The smallest and most tranquil of the three Cayman Islands, Little Cayman has a full-time population of only 170, most of whom work in the tourism industry; they are easily outnumbered by iguanas and rare birds. This 12-square-mile (31-square-km) island is practically pristine and has only a sand-sealed airstrip, sharing its "terminal" building with the fire department and a few other vehicles. The grass runway was finally paved with blacktop a few years ago, and locals no longer have to line up their cars at night to guide emergency landings in by headlight. But some things don't change. The speed limit remains 25 mph, as no one is in a hurry to go anywhere. In fact, the island's population of resident iguanas uses roads more regularly than residents; signs created by local artists read "Iguanas have the right of way."
With little commercial development, the island beckons ecotourists seeking wildlife encounters, not urban wild life. It's best known for its spectacular diving in world-renowned Bloody Bay Marine Park, including Bloody Bay Wall and adjacent Jackson Wall. The ravishing reefs and plummeting walls encircling the island teem with more than 500 different species of fish and more than 150 kinds of coral. Fly-, lake-, and deep-sea fishing are also popular, as well as snorkeling, kayaking, and biking. And the island's certainly for the birds. The National Trust Booby Pond Nature Reserve is a designated wetland of international importance, which protects around 20,000 red-footed boobies, the Western Hemisphere's largest colony. It's just one of many superlative spots to witness avian aerial acrobatics.
Secluded beaches, unspoiled tropical wilderness and wetlands, mangrove swamps, lagoons, bejeweled coral reefs—Little Cayman practically redefines "hideaway" and "escape." Yet aficionados appreciate that the low-key lifestyle doesn't mean sacrificing the high-tech amenities, and some of the resorts cater to a quietly wealthy yet unpretentious crowd.
Which isn't to say Little Cayman lacks for lively moments. Halloween parties and Mardi Gras festivities bring out wildly imaginative costumes and floats. It's just one of those rare places that attract more colorful types who are in search of privacy, not just the ardently ecocentric. One of the largest private homes was built and owned by the late actor Burgess Meredith; island rumors persist to this day of planes full of high-school cheerleaders visiting his digs for weeks at a time. Then there's a local who allegedly grew marijuana. The island's two bobbies (who do a four-year stint from Great Britain and learn when to look the other way) caught him with a joint. "But it can't be mine," he protested, "'cuz I woulda smoked it by now." The plants were impounded and placed in a tub in the jail's only cell, while the accused went free.
That doesn't provide a license for misbehavior on this beautiful, idiosyncratic landfall. But this is definitely a place to mellow out; drugs won't be needed. As one regular cackles, "If the island were any more laid-back, it'd be double-jointed."