Here is a synopsis of our experiences and impressions as an active, but
non-SCUBA, senior couple on a first visit to The Brac in February 2004.
The Brac is as described on numerous promotional web pages.....low key,
friendly people, clean (except for every kind of plastic bottle in the world
along parts of the shoreline), with a high standard of living, and scenic in
it's own way. Primary roads run along both North and South sides of the
island, and a car is a must unless you stay at one of the dive resorts and
limit your eating and activities to the immediate vicinity. Most of the
communities and commerce is on the north shore road running from the village
of West End to Spot Bay on the east end. If you rent a house, villa, or
condo, make sure where it is located. Some are quite remote with no nearby
stores, restaurants, etc. When packing, take half of what you think you'll need.
Especially if you stay at a place with washer and dryer. Wear a cover-up
over beach attire when away from the water, guys and gals. Something a little
dressy if you attend Sunday Services. Otherwise, bathing suits, shorts,
t-shirts, tank tops, blouses, Capri's, sandals, and tennis shoes are in order.
While we had water shoes with us, we felt much more stable on the ironshore wearing
an old pair of "leave behind" tennis shoes. Another good idea is hiking
footwear mentioned below. I wore mine more than tennis shoes.
The Brac is known for it's SCUBA diving, but for novice snorkelers like us,
it was also a great experience. The down side was the limited places to
enter the water. This problem is a result of shoreline consisting of sharp
rocks called "ironshore", which often extends many yards into the ocean.
Beaches on The Brac, except for the public beach on the south side, are
almost non-existent. I have read there are 30 or so places you can enter
the water, which is fine if you have time in a weeks visit to locate them,
along with all your other activities. Another condition that obviously
changes, is the wave action. During our week vacation, it was never
possible to snorkel on the south side of the island because of the surf, and
we had to wait from Sunday to Tuesday to snorkel on the north shore.
According to the local fisherman and others, the north side is the overall
best for snorkeling and diving.
There is an excellent Dept. of Tourism brochure on the numerous trails and
heritage sites on the island. A must see is the small museum at Stake Bay.
A visit to the Lighthouse and hike along the trail is recommended, and while
along that road you can stop for a hike into the Parrot Reserve. Good luck
in sighting one of these colorful birds among the green foliage. The only
one we saw was in a cage in Spot Bay. As a local told us, "the birds don't
know they are in a Reserve, so they fly all over the island". Speaking of
hiking.......I highly recommend sturdy sole hiking shoes or boots, as
opposed to tennis shoes, on even the best maintained paths. The ironshore
mentioned above is actually the primary island terrain. Although the
island is only 12 miles long, we spent two days in the car visiting caves
and other interesting sites. There was never a lack of something to do.
Typical tourist shops are practically non-existent on The Brac (thank
goodness). Unfortunately, there is also a lack of local arts and crafts.
Caymanite, a local semi-precious stone, is made into jewelry, but we were
told most of it is sent to the shops on Grand Cayman. There is a small gift
shop in Spot Bay, where you can see a Brac Parrott. If he's not out
fishing, you can also meet the most colorful character we ran across.
Tenson Scott will tell you fishing tales, or whatever tales you want to
hear, for hours. Ask him how he spells his first name. He is
one-of-a-kind. My wife did find a local basket maker, so if you're
interested in baskets and items woven from the silver thatch palm, locate
Anne Lee Ebanks. She lives near the Texaco Station in West End.
Now, prices. The US$ is worth .80 cents CI, so you're in the hole to begin
with. The costs I mention below are in US$. The prices are not
falsely inflated resort/tourist prices, but every day costs. All goods come
in on the Friday barge, and there is only one barge line. This contributes
to limited consumer goods and high cost. Of course, "expensive" is relative
to your own standards. We live in the Tampa area and I use the food,
service and costs of the Outback, Olive Garden, or similar as a standard.
There is nothing similar, nor should there be, on The Brac, except for the
Captain's Table. The Captain's Table was recommended as the nicest
restaurant on the island for our anniversary dinner, and I agree. That was
our only meal there. Grilled King Fish and shrimp Alfredo, with no
cocktails, no wine, no dessert, and including 15% tip added to the bill, was
$75.00 for two. A call to one of the dive resorts found a chicken and rib
buffet at $25pp, and Wed. lobster buffet at $35.00pp, plus drinks, etc. A
stop at a local drive-in, for lack of better description, found a 4 small
piece fish basket, a basket of conch fritters, and order of fries and no
drinks, at $18.00. The nightly specials at Aunt Sha's and Tropical Delight,
both in West End, we found to be the best food for the price. Dinners there
would run in the $30-35 range including tip. However, don't expect much in
the way of vegetables and fruit in either the restaurants or markets.
Speaking of markets, we found the best selection, including local baked
goods, deli, and fresh made pizza, at The Marketplace in Tibbet's Square in
West End. There are a few others, and locals often have to visit all three
to complete their weekly shopping. A favorite island food is called a "pattie",
which we enjoyed. Give them a try. One variety is made on the Brac, and we
decided it was the best. Also try the Brac bakery goods, usually fresh and
Cayman Brac is a great place to visit and relax, and we will return.
However, in our opinion, I would not take children that have to be doing
something all the time, i.e., my 11 year old grandson. If you want pristine
Caribbean beaches, don't go. If you want fancy restaurants and bars with
the accompanying atmosphere, don't go. If you keep score by what you buy,
don't go. If your accommodations have to be Hyatt caliber, don't go. If in
addition to diving and snorkeling, you need para-sailing, PWC's, tacky
tourist shops, and funky bars, don't go. In other words, if partying is a
big part of your trip, stay on Grand Cayman and have a blast. Do go to
The Brac if you like to explore land and sea on your own, enjoy the meeting
and friendship of the residents, don't care for crowded beaches, prefer a
small local gathering instead of Hooters, love to watch sunsets, and
appreciate a quiet cup of coffee on the shore at sunrise.
We stayed at the North Shore Villa at West End. A two story 1-bedroom house
within walking distance to the Marketplace at Tibbit's Square, and Tropical
Delight restaurant. Our car was from Four D's car rental. One of the D's
is Doyle, who caretakes the house for the absentee owner. We had a minor
house problem, a flat tyre, fortunately in the drive-way, and I also left a
fishing rod upon departure. All were taken care of immediately.