Tropical seashores, no tax – as job adverts go, it’s a compelling one.

This mainstream picture of balmy climate and shady funds was just about all we knew concerning the Cayman Islands when, again in summer time 2016, my associate and I packed up our London life and boarded a one-way flight to Owen Roberts Worldwide. Like a lot of our friends, we fancied a “final hurrah” earlier than life supposedly obtained critical with child-rearing and house-buying. My 30th birthday loomed on the horizon: why not obscure the view with some palm bushes?

Google Maps revealed Grand Cayman to be a spit of land formed like elongated ‘L’, dwarfed by neighbouring Jamaica and Cuba; the 2 sister islands, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, didn’t even present up with out some excessive zooming in. Swathes of turquoise sea flooded my laptop computer display screen, with a smattering of stingrays and sunsets. We watched Tom Cruise bust a money-laundering rip-off in The Agency, and browse that Cayman has extra registered firms than folks.

Maybe I puzzled briefly if this meant we’d be swept up in a haze of mega-yachts and Armand de Brignac, or embroiled in some sinister cash laundering. However extra urgent in my thoughts have been the conventional belongings you’d surprise when shifting overseas wherever: would I make pals? Take pleasure in my job? Would I fall in love with the place, or scuttle again tail between my legs in two months’ time?

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That is what it’s wish to dwell on a desert island.


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Life “on the rock”, as residents name Grand Cayman, turned out to be a hybrid of laidback Caribbean tradition, English dwelling comforts and Americana.

It’s a British abroad territory, with a governor appointed from Whitehall, and a portrait of the Queen greets arrivals within the airport. They drive on the left and Waitrose merchandise line grocery store cabinets (albeit for a colossal mark-up: hummus, to make use of the world’s most middle-class value comparability index, prices round £6 a bathtub).

Then again, given the variety of vacationers coming from America, US {dollars}, not kilos, are accepted alongside the native foreign money. Portion sizes and the tipping tradition are sufficient to make many Brits’ eyes bulge, and Thanksgiving is an even bigger deal than Bonfire Night time.

Native delicacies has extra of a Jamaican accent – suppose jerk rooster, rum cake, patties and curried goat – and Carnival every Could is the largest occasion of the 12 months, when, undaunted by our lack of ability to twerk, expats don skimpy sequined costumes and feathered headdresses, fuelled by rum-based Dutch braveness. Come November, Pirates’ Week sees everybody marauding by means of the streets dressed as some approximation of Lengthy John Silver. And plenty of a time I trotted out of the workplace, feeling fairly at dwelling, solely to just about journey over one of many chickens or inexperienced iguanas that roam the streets.

Boat events have been a daily weekend factor

In truth, belying its standing within the monetary world, Cayman has a provincial, quaint really feel. On Sundays, all of the outlets keep shut and native ladies don their greatest hats to worship at little whitewashed church buildings. The workplaces of Merrill Lynch, KPMG and PWC stand incongruously among the many sherbet-coloured clapboard shopfronts and coconut stalls of Cayman’s capital, George City.

The manners are old-school, too. Within the first week, I jumped half out of my pores and skin when an odd man veered in the direction of me on a bicycle, just for him merely to beam “Good day, Ma’am” and trundle on. Cling on, he was simply… being… well mannered?

Dwelling your #bestlife

There’s no denying it: Cayman’s expat life-style is the stuff of Instagram envy. The softest, whitest sand, the clearest water, a readymade gang of photogenic pals who will gladly spend Saturdays frolicking on a catamaran with you, adopted by Sundays guzzling prosecco at a bottomless brunch. Since about half Cayman’s inhabitants hails from abroad and is aware of what it’s like to start out over, freshly minted work allow in hand, persons are unerringly welcoming to new arrivals.

Cayman’s Seven Mile Seaside

While you’re not boating or brunching, chances are high you’ll be sweating it out within the yoga studio, F45 health club class or a seaside volleyball match, because the expat urge for food for health nearly matches its thirst for sturdy cocktails – the island specialities being a Mudslide (vodka, Kahlua, Bailey’s Irish Cream and chocolate syrup) and rum punch.

Grand Cayman is flat as a pancake and solely 22 miles lengthy, a lot of it nonetheless coated in mangroves. So, consideration inevitably turns outwards, to the seashores and waterborne actions, whether or not it’s a jet-ski safari, night time snorkelling within the midst of bioluminescence, scuba diving with nurse sharks and eagle rays, or a paddleboard pub crawl – which isn’t a foul technique to have fun your 31st birthday, take it from me.

Estella spent her weekends at boat events

Getting dressed is a doddle: any kind of trend-consciousness flies out the window when it’s 32 levels day by day and the closest Zara is 450 miles away. Denim shorts, flip-flops and sun shades by native model Peripheral grew to become my simple capsule wardrobe – though shelling out on a Heidi Klein bikini abruptly appears extraordinarily cheap on a cost-per-wear foundation.

Bother in paradise?

The hedonistic, close-knit social scene could also be an enormous draw, however it may possibly equally spell bother.

You would say there’s one thing worryingly Peter Pan-esque about 40-year-old attorneys overturning golf carts on Friday lunchtimes (then billing the time as “shopper networking”) or stumbling dwelling barefoot the following day after passing out on a solar lounger.

