NEW YORK, July 17, 2013 — Among Caribbean watchers, much has been written about Camana Bay, a planned community rooted in new urbanism that’s poised to blossom into Grand Cayman’s largest town.
The ambitious 50-year plan includes office buildings, residences, shops, fountains, parks and a marina on 500 acres of land that used to be a mangrove swamp. The vibe is Menlo Park, California meets Caribbean island.
Already a thicket of contemporary office buildings has become prime real estate for hedge fund, banking and accounting firms. The pedestrian-friendly shopping district has become the chic shopping center for the well-heeled on the island. And Camana Bay’s restaurant and bars have earned “favorite” status among many locals.
But what does all this mean for travelers? Well, it means that they now can mingle easily with locals, rather than been relegated to a tourists-only zone. (There are future plans for a hotel but for now most overnight guests stay on the pristine Seven Mile Beach, where a clutch of low slung traditional Caymanian condo complexes along with upmarket hotels like The Ritz Carlton and the Westin are located.)
For visitors without a car—most—Camana Bay is an easy destination. A five-minute taxi ride runs about $10 from Seven Miles Beach.
Camana Bay has already become a mecca for island shopping. Boutiques are tucked along streets that spoke off the main pedestrian boulevard called the Paseo. Among the smartest shops:
Bon Vivant: This kitchen supply store showcases coveted gear like Le Creuset crocks and Caribbean cookbooks. It is also where expats order high-end ranges and fridges. There’s a commercial kitchen where the staff turns out cooking lessons for adults and kids.
Books & Books: This is a real bookstore, the kind you’ve been craving in this sterile age of online shopping. It also happens to host one of Camana Bay’s most popular family activities: story time.
The Cabana: This bubbly boutique is a shrine to all things Lily Pulitzer from tote bags to tunics, bling to sandals, girl’s party dresses to women’s shorts.
Sand Angels: Forget your bathing suit? Want a new one? This shop is a repository of bathing suits, tankinis, bikinis and cover-ups. Look for the sale rack, where high-end resort wear can be slashed as much as 75%.
Farmer’s Market: On Wednesdays and Saturdays, this small but thriving market, is where you’ll find island chefs scoping fresh, local ingredients for their restaurants. Visitors can try bites of breadfruit and buy spicy homemade pepper sauce.
Kids should pack their bathing suits because no matter what your plans, when you arrive at Camana Bay the first thing they will want to do is frolic in the dancing fountain, which is choreographed to change randomly, at times soaring to 30 feet in the air.
Families will also love the Observation Tower, which is the tallest point in Grand Cayman. Adults will appreciate the 360-degree view of the island, but kids love scampering up the double helix staircase, passing an elaborate mosaic depicting the Caribbean Sea, and then jabbing at the buttons on the elevator ride down.
Karoo: Go at Happy Hour for tapas and cocktails. Order a pitcher of mojitos with muddled raspberry and lime (enough for five people). Share small plates of conch fritters (it is the Caribbean) and artisanal pizza.
Ortanique: Helmed by Miami chef Cindy Hudson, this harbor-front restaurant riffs on traditional Caribbean cuisine with dishes like a jerk-rubbed Cornish game hen served with sautéed callalloo and enormous pork chops slathered in homemade mango BBQ sauce and paired with yucca cakes.
Michaels’ Genuine: Lunch and dinner here offer fresh fare, but Sunday brunch is where this restaurant shows off its mad skills. An inventive menu commands you to experiment. Order a disparate array of dishes like kimichi Benedict with pork belly, house-smoked fish tacos and addictive hand-cut potato chips.
George Town, the historic downtown is where City Hall and the library are located. It also has the bulk of Grand Cayman shops that sell everything from T-shirts to Rolexes. Because the stores cater mostly to cruise ship traffic, the town rolls up in the evening once the ships have pulled out.
Camana Bay has reawakened the sleepy island after dark, giving locals and visitors a place to gather. In addition to the restaurants that tumble to the edge of the boardwalk at the harbor, there’s a six-screen movie theater that plays first run U.S. releases. On Tuesday nights, families gather in a public square for free outdoor movies.
The West Indies Wine Bar, which stays open until midnight on weekends, has a whip-smart staff and a buzzy patio. Do a tasting with a sommelier or help yourself with your smartcard, which gives you access to wine stations dispensing 80 different wines.
Close out the night strolling along the waterfront and you’ll understand why residences at Camana Bay are so coveted even though they are not on the ocean. For visitors, Camana Bay may just provide a reason to extend their vacations another day, or two.
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