Settlement on Cayman Brac has been determined by the Bluff, which rises from sea level at the west end to a sheer cliff at the east end. Most building first took place on the flatter land in the west, where the sea is a little calmer, and then spread along the north coast where the Bluff gives shelter.Cayman Brac is blessed with spectacular reef and wall diving with excellent visibility.
The first three families of settlers arrived in 1833, followed by two more families in 1835. These five families, Ritch, Scott, Foster, Hunter and Ryan, are still well-represented on the island today. They made a living from growing coconuts and selling turtle shells and from the 1850s started building boats to facilitate trading. In 1886 a Baptist missionary arrived from Jamaica and introduced education and health care.
It is not possible to drive all round the island because of the Bluff. The road linking the north and south coasts is roughly half way along the island. There are three roads running east-west, one along the north shore, one along the south coast and a third (unpaved) in the middle which runs along the top of the Bluff to the lighthouse. Although lots of roads have been built up on the Bluff, they are to service houses which have not yet been built, and do not lead anywhere. There are several, rather poor, farms and cows wander on the road. At the top of the Bluff it is sometimes possible to spot various orchids and there is a 197-acre Parrot Reserve (see Flora & Fauna). A hiking trail has been cleared by the Cayman Brac National Trust, only for the able bodied as it is rocky, but there is a great view from the Bluff at the end of the path. You are only likely to see parrots at dawn or dusk, but it is a nice walk anyway through the bush.
From the airport the north shore road leads to Cotton Tree Bay, where in 1932 a hurricane flooded the area, killing more than 100 people and destroying virtually every house. The coconut groves were devastated and many people left the island at this time. Demand for turtle shell went into decline as the use of plastic increased and many men found that the only opportunities open to them were as sailors, travelling around the world on merchant ships.
Stake Bay is the main village on the north coast and it is well worthwhile visiting the small, but interesting Cayman Brac Museum. T9482622. Free. Mon-Fri 0900-1200, 1300-1600. Further east at Creek, La Esperanza is a good place to stop for refreshment, in a glorious setting with good views and welcome sea breeze. At Spot Bay at the extreme east, follow a track up towards the lighthouse. Here you will find Peter’s Cave and a good viewpoint. From the end of the north coast road you can walk through the almond trees to the beach, from where you get an excellent view of the Bluff from below.
Rock climbing is popular along this coastline. There are 66 recognized climbing sites. Along the south coast, the best beaches are at the west end, where there are two dive resorts. There is a pleasant public beach with shade and toilets at South East Bay. Bat Cave and Rebecca’s Cave are in this vicinity and can be visited. When you get to the end of the road, walk along the ironshore to the end of the island. There is a blow hole, lots of beachcombing opportunities and if you look for stripes in the cliff you may find caymanite, which is only found here and at the east end of Grand Cayman. Holiday homes have been built along this coast.Tourism is now the mainstay of the economy but construction of homes for foreigners has pushed up the price of land out of the reach of many local families. Most young adults leave the island for a career in financial services or government on Grand Cayman or other jobs further afield.