heads up for turtle nests

We would like to thank the DOE for monitoring the nest on our beach and for all the continued work they do preserving the sea turtle population in Grand Cayman. Guests can do their part in helping turtles as well. If you notice any turtle tracks on our segment on the beach, let a CCC staff member know or call the DOE directly as soon as possible. The DOE will properly secure and tag the nest so the hatchlings can have the best possible chances at survival. Remember, disturbing a turtle nest is against Cayman Islands’ law so if you see anyone harming a turtle or a nest, you should notify CCC staff or the Cayman police.

Since the DOE began monitoring nests on Seven Mile Beach in 1998, nest numbers have increased from just 30 a year to over 300. We hope that our new turtle-friendly lighting can help foster a comfortable and safe environment for many more nests to come!

This post was originally published on May 31, 2018 and updated November 14, 2019 to share great results from the original lighting project.


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The blue iguana is a beautiful and important animal native to the Cayman Islands. The blue iguanas, or blues, were once faced with extinction, but are now on their way back to a stable, healthy population. We were lucky enough to get some insights into how the blue iguanas are being revitalized from Nick Ebanks. Nick is the Operations Manager of the Blue Iguana Recovery, which is an initiative of The National Trust for the Cayman Islands. The recovery itself is located on the grounds of Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park on the north side of the island, about a 45 minute drive from the condos.

The Blue Iguana Recovery Program was founded in 1990 as an effort to save the critically endangered species, whose population was down to only 30. The facility cares for and monitors blue iguanas, aids in the breeding process, strategically releases ready iguanas into the wild, and works with research institutions to help ensure genetic diversity within the wild population. In July 2018, the program hit a huge milestone when the wild population reached 1,000 blues. Though the program has successfully saved the blue iguanas from extinction, the work isn’t over. The ultimate goal is for the blues to be able to naturally breed and support themselves in the wild, thus eliminating the need for the program altogether. Nick says, “If we lose our jobs—perfect. That’s the goal.”


The very photogenic Peter

As Nick showed us around the rescue, I asked him a few questions about himself. Nick is a native Caymanian from West Bay. Though he didn’t always expect to be a conservationist, he’s grown to deeply appreciate and respect all forms of living creatures. After a period of time working with bats, he began volunteering at the iguana rescue around four years ago. After getting plenty of on-the-job experience, he worked all the way up to his operations manager position today. When asked what he likes most about his job, he said he really enjoys spending time outdoors, and working with great, like-minded people who are all very dedicated to taking care of the iguanas. He said conservation is very fulfilling and meaningful work, plus it’s an added bonus to be free from the restrictions that come along with an office job.

As we looked around, one of Nick’s coworkers, warden Alberto, joined us. Alberto showed us the “main attraction” blue iguana, Peter. Peter was born in 2003 to wild parents, but he liked to hang around Botanic Park so much that he basically adopted the staff himself! The program recruited Peter as an educational animal since he is so friendly—he enjoys being picked up by Alberto to be shown to visitors and isn’t bothered at all by attention. As I soon learned, Alberto himself is also a bit of a park star. He has a huge heart for the iguanas and is a beloved tour guide, so I’d highly recommend you request him if you stop by!


Alberto and Nick 

In addition to meeting a few of these sweet iguanas, the best thing about the tour was learning all about the animals from Nick. The iguanas blue color can change due to their environment, the sun, their food, and mood. It’s also a great indicator of overall health, so the staff monitors each iguana's color every day. One of the neatest things I saw while visiting was a small territorial spat between two roaming iguanas, Shreddy and Orro. Nick explained that Orro tread a little too closely on Shreddy’s territory, then pointed out how Orro took up a submissive posture and her color turned more light blue as a show of, “Hey, I know you’re top iguana, it’s all good here.” It was very cool to see up close!

