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Grand Cayman, the largest of the Cayman Islands, lies only 480 miles south of Miami and 180 miles northwest of Jamaica. Its two Sister Islands - Cayman Brac and Little Cayman - are approximately 90 miles distant from Grand Cayman.

The Cayman Islands' remarkable success as a financial center and tourist destination has transformed the nation into a dynamic society that has every modern convenience but still retains the charm and vibrancy of the Caribbean. People from more than 100 countries live and work in this British Overseas Territory, creating a lively and unique blend of cultures.

While the diverse accents and idioms of Caymanians, Jamaicans, Europeans, Hondurans, and Filipinos may take some getting use to, there is no denying the hospitality of the local people, the superb weather, stunning beaches and great restaurants and nightlife that make the transition to this new country easy, as well as exciting.

As an integral part of this exceptional community, St. Matthew's Umiversity offers students a quality of life that few universities in any part of the world can match.

"Dive In" to Cayman Life

Some of the most vibrant coral reef systems in the world exist in Cayman waters, which offer wonderful opportunities to scuba dive, snorkel and swim in tropical seas that are warm year round.

Since the main campus and residence halls are just steps away from the famous Seven Mile Beach, students can literally walk out of their class for a quick swim, snorkel, sunset volleyball game, or even to study on the beach.

The calm waters and 200-foot visibility under water make the Cayman Islands an ideal place to build experience and confidence in scuba diving and snorkeling. Divers and snorkelers can swim with the friendly rays at Stingray City, or experience the magic of swimming among a school of Yellowtail fish, or see up close various species of turtles, parrotfish, lobster, eels, sea urchins and squid that populate the famous coral reefs.

As a premier dive destination, Cayman has a wide choice of local dive operators that offer beginner and advance scuba courses, as well as affordable dive trips for certified divers. For those with hectic schedules or divers who want to avoid a crowded dive boat, there are plenty of gorgeous dive sites that are an easy swim from shore.

For a change of pace, a weekend trip to the Sister Islands brings divers and snorkelers to Bloody Bay Wall on Little Cayman - ranked among of the top ten diving destinations in the world, while Cayman Brac has The Lost City of Atlantis, a huge artificial reef that is creating a real buzz in the diving world.

With its strong seafaring heritage, Grand Cayman is a hub for sailboats of all sizes and deep-sea fishing is a local obsession, but there is also kayaking, jet skiing, boating, submarine rides and the emerging sport of kite surfing.

Though the Cayman Islands are not well known for ocean surfing, there is a small core of island surfers who can show newcomers where to find the out-of-the-way spots to catch a wave. However, the Black Pearl Skate and Surf Park provides a surefire surfing experience, as well as the largest outdoor concrete skateboard park in the world.

Almost guaranteed sunshine and blue skies makes Grand Cayman an ideal place for outdoor sports activities, making it easy to stay in shape.

Runners and bikers of all ages are seen frequently in the mornings and evenings, and there are frequent opportunities to take part in fun runs/walks, duathlons and triathlons.

The many active sports clubs and teams are always on the look-out for new members to play rugby, soccer, cricket, basketball, softball, tennis, ball hockey, flag football, and beach volleyball.

Several stables offer horseback riding along the beach, the perfect way to explore the mangroves that fringe the shoreline. Bird watchers will want to bring good pair of binoculars as all three islands have excellent drywood forest and wetland habitats for resident and migratory birds, and there are beautiful inland trails for nature lovers and hikers to explore

For golfers, there are several high-end 9-hole or 18-hole courses on Grand Cayman, while for the more adventurous there is limestone rock climbing that is unsurpassed in the Caribbean on the Sister Island of Cayman Brac.

In addition, there is a wide variety of indoor activities to choose from, including full-service gyms, squash, martial arts, yoga, Pilates and roller-skating. For those who like a spin around the dance floor, Cayman also offers lessons in Scottish, ballroom and Latin dancing.

Cayman is a culinary playground for chefs and a paradise for people who appreciate excellent food. From Haute Cuisine, to casual waterfront bars and restaurants, to Jamaican-style "Jerk" chicken and pork at roadside stands across the island, there is something for everyone.

Grang Cayman's more than 150 restaurants include everything from traditional Caymanian, Mediterranean, American, Indian, Chinese, Thai and Tex Mex restaurants to familiar franchises like Burger King, Wendy's, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Dominos Pizza. Choices range from 5-star Sushi to pasta Alfresco served by serenading Italian waiters.

How about Tea at the Ritz? The Ritz Carlton, Cayman serves an elegant tea with all the trimmings in the Silver Palm Lounge every afternoon (pre-booking highly recommended).

