Barbados & Grand Cayman: Compare & Contrast (Then Visit Both)

Barbados & Grand Cayman: Compare & Contrast (Then Visit Both)

Fill 'er up: a rooster on the go in Grand Cayman

Fill 'er up: a rooster on the go in Grand Cayman

I’ve been in Grand Cayman for four days and still haven’t run into anyone actually from here.  The woman who gave me a pedicure is from northern England; the hairdresser, from Georgia (I admit to a fair amount of pampering); our hired driver, from Jamaica; waiters from various and sundry places, none from Cayman or even the Caribbean.

This stands in stark contrast to Barbados, where you find Bajans whose families date back generations. And most jobs are held by Bajans (ahem, aside from the illegally imported Guyanese you see work construction); it’s quite difficult to get a work permit, in fact, if you’re from somewhere else; the locals have dibs on available jobs.

Locals give a country a sense of place; otherwise I figure I may as well be in an airport, the most place-less places on earth.  However, I realize not everyone feel that way and, even without locals, I can see the appeal of Cayman.

The beaches are pristine and the Caribbean Sea a pretty light blue and very warm.  Cayman is a world-famous place to snorkel and SCUBA and a fantastic place to do absolutely nothing. The hotels are strung out along Seven Mile Beach, which is soft and white with gentle waves caressing the shore. Five minutes on this beach and I entered lazy mode; my greatest exertion was holding my hand out to take my next rum punch (um, actually diet Cokes) from the waiter. Seven Mile Beach is known as one of the prettiest in the world.

Still smitten with “The Jewel of the Caribbean,” none of the other islands quite measures up to Barbados in my view. As I compare the two islands, I’ll try hard to stick with the facts; after all, who am I to say which is “the best”? In the final analysis, each of the Caribbean islands has its own magic.

* Barbados is 21 x 14 miles in size with varied terrain. Grand Cayman is about 20 x 3 miles and at sea level. My first impression was that it’s a sandbar.

* The Cayman islands are comprised of three islands, Grand Cayman being the largest.

* Cayman and Jamaica were governed as a single British colony until 1962 when Cayman became a British overseas territory, one of 14 territories under the sovereignty of the UK but not part of the UK.  Also once a British colony, Barbados today is one of the 53 member states belonging to the British Commonwealth; the queen of England is Barbados’ queen. (I don’t know precisely what these distinctions mean in terms of the British government’s role in each country.)

* Cayman was first sighted by Christopher Columbus in 1503, who named the three islands Las Tortugas after the sea turtles. English settlers first arrived in Barbados in the 1620s; by then, the original Arawak and Carib Indians had disappeared. Barbados was named by the Portuguese who visited the island briefly on their way to Brazil. They named it Los Barbados, “the bearded ones,” after the unusual configuration of Barbados’ fig trees.

* Barbados had slaves; Cayman never did. After 1650, thousands of African slaves were brought to Barbados to work the sugar cane fields.

* Cayman is located in the Western Caribbean Sea, about 400 miles south of Miami.  Barbados is in the Eastern Caribbean, about 1600 miles south and east of Miami.

* The Cayman Islands have more registered businesses than people (population is around 60,000). Based on income, the Caymanians enjoy the highest standard of living in the Caribbean. People I’ve known who have lived in Cayman say the quality of life is not the highest, however, because there’s little to do and almost no diversity; also, the cost of living is very high in Cayman. The government’s primary source of income is indirect taxation – there is no income tax or capital gains tax or corporation tax.

* Barbados’ population is around 275,000 (not counting the monkeys) … Since achieving independence in 1966, the island has transformed itself from a low-income economy dependent upon sugar production into an upper-middle-income economy based on tourism and the offshore sector.

* When you snorkel in Cayman, you see the stingrays; when you do so in Barbados, you see giant sea turtles.

* Both are coral islands, which accounts for their gorgeous white sand and beautiful blue sea.

* The Cayman Islands have the dubious honor of having experienced the most hurricane strikes in history. Hurricane Ivan almost completely destroyed the unprotected island in 2004; within two years, the Caymanians had rebuilt their country.

* Barbados’ last hurricane was in the 1950s; it is blessedly outside the main hurricane zone.

I hope that wasn’t too painful.  I myself love learning the differences in the Caribbean islands.  Unfortunately, I missed Barbados’ Kadooment because of my last-minute decision to accompany Greg on his business trip to Grand Cayman.  So no “jumping” for this girl.  Good thing there’s always next year!

4 Responses to “Barbados & Grand Cayman: Compare & Contrast (Then Visit Both)”

  1. Kerry says:


    Just an addition to the comparison:
    Barbados also first had indentured servants and white slaves from
    Ireland, Slaves of Color came later- see this book:
    Interesting reading in between Rum Punches ~


  2. Kerry, thank you. I’ve ordered the book. I’d love knowing more about this. It’s part of the Redlegs history I’ve talked about.

    Ha! “Between rum punches” …. that’s my husband, not me! (Really!)

    Have a great day.

  3. Bajee says:

    Thanks for the write-up. I’ve never been to the Cayman Islands, so this was very helpful.

  4. You’re welcome. It’s been a few weeks since I’ve been there now. You know how, after you’ve been away from a place awhile, you’re left with impressions, rather than specifics, of the place? As I think back to Grand Cayman, I’m left with the impression that it’s a big ol’ sandbar with the highest elevation on the island being the landfill. I would return to Cayman as a special place to snorkel and SCUBA and relax/walk on the beaches … but, from my experience there, nothing much else …

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