As you might have guessed, Nick’s passion for animals and the Cayman wilderness extends beyond just his day job. At home he is fostering a dog named Vinny. He also tries to spend as much time as possible outdoors, doing everything from climbing, exploring, and observing native birds and insects to getting in a game of ultimate frisbee. “I like to keep it nice and simple—busy and simple,” he says. Once he reaches the goal of the blue iguanas being able to sustain themselves in the wild, he'd like to work with revitalizing native bird populations.


A beautiful blue enjoying basking in the sun in Botanic Park

I highly recommend you come visit the blues yourself the next time you’re on island and say hi to Nick, Alberto, and Peter. You can catch one of two daily tours given, Monday through Saturday, or you can schedule a private tour. Then you should see if you can spot some of the roaming blues in Botanic Park! Check out their website for more information about tour times.

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I was so excited when I first heard about the "Explorer Passport" created by the National Trust for the Cayman Islands.  I've been visiting Cayman for about 5 years, and was surprised to discover that I'd been to less than half of the places included in the passport. There are some points of interest that I hadn't even heard of which goes to show there is always something new to discover on this island.

The passport is an awesome activity booklet that the National Trust created to promote the cultural, historical and natural wonders of the island. It has 39 points of interest inside and comes with a poster-map and stickers to place on each location as you visit them.

The booklet describes the significance of each attraction and has extra tips for things to do, try or look for at each place. You'll find yourself eager to go to each spot so you can proudly put another sticker on your map. Kids will love the stickers and fun activities, and adults—you will love developing a deep sense of connection to the island as you learn more about what makes it so special; and who are we kidding, you will love the stickers, too!

The fun doesn't stop with the stickers and the map either. There are extra tips in the booklet which are presented as 3 things to check off at every place. The tips give even more reason to visit each attraction and made me want to revisit most of the places I had already been so I could experience something I missed the first time. For instance, one of the points of interest is Boggy Sand Road; the book explains that the street is lined with historic homes and the extra tips ask if you've seen:

  • Gingerbread fretwork (each district was known for its unique style)
  • Zinc roofs and expansive verandas
  • Traditional sand yards trimmed with conch shells

Although I've been to this sweet street before, I didn't know to look for these things that are culturally significant to the island. It made me want to go back and check off each item and read more about the traditional architecture in Cayman. 

The map even includes some culturally important places that few locals know about. While I was taking pictures of Miss Lassie's House, another place in the passport, a jogger approached on what seemed like her daily route. She saw me taking photos of the house and then saw the house. She stopped, pulled out her phone and took a couple of snapshots of the place saying she had never noticed it before. It's amazing what you miss when you're not looking for something.

There's so much joy in the "hunt," and taking your passport along on an island road-trip makes for easy exploring. A lot of the attractions are free and you can drive up to several of them anytime (even on Sundays when many island shops and attractions are closed).

So grab the passport and hit the road for some adventure. I suggest taking the day as it comes. Just pick a place on the map and go! Since some of the attractions are "off the beaten path" you'll discover a lot of things along the way, too. For instance, my husband and I found Dart Park by The National Trust—one of the stops on the map. At Dart Park you'll find super cool trees, an iron-shore full of fossils and little hermit crabs. It wasn't on the map, but we wouldn't have discovered it if we hadn't pulled in to see the Trust. We also happened upon a stretch of highway that followed the southern coastline just past Miss Lassie's House. Somehow in the five years I'd been frequenting Cayman we always bypassed that stretch of coastal highway and it was really pretty. I was so glad we found it.

Some of my favorite spots on the map have been Spotts Beach (for the sea turtles!), Crystal Caves and Heritage Beach. Honestly, I've enjoyed visiting them all, but I don't want to spoil any more of the fun for you.

Pick up your very own "Explorer Passport" at the National Trust and start discovering Cayman like never before. The packet only costs $10 KYD, and you'll have a blast checking off each location. Enjoy, and let us know when you've checked off all 39!

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Ann Stafford loves natural history. Fortunately for us, she also loves sharing facts about natural history with others. We first came across Ann when we discovered her blog CaymAN Nature (she is quick to point out her name in the middle of the two words) while researching for another post of our own. We found her blog to be so full of great information that we wanted to learn more about the author behind all of this first-hand Cayman knowledge!

