Little Cayman may be little by name, but its reputation is huge. The 10-square-mile island barely rises out of the Caribbean, the summit of a steep underwater mountain. The sheer vertical walls, known as Bloody Bay Wall, start right off its north shore in as little as 20 feet of water and drop to thousands. It's a world turned vertical. Even the reef inhabitants seem to exist at a 90-degree angle, swimming along the expanse of wall on their sides and weaving through the thousands of crevices and channels that also provide dramatic swim-throughs for divers. Marine life seems to be supersized here --- schools of reef fish are more numerous, and turtles, rays, lobsters and eels all seem larger than in other areas of the Caribbean. Stands of tube and barrel sponges arch off the walls as if trying to peer into the depths. Big animals like mantas, sharks and Goliath groupers make regular appearances, often fearlessly approaching divers for a closer look. This is one of the biggest advantages of marine-protected areas. The fish are fearless. Anyone who has had the opportunity to dive in an area where spearfishing is allowed can attest to the fact that fish know when they are being hunted, but in Bloody Bay Marine Park, encounters are up close, frequent and often affectionate. I've seen groupers swim from diver to diver looking for a caress, and I've even delivered a few caresses myself.
Flying into Little Cayman is an adventure in itself. When the twin-prop plane lands on the grass strip and rolls to a stop, the first thing most people notice is the big red firetruck that dwarfs the tiny wooden building that is the airport terminal. No need to hail a taxi if you're looking for intimate villas and personalized service. Just a few steps from the terminal will take you to Paradise Villas, which is appropriately named. Its 12 one-bedroom villas are nestled among palms and sea grapes on a sandy beach. Each is air-conditioned with a kitchenette and a porch, perfect for taking in the ocean view and the salty breeze. Diving is with Paradise Divers, a PADI facility whose fast, uncrowded boats; personable staff; and penchant for excellent service make for an exceptional diving experience. Marc and Sabine are the consummate hosts, making sure that every guest's needs are attended to. A freshwater pool separates the villas from the popular dining and drinking establishment, the Hungry Iguana, where more often than not, you'll find a mix of locals and visitors from other dive resorts including Little Cayman Beach Resort (www.littlecayman.com) and the Southern Cross Club (www.southerncrossclub.com) reveling at the end of each day. And why not? With such great diving, an island so pristine, idyllic accommodations and incredibly hospitable people, who wouldn't call it paradise?