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Cayman Islands - Off the beaten track

Idyllic surroundings: Blue Lagoon, Grand Cayman

Bodden Town Pirates' Caves

The fact that you have to walk through a giftshop to get to these caves should prepare the visitor for the kitsch to come. Rumour has it that pirates used to stash their booty in the dank inner passages and that treasure still lies hidden underground. These days it's all fluoro skulls and crossbones, lame scarecrows in pirate hats, and parrots squawking out 'aarrgh me hearty' as though it was an announcement of cardiac arrest. It's dumb but fun. There are pirate graves just over the road from the caves, and like most of the graveyards in the Caymans, the dead'uns have the best views going. Bodden Town is east of George Town on the main road towards East End.

Cayman Brac

Taking its name from the Gaelic word for 'bluff,' Cayman Brac rises to 45m (140ft) at its eastern end. The island is mostly wilderness, home to a nearly equal number of settlements and resorts. It's covered in fruit trees, orchids and cacti, and surrounded by good beaches. Spelunkers can go caving along the northern shore and under the bluff, where legend has it pirates used to stow away their loot. The road to the top of the bluff passes through the National Trust Parrot Reserve, nesting ground for the islands' emerald green native species. Unfortunately, it's not exactly a parrot-spotting bonanza - most of the parrots seem to hang around in town where the pickings are richer. The reserve also features guided hikes along a nature trail. You can browse shipbuilding tools and kitchen utensils at the wee Cayman Brac Museum in Stake Bay on the northern shore.

The Brac's most famous dive site is a Russian destroyer, purpose-sunk in 1996 to give divers the opportunity to do their own post-Cold War reccy mission. The ship is also turning into a dandy artificial reef.

Little Cayman

Although it's only a tad smaller than Cayman Brac, Little Cayman is far more of a backwater. Estimates of the island's permanent population range from 40 to just over 100, though there are probably more divers about on any given day than residents. Aside from such famous dive spots as the Bloody Bay Wall and Jackson Point on the northwestern coast, Little Cayman has great birding. The Booby Pond Nature Reserve is home to one of the hemisphere's largest breeding populations of red-footed boobies and a large colony of swooping frigatebirds. You can visit the lighthouse at the western tip of the island and gaze out northward at Cayman Brac, across the channel.

There's a National Trust information centre overlooking Booby Pond, with information on the feathered frolickers and a viewing platform with binoculars. Opposite the pond is a one room museum containing local artefacts and beach treasures.

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