A drink lover’s guide to the Cayman Islands

Luxurious hotels on the Caribbean's Cayman Islands are helping to drive a cocktail bar scene on a par with some of the best in the world

Words by Tyler Zielinski

palm heights cayman islands

Eye-catching blue iguanas, bioluminescent bays, Silver Thatch palm trees and crystal caves are just a few of the hallmarks of the extraordinary Cayman Islands. And now you can add world-class drinking and dining on the soft sands of Seven Mile Beach. The British Overseas Territory, often referred to as the culinary capital of the Caribbean, hits peak season between mid-December and mid-April, when clear skies and calm seas are the norm.

cayman islands
(photo: Tyler Zielinski)

The Caymans comprise three Islands – Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman – nestled 400 kilometres south of Cuba. Cayman Brac offers unparalleled scuba diving, a laidback island experience and local ‘Cayman Kind’ hospitality; while the less travelled and rustic Little Cayman gives a glimpse into the life of remote Caymanian living (its population hardly eclipses 200 people). But for first-time visitors, Grand Cayman is the place to be. And the ultra-chic Palm Heights, the island’s buzziest boutique hotel which opened in 2019, is the place to stay. With its youthful clientele, Instagrammability (definitely a word by now), and top-notch food and drink offering, Palm Heights is helping to usher in a new era for the Cayman Islands.

palm heights
Palm Heights is one of the hotels pioneering a new kind of drinking and dining experience on the Cayman Islands (photo: Tyler Zielinski)

Things to See and Do in the Cayman Islands

Rain or shine, you can immerse yourself in the country’s culture at The National Gallery of the Cayman Islands or The National Museum of the Cayman Islands. But for many, aquatic activities from snorkelling to kayaking and paddleboarding tend to dominate. When the conditions are optimal, a boat trip to Stingray City is an unmissable excursion. Sail out to sea and anchor in waist-deep waters (aka Stingray City Sandbar) where playful stingrays eagerly await, ready to eat from the palm of your hand or come for a cuddle, should you decide to embrace them.

stingray city cayman islands
Stingray City, where cuddles with the aquatic creatures come recommended, but are optional

To experience more of the local wildlife, the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park is home to an array of Caymanian creatures, the highlight being the island’s most exotic resident, the endangered blue iguana.

Camana Bay is a lively waterfront town filled with shops, bars and restaurants, a cinema, and an American-sized supermarket. It’s an example of the significant development that has transformed Grand Cayman in the last decade, and a sign of what’s to come.

Visit in January to align with the world’s most luxurious food festival, Cayman Cookout, where acclaimed Michelin-starred chefs come to play at The Ritz Carlton Grand Cayman for a few days.

Where to eat and drink in the Cayman Islands

It’s difficult to find a bad meal in Grand Cayman, an impressive feat by any standard, but especially so for the Caribbean, where paying obscene resort prices for average food is often the norm. There’s a plethora of options, from the pinnacle of fine dining at Blue by Eric Ripert to more casual options like local favourites Macabuca and Heritage Kitchen.

blue by eric ripert octopus
Find fresh seafood at a dizzying fine-dining standard at Blue by Eric Ripert, a restaurant at the Ritz Carlton on Grand Cayman (photo: Blue by Eric Ripert)

Ms. Piper’s Kitchen + Garden, a bohemian backyard restaurant tucked behind the Hampton by Hilton hotel, is one of the island’s newest dining spots. Contemporary ‘70s nostalgia is highlighted by sunset-orange-and-pink dinnerware, rattan furniture and other kitschy décor. Luca does Italian exceptionally well, with hand-made pasta, a robust wine selection and noteworthy cocktails; and Union Grill and Bar in Camana Bay offers a range of crowd-pleasing dishes. If budget isn’t an issue, head for sushi at Taikun or to Avecita’s Chef’s Table, one of the island’s most intimate options.

Those who make it to Cayman Brac should visit Le Soleil d’Or. The charming boutique resort is home to twenty acres of botanical gardens, where the property sources the majority of its produce.

Le Soleil d’Or
It's not just the food at Le Soleil d’Or's that's a draw - the botanical gardens stretch over twenty acres (photo: Tyler Zielinski)

There’s never been a better time for drinking in the Cayman Islands, with the cocktail bar scene thriving thanks to a flurry of new openings making waves. Library by the Sea, a high-concept cocktail bar at the Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa, has attracted bartending talent from some of the world’s best bars, including Lyaness, the Connaught Bar and Swift in London. Other new arrivals include Next Door and Door No. 4. Order the Date Night at Next Door — a delightful mix of cashew butter-washed rum, Armagnac, date syrup, pineapple and banana liqueur and cocoa bitters – and The Kudo Cooler at Door No. 4, a mix of gin, cucumber, saké, local mango leaf cordial, lime, carbonation and mango skin essence. Meanwhile, at The Ritz Carlton, two new bars have debuted after the hotel’s multi-million-dollar renovation: Silver Palm, where rum is paired with chocolate or cigars, and Saint June, a bar-restaurant rolling back the years with its chic ‘70s and ‘80s décor. It’s arguably the sexiest place to drink on the beach.

kimpton seafire cocktail
Creative cocktails inspired by London's bar scene are on offer at Library by the Sea (photo: Tyler Zielinski)

The can’t-miss occasion, though, is brunch: for Caymanians, the meal is a religion. At Anchor & Den, pay a fixed price and gorge yourself with an overwhelming array of dishes from the lavish buffet. From sushi to sliced-to-order short rib, with bottomless mimosas or local beers. It’s enough to leave even the brunch-loving New Yorker astonished.

Where to Stay in the Cayman Islands

There’s no shortage of luxury hotels, including Palm Heights (read on below for more). The cosy Caribbean Club – home to Luca restaurant – suits families and longer stays thanks to apartment-style suites and villas, plus all of the little details you need to spend a comfortable couple of weeks in paradise.

kimpton seafire hotel
Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa is the choice for those in search of a luxury wellness-based stay (photo: Tyler Zielinski)

For some of the best beachfront access, there’s the Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa, a photogenic spot with top-notch wellness facilities, food and drink offerings and daily activities. And if the serenity of Cayman Brac is calling your name, the breathtaking landscapes found on Le Soleil d’Or are hard to beat.

The Ultimate Drinking Destination

Going out at Palm Heights, you get more than just the drinks; you also get the show. The hotel is teeming with influencers, celebrities, designers, and city-dwellers who have flocked to Grand Cayman specifically for this fashionable institution. It may not be Claridge’s yet, but it’s well on its way to becoming something truly iconic. It just has that energy.

palm heights pina colada
Moreish Piña Coladas are on the menu at the Palm Heights, a new hotel on track for 'icon' status (photo: Tyler Zielinski)

With drinks designed by Pietro Collina (ex-NoMad and Eleven Madison Park), there’s pedigree behind the sumptuous liquids too. Bambi’s is the newest and hottest cocktail lounge on the property, with world-class drinks and DJs spinning. At Coconut Club, the hotel’s casual beachfront cocktail bar, the Martinis are ice cold, the Piña Colada is to die for and the Palm Highballs are scarily drinkable.