Access & Resources
GETTING THERE: Cayman Airways (800-422-9626, www.caymanairways.com) flies Twin Otters from Grand Cayman for $110 round-trip.
WHERE TO STAY: Doubles at the venerable Southern Cross Club (800-899-2582, www.southerncrossclub.com) start at $1,075 per person for five nights, all-inclusive. Five-day, two-tank diving packages start at $1,330.
WHAT TO DO: In addition to diving and fishing, visit the Booby Pond Nature Reserve, home to about 20,000 red-footed boobies and hundreds of nesting pairs of magnificent frigate birds.
RESOURCES: Cayman Islands Department of Tourism (www.caymanislands.ky), Dive Cay...
I BECAME A PRO DODGING snoozing iguanas while pedaling a beach cruiser along the narrow road that rings Little Cayman. That's about as exciting as life gets on this ten-mile-long, scrub-covered British outpost south of Cuba, the smallest of the three Caymans. When visitors touch down on the grass-and-crushed-coral airstrip, they're not coming for swinging nightlife and duty-free shopping.
On Little Cayman, the action happens underwater. The island's claim to fameaside from its unspoiled interior and gorgeous white beachesis the Bloody Bay Wall, a spectacular span of coral off the northern coast that begins at 18 feet and plummets 6,000 feet into the big blue. Here, divers swim through narrow chimneys, fin past a vibrant gallery of sponges, and encounter eagle rays, sea turtles, and spotted drums. A popular T-shirt slogan sums up the lifestyle: LITTLE CAYMAN, A SMALL DRINKING ISLAND WITH A BIG DIVING PROBLEM.
There are only a handful of places to stay and one real store. I check in at the oldest resort, the Southern Cross Club, opened in 1959, when Little Cayman was no more than a fishing camp. Ten bungalows are sprawled out on a handsome stretch of gleaming sand studded with palms. Mahogany furniture fills the large, airy guest rooms, which have no TVs or telephones; shady front porches facilitate hammock lazing. Fishing and dive boats ferry guests around, and there are kayaks for the short paddle across the sound to tiny Owen Island.
After settling in, I set three goals: dive the Bloody Bay Wall ad nauseam, catch a bonefish on a fly for the first time, and spot the mysterious Toe-Sucking Bog Man, a nocturnal monster that, according to local legend, lives in murky Tarpon Lake (which, a more reliable legend claims, was fished by Ernest Hemingway).
By far the easiest of these efforts is diving. Every morning I board the dive boat for the resort's daily two-tank trip to the Bloody Bay Marine Park, and it doesn't take me long to rack up some memorable dives. A large resident grouper named Jerry allows me to pet him at Marilyn's Cut, and as I swim into a grotto 50 feet down at Randy's Gazebo, I arrive in time to see a massive barrel sponge spawning. But nothing beats the sheer drama of the wall itself: Seussian sponges sticking out in all directions, spotted eagle rays gliding past, and brightly colored parrotfish, queen angelfish, and filefish darting around.
Bonefishing is more frustrating. After hours of poling around the flats with my patient guide, a mellow young Floridian named Jeremy Loercher, I finally land a feisty three-pound bonefish on an eight-weight fly rod.
I somehow never make it to the lake to look for the Toe-Sucking Bog Man. Instead I content myself each evening with feeding squid bits to an octopus in Preston Bay and dancing on the bar at the Hungry Iguana, the local hangout, after a couple tequila shots. That's pure excitement, here on Little Cayman.