Growing up in the English countryside, Ann’s parents taught her to identify plants and animals at a young age, and what they didn’t teach her, she learned through countless books. In 1973, Ann and her husband moved to Grand Cayman. She immediately fell in love with the island and began to immerse herself in learning about the native flora and fauna. Around this time, she unfortunately began to witness many native plants being destroyed by invasive species. Ann dedicated herself to conserving the native plant life and educating others on conserving the food chain in Cayman—if the native plants disappear, so will the native animals who depend on them. 

In order to educate others, Ann works to spread and publish her findings. In addition to her blog, Ann gained such an in-depth knowledge of Cayman plants and butterflies that she co-wrote the book Butterflies of the Cayman Islands with visiting entomologist Dr. Richard Robinson Askew. Ann is also a photographer and contributed images to the book Flora of the Cayman Islands. For a time she even lead tours of the island for a groups of journalists for the Department of Tourism.



In addition to butterflies and flora, Ann is especially interested in the early settlement of the Cayman Islands, including survival, livelihood, and exports. One livelihood custom in particular stood out and left her with a desire to learn more. This custom just happens to involve gravestones! On the island, you can find many gravestones shaped like small houses instead of the rounded shape the majority of us are familiar with. These gravestones were built in the 1800s and can be found in a variety of locations including Old Man Bay, North Side, and Bodden Town, to name a few.

On her blog, Ann explains in more detail: 
"The graves were marked, not by mounds of earth and headstones, or great massive tombs, but by houses in miniature, just large enough each to cover one person; mostly about six feet long, two feet broad, and one and a half high, with a sloping roof and full gable end, in which was inserted a small slab containing containing the name of the occupant, his age, and the day on which he entered his narrow home, 'the house appointed for all living.'" 



To learn more about these house-shaped gravestones and the Cayman natives buried there, you can visit the cultural page on Ann's blog.

Today, Ann guides guests around Grand Cayman on Nature and Historic Tours, sharing Cayman's fascinating history with others while she continues to share her countless nature photographs on social media and her blog. If you're looking for a unique tour experience, give Ann a ring next time you're on island! 
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What is Caymanite?

I recently discovered that Cayman has it’s very own semi-precious rock, Caymanite! I’m so excited to share more about this indigenous rock, and how all of you that love Cayman as much as I do can find a piece of it to take home with you.

Caymanite is only found in the Cayman Islands, and local artisans use the rock to make beautiful jewelry and special gifts. According to Pure Art Gallery & Gifts, a whimsical gift shop on South Church Street, Caymanite can be found in the higher regions of both Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac.

In its natural form Caymanite looks like a slate-like rock and can come in earth tones of brown, grey, red and white. Layers of these colors throughout the rock help identify this unique commodity. When cut and polished for jewelry the colors and layers are brilliantly displayed.

You can find Caymanite jewelry at the Craft Market, National Museum Gift Shop and several shops in Georgetown, but my favorite place to shop for Caymanite is at Pure Art Gallery & Gifts. They have a massive collection of not only jewelry made from Caymanite but gifts, too, including crosses, business card holders, stingray figurines and more. And if you’d prefer to have a piece in its natural form, they have small rocks for sale at the shop, as well.

I picked up a beaded Caymanite bracelet from Pure Art on my last trip to the island. The earthy colors stack really well with other bracelets. I usually add a bright coral beaded bracelet to play off of the natural colors of the Caymanite and sometimes a small leather cuff to create a fun indie mix. What I love most about the bracelet, though, is that I feel a special connection to the islands when I’m wearing it. It truly is the most authentic reminder I have of my home-away-from-home.

bracelet on wrist in front of the ocean and pure art sign

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It’s no surprise that Grand Cayman offers many water-based sporting activities for anyone looking to have an ocean adventure. However, for repeat guest Susan Corbitt and her husband, paddle boarding is so much more than a sport. It has served as a source of tranquility, and it can for you, too. (Several rental companies will even deliver paddle boards to Christopher Columbus Condos for your ultimate convenience.)