Within the early days, I obtained a number of whispered warnings concerning the “Cayman curse”, referring to the tendency of long-term {couples} to interrupt up inside a number of months on-island, presumably attributable to too many tempting new our bodies thrust of their path. Think about beginning college once more, solely with extra disposable revenue and better stakes. It’s widespread to dwell in the identical condominium advanced as plenty of your folks.

A Mudslide: the native Cayman cocktail

Claustrophobia is one other situation for inhabitants of any small city, or on this case, small island. When it’s not possible to come out for groceries with out bumping into a minimum of one acquaintance, you may begin grumbling about “craving anonymity” like some form of disillusioned celeb. Additionally, this makes it very onerous to drag a sickie.

While you’re feeling the island fever, there’s no such factor as a finances airline escape, both: you’re taking a look at £250 minimal for a one-hour flight to Havana or Kingston.

Cash issues

Eyebrows usually raised once I informed folks the place I used to be dwelling, their impressions of the Cayman Islands shaped by Paradise Papers protection and the 2016 BBC documentary Britain’s Trillion Pound Island. Nevertheless, I discovered this mirrored my day-to-day expertise there about as a lot as Made in Chelsea displays your common Londoner’s life.

I don’t have the house or experience to enter Cayman’s monetary insurance policies right here (moreover, that is the Journey part), however working as editor of an area meals journal, the closest I personally obtained to any millionaires was utilizing my press cross to wangle entry to a swanky wine tasting on the Ritz-Carlton.

A paddleboard pub crawl

Our friendship circle was made up of mid-level accountants and solicitors, together with academics, bartenders, hairdressers and nurses – all utilizing their tax-free salaries to save lots of up for “regular” stuff, like a home deposit, flights dwelling for pals’ weddings and household Christmases, or paying off scholar loans.

Flashy automobiles stick out like a sore thumb on Cayman’s streets, most individuals choosing bashed-up Jeeps. Even that luxurious-sounding non-public boat constitution prices a surprisingly inexpensive $35 per head, for those who spherical up an enormous group.

Homeward certain

However similar to college, three years is concerning the typical period of time expats spend “on the rock”. After that, you’ve both had your enjoyable and crave a change of scene or are completely transformed to island life and may apply for everlasting residency after eight years. I landed within the former camp.

Possibly it’s some legacy of English puritanism meaning I really feel sunshine and frivolity have to be tempered with a little bit of grime and chilly. I finally discovered myself eager for cobbled streets, autumnal foliage and road meals markets, the best way most Brits hanker after a seaside break. I suppose the ocean is all the time bluer on the opposite facet.

Rum punches have been a staple of island life

At a time when most individuals again dwelling have been settling down, shifting to the suburbs and usually getting extra caught of their methods, I’d been thrust into forging new friendships and beginning over. Arguably it makes for a steelier, extra open-minded self.

It prompts you to evaluate what important components you want within the place you agree in; what it takes to name someplace “dwelling”. This, in the long term, is likely one of the most dear issues concerning the expat expertise. Not forgetting the good images, lifelong pals and a killer tan, after all.

As they’d say in Caymanian dialect: “each hallelujah obtained amen” – each good factor involves an finish.

Sunsets on Grand Cayman

5 issues to do within the Cayman Islands

Set sail

Hop on a ship journey to Stingray Metropolis. Within the waist-deep crystalline waters of North Sound’s sandbar you’ll be able to contact and feed dozens of rays, some with wingspans over a metre vast. Proceed onto close by Starfish Level the place purple cushion sea stars are simple to identify within the shallows. Captain Marvin’s operates each day excursions.

Eat up

Pattern the island’s budding farm-to-table scene at Cayman Cabana. Each Thursday, this seafront restaurant hosts an al fresco supper membership, the place bountiful sharing plates have fun domestically grown veggies and fresh-off-the-boat fish. Reservations important.

Discover after-hours

Expertise marine life by night time. The shallow waters round Rum Level are aglitter with bioluminescence – the sunshine emitted by tiny aquatic organisms – and Cayman Sea Parts will take you for a nighttime dip to get actually immersed within the phenomenon. The coral reefs additionally rework after darkish, as revealed on the mind-blowing nocturnal snorkelling journeys run by The Ritz-Carlton’s Ambassadors of the Atmosphere.

Bottomless brunch

This Sunday ritual sees eating places round Cayman lay on an all-you-can-eat buffet washed down with infinite quantities of bubbly. Luca is a longstanding favorite due to its oceanview terrace seating and glorious seafood, however Anchor & Den threatens to steal the brunch crown with its craft cocktail choices and vary of worldwide delicacies.

Head east

Take an East Finish street journey. Seven Mile Seaside is spectacular, however don’t miss out on the much less developed facet of the island, the place jerk rooster shacks and pastel-coloured cottages are scattered alongside the craggy Ironshore coast. Important stop-offs embody snorkelling with turtles at Spotts Seaside and visiting the endangered blue iguanas at Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park. Discover the Crystal Caves and end up with a mudslide cocktail at Kaibo seaside bar.

Journey necessities

Getting there

British Airways flies direct from London Heathrow to Grand Cayman from £499 return. Alternatively, you’ll be able to fly by way of Miami with American Airways, or by way of Toronto with Air Canada.

Staying there

Opened in early 2018, Margaritaville Seaside Resort brings a (barely) extra inexpensive lodging choice to Cayman’s lodge scene. It has two free-form swimming pools plus a swim-up bar and sheltered sandy seaside simply across the nook from Seven Mile Seaside. Double rooms from £241 per room per night time.