Craving for local food, such as turtle stew, fish rundown and stewed conch, can be satisfied at Caymanian hot-spots like Welly's Cool Spot, Champion House and Corita's Copper Kettle.

For true aficionados of fine dining, this wealth of delectable fare culminates in the annual culinary festivals "Cayman Classic Wine and Food Festival" and "Taste of Cayman."

Coffee culture is also alive and well on Grand Cayman, with a number of specialty coffee shops and bakeries offering cafe latte, chai or fresh pastries springing up around George Town. Many shops and bakeries import coffee beans, shipped in from organic farms in Jamaica and Central America, that satisfy even the most discriminating coffee lover.

A multi-ethnic population has created a range of options for an evening out in Grand Cayman.

Nightclubs along Seven Mile Beach provide a wide choice of dancing, including hip-hop, reggae, disco, rave, country and western, and Latin.

Cayman residents and visitors are flocking to lounges flavored in art decor and nouveau eastern, where they are entertained with contemporary music. Hotels and restaurants, such as the Wharf, Marriott and the Ritz Carlton, are sparking off new trends with themed nights on a monthly or weekly basis, such as disco or smooth Latin beat by the pool.

For a more casual experience, numerous bars and pubs dotting the island offer a relaxing place for folks to watch the sun set over the ocean or their favorite sport on TV, or to join in a game of Dominoes - a popular Caribbean pastime.

Arts and Culture Scene

New residents on the islands find the choices of quality art, theatre and culture a surprise for such a small population. That Cayman has emerged as a haven for artists and playwrights is extraordinary, given the emphasis on the financial and tourist sector.

Many of Cayman's talented artists display their work at the National Art Gallery. Art lovers can also view local and international artists' work at Pure Art Gallery, Morgan Gallery and Kenney Gallery. Many fine hotels, such as The Ritz-Carlton, Westin and the Marriott along Seven Mile Beach, invite the public to view their galleries and special showings.

The public is also invited to the annual Art at the Governor's House, which is the largest single art event in the country and is famous for making art accessible to the public.

It features a variety of art and crafts from the National Gallery, the National Trust, and work by childrenand local artists, including ceramics, leatherwork, thatch work, quilting, photography and painting.

"Cayfest" is the Cayman Islands Festival of the Arts. It showcases contemporary and traditional Caymanian culture, and features drama, dance, music, song, storytelling, poetry readings and a visual arts exhibition with displays of local art and photography. Sponsored by the Cayman National Cultural Foundation (CNCF), Cayfest is held every April and allows newcomers to experience what makes Cayman unique and so culturally rich.

The Cayman Drama Society offers a wide range of comedies, musicals and drama in the fall and summer seasons, some of which are written by local playwrights. These are generally held at the Harquail Theatre and the Prospect Playhouse, which were fully refurbished following Hurricane Ivan in 2004.

A uniquely Cayman aspect to local theatre is the annual CNCF production of "Rundown", a light-hearted look at the personalities and nationalities that makes up the fabric of this county.

"Gimistory" is an annual international storytelling festival and features artists, predominantly from the Caribbean, who tell their stories using rhymes, calypso, drums and personal charisma, and focus on traditional folk tales, funny stories, and duppy (ghost) stories.

Every November, thousands take to the streets for Cayman's Pirates' Week, a huge costume party to celebrate one aspect of Caribbean history and fully indulge in the romantic drama of the Age of the Buccaneers.

The main event is a pirate invasion, in which two old-time sailing vessels loaded with pirates make a "surprise" landing at the George Town Harbour. The festivities continue with parades, street dances, music, sporting events, and fireworks.

Batabano is Cayman's special take on Carnival, and brings together a parade of exotic and alluring costumes, Caribbean music, dance and culture. Celebrations take place over a long weekend in the Spring and draw thousands every year.

Cayman Jazz Fest is becoming well known on the music circuit. This annual Fall event, held primarily under the stars, features a mixture of smooth jazz, flavored with a mix of Rhythm and Blues and Caribbean.

Historically, religion has played a significant role in Caymanian society. The majority of native Caymanians are regular worshippers, and a wide range of places of worship serve as the basis for a variety of voluntary associations and activities.

There are many Christian denominations represented on Grand Cayman, including The United Church of Jamaica and Grand Cayman, Church of God, Baptist, Anglican, Roman Catholic and Seventh-Day Adventist.

There are also worship services for members of the Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, and Baha'i faiths.

Service clubs, such as Lions, Rotary, Kiwanis, and the Business and Professional Women's Club, as well as the Cayman Islands Red Cross, are very active on the islands. These volunteers work diligently year-round to help the Cayman community and the wider world and welcome new members.