The three Cayman Islands, Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, are located in the western Caribbean about 150 miles south of Cuba, 460 miles south of Miami, Florida, and 167 miles northwest of Jamaica.
Cayman Brac is an island that lies about 143 km northeast of Grand Cayman in the Caribbean Sea. It is about 19 km long, with an average width of 2 km, meaning that the total area is approximately 38 square km (14.7 square miles). Its terrain is the most prominent of the three Cayman Islands. “The Bluff”, a large central limestone outcrop, rises steadily along the length of the island up to 43 m (140 feet) above the sea at the eastern end. The island is named after this prominent feature, as “brac” is a Gaelic name for a bluff. The population of the island was estimated at 1,822 in 1999.
Christopher Columbus sighted Cayman Brac and its sister island, Little Cayman, in 1503 when his ship was blown off course during a trip between Hispaniola and Panama. He named them “Las Tortugas” because of the many turtles he spotted on the islands. The Cayman Islands were renamed by Sir Francis Drake, who landed on them during a voyage in 1585-86. He used the word “Caymanas”, taken from the Carib name for crocodiles after seeing many of the large crocodilians. Many people believe he had only seen the Rock Iguanas that inhabit the island today.
Of interest to scuba divers is a 100 m (330 ft) Russian Koni class frigate built in the Soviet Union in 1984 for the Cuban Navy. It is one of only a few sunken Soviet naval vessels in the Western Hemisphere, and the only one that is easily dived. The Koni II class frigate was purchased and sunk by the Cayman Islands government in September 1996. Originally designated 356, the frigate was rechristened the M/V Captain Keith Tibbetts, after a well-known Cayman Brac politician. The wreck is the only Russian warship that divers can explore in the Western hemisphere. It originally sat upright at a depth of 27 m (89 ft) with the deck at 18 m (59 ft), until wave action generated by a winter Norwester storm (December 1998-January 1999) which nearly tore the ship in two. The result was that the fore section tipped to about a 45 degree angle in relation to the remainder of the still-upright aft portion and the midship became a debris field. The wreck’s stern area was essentially unaffected. The frigate is located in a sandy area with generally good visibility, 200 m (660 ft) offshore (a fairly long swim) from ‘Buccaneer’, on the island’s north side, near the western tip of the island. There are numerous openings in the upper portion of the ship for non-wreck certified divers. Many more openings are available since the ship broke in half. The site also serves as an artificial reef. Other interesting dive sites are Radar Reef, Cemetery Wall, and the Wilderness Wall, all well covered in coral and with a wide diversity of marine life.
Cayman Brac also appeals to visitors of many persuasions besides divers. Caves are found around the island, offering spelunkers a glimpse of delicate underground formations. Steps and, in some cases, ladders have been constructed to allow visitor access to more remote caves. One cave, Rebecca’s Cave, contains the grave of a young girl lost in a struggle against the ravages of the great 1932 Cuba hurricane, and it is a Cayman National Heritage Site.
Rock climbing was developed beginning in 1992 and the island is now known as a world-class climbing destination. One must be somewhat experienced to climb here as the terrain is steep, many times over-vertical.
Walking and hiking trails
Walking and hiking trails have been opened by the Nature Tourism Programme which allow exploration of the island’s dense Karst forestation. Unique flora and fauna thrive here and can be observed in the wild.
Cayman Brac’s waters are especially utilized for both fishing and the pursuit of big game fish.