We chatted with Susan about her experience paddle boarding during her last visit to CCC and exactly what makes it so special. Keep reading to learn more.

Question: What were your expectations of paddle boarding before you ever stepped foot on a board?

Susan Corbitt: Just to have fun! I also wanted to go out farther in the ocean than I could just by swimming.

Q: How long did it take to get used to the paddle board/to stand up?

SC: Not long at all. I was standing up within the first 5 minutes. (See our tips for first-timers at the end of this post if you're not as lucky as Susan—we don't all get up on the first try. 😉)

Q: What kind of sights did you see while out on the water?

SC: We got to swim with a school of fish like we were a part of them. We also saw coral, and a tiny shark!

Q: What is the best difference between traveling in a boat versus a paddle board?

SC: You are more like a part of the water, closer to and in it. The water would splash in my face and I loved that!

Q: What makes paddleboarding such a unique experience for you?

SC:The tranquility of it, it’s such a peaceful and relaxing experience. Paddleboarding gives me a calm and ability to appreciate all of God’s creation.On the last day we had our boards, we went out into the water right before sunset and it was perfect.

Q: Do you have any tips for others who want to try paddleboarding?

SC: Do it! Don't be afraid to stand up. Be aware that the further you are from shore the waters become rougher.

Other tips for beginners:

1. Be sure to check the weather and wind conditions.
2. Make sure the board's fin is deep enough underwater that it doesn't touch the ground once you put your weight on it. 
3. Stand with your feet, hip-width apart, knees slightly bent and back straight.
4. Keep your eyes on the horizon for best stability.
5. Keep your paddle in a vertical orientation, using your core muscles to propel yourself, not just your arms. For a more detailed explanation of paddling technique, check out this helpful video

Susan's paddle boards were rented and delivered to Christopher Columbus Condos from Paradise Paddle. Each rental includes a paddle board, paddle, leash, life vest and a crash-course lesson (if you want one), making it an excellent option for a first-timer. Paradise Paddle offers a variety of other items like kayaks and snorkel gear, as well, if you want to go all out on your next ocean adventure!

Did we miss any must-know tips for beginning paddleboarders? Let us know your paddleboarding secrets in the comments below! 
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Learning about other cultures is a fascinating journey, and Cayman culture is worth the exploration. Take some time to see if you can find the following trees of cultural significance to the Cayman Islands and their products on your next trip to the island. (Make a scavenger hunt out of it!) Some produce literal fruits that are happily consumed, while others have been used to create essential products for the island. 

Ironwood Tree

There are common trees around the world called Ironwood, but the tree referred to as the Ironwood tree in Cayman is endemic to the Cayman Islands, important to the culture and unfortunately endangered. Used to build the framework for early homes (like Dovovan’s grandfather’s home), the wood of the tree is heavy, water resistant and termite proof. Ironwood was first used in Wattle and Daub construction and then throughout the years in various construction.

Where they grow: Dense forests such as the Ironwood Forest, Forest at Crystal Caves, and Mastic Reserve

Where you can see them in use:

nurse leila home
Nurse Leila’s home pictured above is a Wattle and Daub structure built with ironwood.

schoolhouse
Another ironwood supported structure is the Old Savannah Schoolhouse built in 1940.

Silver Thatch Palm

Also used in the Wattle & Daub buildings (for roofs) of early settlers, the Silver Thatch Palm was used in a multitude of additional products, many with economical value, and is vastly significant to the history of the Cayman Islands. The Silver Thatch was weaved into ropes, hats, brooms, baskets, fans and much more. The thatched rope was in high demand from neighbors in Cuba and Jamaica and thereby created a roping industry that helped support the island. Because of it's impact, it's no surprise the Silver Thatch Palm is the national tree of the islands.

