A new North Side attraction opening up a homegrown natural wonder to visitors and tapping into local talent to deliver something new and unique continues to gather accolades.
Thanks to positive reactions from visitors reviewing the attraction on the online travel review site TripAdvisor, an outing to the Crystal Caves in Old Man Bay is now ranked 18th out of the site’s 164 “Things to do” in Grand Cayman.
The caves have only recently found the spotlight as an official attraction, but the current state of the subterranean site is the result of a massive effort that has been decades in the making.
Of course, the caves themselves have been in existence for millions of years, as explained by the enthusiastic guides who take visitors through the sizeable property’s network of caverns and trails that culminate in a visit to a crystal clear underground lake. Many North Siders and other caving enthusiasts have had the chance to venture into the grottoes and tunnels that boast an impressive array of stalactites, stalagmites and other shimmering rock formations over the years. However, it is not until now that the general public has been given the opportunity to easily access this fascinating geologic feature.
“Things are going very well. We are now open seven days per week and people are coming from all over to see,” noted Crystal Caves director, operator, and co-owner Christian Sorensen, whose family owns the property along with the Berksoy family.
“Actually, we are having a large local turnout, especially Sundays and holiday Mondays when people can take off work.”
Consolidating the property, building and maintaining the site’s access road, visitor center and network of trails both above and below ground has been a considerable undertaking.
But that was all par for the course for Mr. Sorensen, who is not just a businessman, but a true expert in the field of developing cave tourism, as revealing to the public the hidden beauty of caves runs in the family.
“I was born in Denmark but left when I was 8 to go to Barbados with my family, and my father [Ole] developed Harrison’s caves there for the government in the late 1970s, and it is still the top attraction there today,” he said.
After studying in the U.S., Mr. Sorensen opened a manufacturing company, which he subsequently sold in the mid-1990s.
“I wanted to return to the Caribbean, and I thought perhaps another tourist attraction could be duplicated in Cayman, as all caves are unique,” he explained.
As a result, he moved to Cayman in 1995 and, along with his father, began exploring all three islands for the best caves.
“I first thought the Brac would be the place, as it is known for caves, but later, to my surprise, discovered a small region of Grand Cayman with elevation and hills and amazing caves,” he said.
From 1997 to 2011, Mr. Sorensen devoted his efforts to purchasing the land for the site, devising a route for the access road from the main road, and working with government on a plan for the project.
“Finally, in 2012, we began work on the site, which finished in January 2016. We partially opened in mid February, and fully opened in March.”
Visitors entering the Crystal Caves property are shuttled inland along the access road about a mile to the caves, where a large deck and visitor center offer a chance to take in the surrounding forest, and guides offer insight into the various trees and plants that line the trail leading to the first of three caves on the tour.
The staff are clearly passionate about their work and proudly share their knowledge of the local area, as well as the work that went into making the site what it is today. It involved years of excavating many feet of dirt from the floors of the caves by hand so as not to damage the delicate formations, and later, painstakingly installing lighting and other amenities.
“We only employ Caymanians, and all are either from North Side or nearby,” Mr. Sorensen noted.
“The staff are a combination of people who participated in the development of the project over the years, plus some in the area who came to us seeking work, having an interest in the unique nature area and wanting to be a part of it. So far, we have 11 employees and growing.”
Mr. Sorensen says that reaction to the attraction from the local community has been, in his words, “Great.”
“We are putting North Side on the map, bringing in business by getting more people to this side of the island, and showing off this special unique beautiful natural part of the island, that wasn’t so noticed before.”