It’s hard to describe what’s so different about a climbing vacation in Cayman Brac, because it’s not just great climbing. The small island setting, the snorkeling and diving, the people, and the relief of not having civilization pressing on you, all combine with the great rock climbing into a unique and wonderful experience.
Cayman Brac (rhymes with ‘crack’) is at the same latitude as Hawaii. The best season is December through April, when the temperatures are lower and rain and storms are few. Winter temperatures are usually 78-85F (25-29C), which many people think is too warm, but you always climb in the shade and the trade winds are steady and cool off the water. Beats the hell outta miserable, leaden winter days.
When most people think of a tropical island, they think of places like Hawaii, Grand Cayman, or places in Mexico that are crawling with tourists in flowered shirts and funny hats walking between high-rise hotels and pushy merchants hawking tacky, overpriced souvenirs.
Cayman Brac isn’t like that. It’s still unspoiled by big industry or tourism. There are about 1200 people on the island (smaller than my high school!) and maybe 100 of them are tourists. There are no high-rise condos, no traffic (no traffic lights), no lines, no problems. It’s unusual to find other climbers on the island so there are no crowds or waiting for routes and the rock isn’t polished. When climbing at the Point or Wave Wall, the only people you see are fishermen waving from their boats.
There are 7 distinct climbing areas on the island. Three sectors are in the shade in the morning and the other four go into the shade about 2pm in winter. Two of the areas are right over the ocean and require rappel access; these areas intimidate even experienced climbers. The other 5 areas are normal sport areas in that you walk to the base, climb and then lower off.
The rock is white limestone, with lots of pockets, edges, crystalline caves, flow-stone and other features. There’s a handful of routes in the 5.7 to 5.9 range (French 4 – 5) but most of the routes are 5.10 to 5.12 (6a – 7b+) and range from 40 to 130 ft. (12 – 40m) in length.
“The beta you gave us on just about everything was informative and helpful. We had absolutely no problem finding the climbs, and everything else on the island was self-explanatory. I especially appreciated how well you all had bolted the routes. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a sport climbing location that felt more secure.” Michael U, May 2012
Diving and snorkeling are very popular in the crystal clear water. The diving was rated in the top five destinations in the western hemisphere by Skin Diver magazine. There are two dive operations, and reservations are necessary. However, you don’t need to hire a boat, excellent shore diving and snorkeling are easy to access by car.
Reef Divers operates in conjunction with Brac Reef Resort.
The Brac Scuba Shack is a independent, owner-operated dive operation which offers excellent service and smaller groups.
Fishing can be done from the shore or the cays, but for deep sea fishing inquire locally for captains.
Weather and Season
“Everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it!” — Mark Twain
Obviously, the time to visit a tropical island is in the winter. Late November through April is the dry season and, while there may be showers or an overcast day, extended rain is not really a worry. The wind is the big variable but if you’re flexible, and move to the “correct” side of the island, you can find good conditions. Into the lee for snorkeling or diving, into the wind for cool climbing.
Links to Trip Reports, Photos, etc.
A video of snorkeling on the South Side.
A video of climbing Spiral Staircase
For more photos of Cayman Brac, www.kirkdonaldsonphotography.com and click on Gallery, On Location, and one of several Cayman Brac galleries.
A Trip Report by Brendon Peirson February 2013 http://biersons.com/2013/02/06/rock-climbing-on-cayman-brac/
Doug Anderson’s http://www.theduggernaut.com/Climbing_Cayman.html