Where they grow: All over the island and especially present on the East End

Where you can find products: Try the Cayman Craft Market at The Waterfront in Georgetown or one of the local Farmers Markets for thatched products.


A Caymanian shows off a broom made of Silver Thatch in front of the plant itself in her yard.

Breadfruit Tree

The Breadfruit Tree has long been providing sustenance to those living on island. According to A Cayman Childhood Remembered by Jackie Bodden, a Breadfruit is “a large, round, usually seedless fruit with a starchy pulp. When cooked it tastes similar to an Irish potato.” The breadfruit is still a popular fruit today among Caymanians—in fact Lisa, our property manager, gifted me a breadfruit during my last trip to Cayman. She said that Caymanians love to eat breadfruit with fish, with gravy, with fried chicken, with anything!

Where they grow: All over the island, and grown in the yards of many residents.

Where you can find breadfruit: When in season you can buy breadfruit in local grocery stores, and some local restaurants such as Da Fish Shack in Georgetown or Vivine’s Kitchen in the East End.

breadfruit
Breadfruit growing on Lisa's tree.

two breadfruit

Ackee Tree

Speaking of what to eat breadfruit with, ackee and cod is another dish that Caymanians love to pair with the fruit. The Ackee tree bears a red fruit that can be toxic before it is ripe or when it is too old, so it’s important to get the fruit from a store or a local that knows when it is ready to eat. When ripe it’s full of many healthy nutrients. The meat of the ackee fruit looks similar to scrambled eggs, and has a slightly sweet and slightly bitter taste that is the perfect compliment to the codfish. The ackee and cod dish is especially popular for breakfast.

Where they grow: Grown in the yards of many residents, these trees became prevalent when Jamaicans migrated to Cayman in the 60's according to Roger Ebanks.

Where you can find ackee: Eat like a local and grab ackee and cod for breakfast at Full of Beans Cafe or Champion House II, both in Georgetown.

caymanian woman with her ackee tree
Mrs. Nettie, a local Caymanian, shows us an ackee tree in her yard.

Seagrape & Popnut Trees

Original homesteads in Grand Cayman were often shaded by seagrape and popnut trees. Popnut trees were also used in the making of Cayman catboats (along with mahogany and fiddlewood trees). Both trees tend to grow near the shore. The seagrape tree is known for its green leaves with red veining and the edible fruit that it bears (ask a local how to tell when seagrapes are ripe for eating). The popnut tree has yellow flowers that last only a day and turn maroon by the end of the day. It also has a brown leathery fruit bulb that resembles a nut.

Where they grow: Head to the sea and you’re sure to find one or both of these trees. You can enjoy the shade of seagrape and popnut trees at Smith’s Cove and many other beaches on Grand Cayman, including our very own beach here at CCC!

seagrape tree
Catch this seagrape tree by the swing here at CCC. There's also one by the boat shed on the other side of our beach.

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There are so many things to do in Grand Cayman that it's easy to miss these gems that are just off the beaten path. Next time you're in Cayman and you're looking for something different to do, visit some of these hidden places patiently awaiting your arrival.


  1. Nature Path at Wreck of the Ten Sail

You may have heard of the Wreck of the Ten Sail Memorial, but few people talk about the gorgeous nature that surrounds it including a path that winds through palm trees, plumeria plants and more. It's worth a leisurely stroll!


   
spotify island playlist
  2. The Bird Sanctuary

The Governor Michael Gore Bird Sanctuary is tucked in it's own little corner of the Spotts Newlands area right off of Shamrock Road. The sanctuary includes a small pond with a dock and bench for wildlife viewing. The pond is full of turtles that will swim up to you when you step onto the dock, too. 

     
book
  3. Smith's Cove

Smith's Cove, a local favorite, provides the perfect place to wade in the water, and the beach area is surrounded by trees that provide plenty of shade to read a book, unpack a picnic or simply reflect. Katrina McTaggart even called it a magical place for refuge.

     
coffee mug on beach hut table
  4. Lover's Wall

Grab your sweetie and take a drive to Lover's Wall in the East End on Sea View Road. You'll find it right before you get to The Blowholes. Pull off the road to walk around the quiet coast and of course snap an Instagram-worthy pic with your special someone in front of the sign.

