The Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park is a must-visit for anyone hoping to meet some of Grand Cayman’s native species — starting with the iconic blue iguana. The National Trust for the Cayman Islands runs the Blue Iguana Recovery Program (BIRP) located at the park. Whilst visiting the facility you will meet laid-back blues of all ages, munching away on snacks or napping in the sun. You may even meet the world-famous Pete, who met His Royal Highness Prince Charles in March this year. Tours of BIRP take place Monday through Saturday at 10 and 11 a.m.; reservations are not required.
The National Trust also offers interpretive tours of the Mastic Trail, Grand Cayman’s best-known hike through the Island’s oldest forest. Interpretive tours of the Mastic Trail can be booked through the Trust. Reservations are required.
Stuart Mailer, environmental programmes manager, explains, “We usually see Cuban tree frogs, harmless racer snakes, endemic blue-throated anoles and geckos (locally known as “wood slaves”); but by far the most abundant and active animals are the birds.”
In the Summer months, Grand Cayman welcomes hawksbill, loggerhead and green sea turtles to its waters and beaches for nesting season. Snorkellers and divers have a good chance of encountering a full-sized adult in the wild when diving or snorkelling near nesting beaches.
Red Sail Sports’ Senior Captain Mark Tilley shares: “Green turtles (Chelonia mydas) can usually be seen mating at the northern end of Seven Mile Beach in the months of June and July, quite often in groups.” Turtles are shy, so if you see one, marvel from a distance so as not to scare them away. If you’d like to experience turtles close up, a visit to the Cayman Turtle Centre: Island Wildlife Encounter is a must. Here, visitors can pet and interact with yearling turtles and even swim with them in the Turtle Lagoon.
No trip to Grand Cayman is complete without meeting playful southern stingrays. Captain Tilley describes Stingray Sandbar as a floating classroom where guests can see, feel and interact with the stingrays whilst also learning about them — an opportunity synonymous to any visit to Grand Cayman. The stingrays will lap and play in the water whilst guests gently pet them. Those brave enough can get closer by offering them a snack.
“Frisbee, who gets her name from the fact she has no tail, was the first stingray I remember seeing regularly at the sandbar, and she has always been a placid and relaxed creature. Many guests who return to Grand Cayman ask about her — a testament to the power of the experience.”
Grand Cayman is home to many curious and personable birds. The National Trust’s Stuart Mailer explains: “All 13 of Grand Cayman’s endemic bird subspecies are regularly encountered on the Mastic Trail, along with several other woodland and wetland birds.” One of the 13 endemic birds you may encounter on the trail is the national bird of the Cayman Islands: the Grand Cayman parrot. This vivid green and curious bird is usually found in pairs, camouflaged in the greenery of tropical trees.
When asked where the best place to see the Grand Cayman parrot is, Mailer answered, “They can frequently be found along the Mastic Trail, particularly in the early morning near to the southern trailhead; but the best place to see parrots in the wild is at the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park.” In his opinion, the botanic park is the single best place for birding in Grand Cayman.
As National Flag Carrier for the Cayman Islands, Cayman Airways embraces the role as ambassador to the world and proudly shows off our mascot — Sir Turtle, inspired by our Islands’ own turtles — on our planes.
Author: Stacie Sybersma