     

  5. The Mangroves

The mangroves serve an important ecological purpose in Cayman. You'll need to go by kayak to explore them as quarters can get tight! Lucky for you we wrote a post all about kayaking through them here. It's a mix of nature, education and fun.  

     

  6. Heritage Beach

This beach is a great picnic spot, and one frequented by East Enders looking for a quiet family lunch or peaceful break. The beach is owned and protected by the National Trust as one of the few remaining natural stretches of beach land in Cayman. 

     
underwater photo of girls with sand dollars
  7. Library Beach

This teeny beach on the East End is one that any self-described book lover has to visit for at least a fun photo opp. Don't forget a book and your shushing pose! An introvert's dream beach!

 

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When I arrived for a tour of the Crystal Caves, I expected to just learn about things like stalagmites and stalactites. But thanks to tour guide Donovan Ebanks, I came back from the excursion with a new appreciation for the history, flora, and ecology of Grand Cayman.

As he drove the tour group down a winding road, Donovan told us that the caves are located 62 feet above sea level, which is the highest point on Grand Cayman. There are over one hundred caves across seventy-five acres, three of which were open to the public at the time we visited with more openings to come in the future. 

Donovan grew up around three miles from the Crystal Caves on his grandfather’s fifty-acre farm. He eventually made a move to the United States, where he worked as a bartender in San Diego for around twenty-five years. He ended up back home on Grand Cayman when a San Diego connection recruited him to come work as a tour guide for Crystal Caves. As a child, Donovan explored the caves with his friends, so it felt like there wasn't anyone better to show us around. 

Along the pathway, Donovan stopped to point out the red birch tree. He called it the living fence post, but also the Tourist Tree. “Why do we call it the Tourist Tree? Cuz it’s red and peelin’.” He knocked away a few peels of bark and waited for our laughter.

That wasn’t the only funny joke Donovan had up his sleeve, however, and he would frequently make a joke, wait a beat, and then exclaim, “Just kidding guys!” Donovan was great with the kids on the tour, making sure to explain certain facts just to them so they didn’t feel left out.

Once inside the first of three caves, Donovan explained how he and his friends would come explore the caves. Before the caves were cleared out for visitors to enjoy, they were filled with rocks and red sand, which meant no clear walkways or paths. Donovan said he’d crawl through the caves on his hands and knees, playing with his friends and gaining them all amateur-spelunker status. He was sure to warn us that the red sand is impossible to get out of clothing, so we should be careful. While he didn’t mention getting in trouble as a kid for coming home covered in stains, I did wonder how his grandfather must have felt about it!

Outside each cave and along the walkways, Donovan would stop to point out specific trees and plants and their many uses. “Take a look,” he’d say and would let us gather around. He explained that the green papaya is the best world’s meat tenderizer. Amazingly, the fruit off soursop trees can be made into a tea that helps fight high blood pressure and even has  properties that can prevent cancer. The ironwood tree provides wood as sturdy as the name suggests—Donovan’s grandfather’s house was framed with ironwood and withstood many hurricane seasons in Grand Cayman.

Donovan also explained how the bounty of the land provided the island with economic opportunities in early settlement days. Leaves from the Silver Thatch Palm were weaved into ropes and hats that were sold to traders, as well as used for roof thatching at home. The Silver Thatch Palm is indigenous to the Cayman Islands and is not only the national tree but also makes an appearance on the country’s flag.

Inside the caves, Donovan showed us some of the more noteworthy formations and shared the fun names the staff and other tourists had come up with, including the cathedral room, the Statue of Liberty, and the dragon. There was even a formation that looked like a head and was wearing a pair of sunglasses. "These caves are very much alive," he told us, explaining that the water droplets that sprinkled us in the head meant the stalactites were growing, albeit very slowly. "If you get hit with a water droplet, it's seven years good luck!" By the time we were through, I'd saved up enough good luck to last me several decades. 

While the Crystal Caves were beautiful, I was most interested in Donovan’s knowledge of the island. His stories brought a new appreciation for the Cayman people, their resourcefulness, and the landscape of the island itself. I wasn't the only one—at the end of the tour, another guest from New Jersey turned to me and said, “I think what Donovan had to say about all the plants was the best part.”

Check out the Crystal Caves for yourself, and if you see Donovan, be sure to ask him about his dance moves. :)

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Deep in the mangrove forests you will find blissful shade, interesting wildlife and peace for days. My fiancé and I recently took a kayak tour with Sea Elements through the Central Mangrove Wetlands of Cayman, and it's an activity I would highly recommend. Our tour guide Mandy was so awesome and made the trip fascinating and fun.

We started the tour by boarding our kayaks from the Cayman Islands Yacht Club. Mandy gave us a 10 minute tutorial on how to maneuver around before we boarded our little vessels. I'd only kayaked once before and felt totally comfortable once on board. We left the bay, paddled past gorgeous waterfront homes and then crossed the open waters of the sound channel to the main mangrove area. As we passed by the mangroves, I saw iguanas poking their heads out of the trees and sunbathing on the limbs. They looked like kings up there.

kayaking through canal

We learned that there are 3 types of mangrove trees in Cayman. The red, black and white mangroves make up one of the most important ecological elements of Grand Cayman providing an irreplaceable habitat for many species, protecting the mainland from storms, helping provide rainfall to the West End and—my favorite—filtering out the residue from murky waters resulting in the crystal clear waters for which Cayman is known. While on the tour, our guide Mandy, told us how to tell the 3 types of mangroves apart which included scratching the leaves and licking them too!

As we were navigating around the perimeter of the mangrove forest, Mandy found little spots at which we could stop and rest while she taught us fun facts. She plucked flora and fauna from the trees and the water for us to handle and see. The first was an upside down jellyfish also known as Cassiopeia. She told us to look for green bean looking things hanging from the red mangrove and explained that those are actually little mangrove plants that would eventually fall and take root. I was impressed to learn that they could live up to a year floating on water before planting their roots. We also handled a poisonous algae that makes up much of the sand on the beaches here. Luckily the algae isn't poisonous to humans! We laughed when Mandy told us the other "ingredient" that makes up the sand. You'll have to take the tour to find that one out. ;)

collage of mangroves

We wandered around the perimeter for awhile until heading into the mangroves through small creek like channels. We paddled those for some time and then took a turn into a very narrow pathway. With paddles now stowed in the kayak we used our hands to grab branches and pull our way through the coolest tree-webbed passageway. I had no idea we'd be going through them like this and was excited as we slowly made our way through. Everyone was quiet as we soaked in our surroundings deep in the mangroves.

Exiting the passageway we saw a blue heron take flight, and would later see two more. I'd never seen them so close! We pulled over again and Mandy showed us mermaid's cup, a little algae plant with a suction like cup that looks like a wine glass. She stuck it to her nose and then continued to share more.

During one of our "pull-overs" she picked up a squishy little sea creature that didn't look like much more than larvae. However, we learned that this little creature informally called a sea squirt is the only animal in the world that grows a bacteria that's used to treat soft cell cancers. With this, Mandy reminded us with sweet class how important it is to protect the small things!

learning about the mangrove forest

After about 2 hours we found our way back to the dock where we had started. I left with a new respect for the mangroves and my curious soul satisfied. Mandy was truly a pro and had an admirable passion for the the mangroves. Holding a degree in Marine Biology, she was full of knowledge but we especially loved how she communicated in layman's terms.

Next time you are in Cayman, definitely make time for a trip to the Central Mangrove Wetlands. I'd suggest bringing sunscreen, an appetite for learning and a sense of humor if you plan to kayak with a partner! You can learn more about the tour we took on Sea Elements website.


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