When I first heard that a trainer friend of mine was heading on a weekend getaway to the Cayman Islands I jokingly suggested he must have some money to launder. Up until the last year or so, the only thing I knew about the island locale is that it was an offshore haven for Americans looking to skip out on taxes. But recently the locale has undergone a bit of a rebranding, thanks much in part to the arrival of the Cayman Islands' Palm Heights Hotel, for those ready to leave Tulum or Miami behind.
As I continued to see the locale pop up on the Instagrams of my industry peers I found myself regularly saving photos of the outdoor bathtubs, yellow beach umbrellas, and mid-century furniture to my own inspo folders for future travel plans. Finally, I had the opportunity to take the three-hour flight from NYC and find out a bit more about why so many of New York's trendsetters — in food, wellness, and fashion — are all paying the hotel a visit. I arrived at the 52-room locale, located on a stretch of Grand Cayman's Seven Mile Beach and headed straight for the Coconut Club, the quirky-cool beach bar overlooking the hotel's umbrella-dotted beach front, where a green juice or a mezcal margarita are equally acceptable orders, to take it all in.
Once I finished sipping in the shade, I headed up to my room — a space begging for me to snap a photo from the minute I step inside. The decor is un-precious, but still looks as if it could be straight from a Dwell photo spread, dotted with a mix of custom and vintage art and furniture.
"The '70s were the decade that put the Caribbean on the map as a luxury travel destination," explains Gabriella Khalil, the hotel's creative director. "Palm Heights was the beach-front plot of the first large super resort planned on the island in the '70s." To both celebrate the history and bring a sense of modernity to the resort, Khalil worked with interior designers Sarita Posada and Courtney Applebaum to source original vintage furniture including nobbly Mario Bellini sofas, palm and bamboo fans by Ingo Maurer, and a graphic rug by Italian designer Ettore Sottsass in the lobby area. Old issues of Interview sit in every bedroom alongside worn books on Le Corbusier and Basquiat. It's made to look good on Instagram (they even have that wide-brim Jacquemus hat for all your photo purposes), but the design is thoughtful and elegant. Pieces you'd be momentarily terrified to sit on in your ocean-soaked Eres swimsuit, but would quickly plop down on anyways, because that relaxed attitude is part of Palm Height's appeal.
Beyond the hotel's impressive interiors, the founders have enlisted a veritable roster of New York's coolest industry thought-leaders to helm different areas of expertise. Trainers Joe Holder and Kirsty Godso have helped to develop the wellness programs on-site, Gerardo Gonzalez, co-founder and former chef of NYC's Lalito oversees the food programs, award-winning designer Emily Bode designed the hotel's uniforms. "Collaborations have often spurred from a shared mindset and vision to be part of unique Beach Estate that transcends dining, wellness, fashion, and culture — and it doesn’t hurt that this all comes together in a picturesque Caribbean setting," states Khalil.
The property soft-launched in February after extensive renovations, but December marks the last phase of its unveiling. Now, visitors can enjoy the beach and the property's tranquil pools, along with workout classes taught by a resident trainer, Nick Rouse. The hotel's main restaurant, Tillie's, serves up bold Caribbean flavors (order the Conch fitters), developed by Gonzalez along with Jake Brodsky who's the Chef deCuisine, but they've also enlisted Dr. Aris LaTham to create his signature sun-fired vegetarian meals. "There’s no preachy wellness environment at the property, just a range of options for people to do what will help them unwind or better themselves in some way and truly relax," Khalil adds.
While the Cayman Islands have their own unique, diverse culture — the region has a population of 65,000 with over 135 different nationalities, they have not historically been a buzzy destination for high-fashion travelers. Tulum, Miami, and nearby Jamaica may be better established as luxury destinations, but with the ascension of Palm Heights, the hierarchy is changing. For those looking for a quick escape from NYC, Palm Heights brings some of the city's culture and ethos to a pristine beach setting. It's an easy, direct three-hour flight from the city on Jetblue, American, or Cayman Airways, with prices starting around $300 round trip. But, part of the luxury of getting so far outside of the city are the local activities beyond the hotel, including some of the worlds' best scuba and snorkeling, a chance to swim with stingrays, horseback riding, and jet skiing — all of which can be arranged for you at the hotel.
Palm Heights is not an all-inclusive resort, so it doesn't feel like an exclusionary experience separate from the greater island itself. Instead, it blends culture, wellness, and food together in a way that's both inviting and inspiring. Rooms start at $469 a night, though special rates for artists are available by request, stretching into the thousands for a penthouse suite (complete with outdoor bathtub). The prices are similar to luxury beach resorts in other nearby tropical destinations, Tulum and the Bahamas included. As of now, the hotel has the space to accommodate quick getaways, but since it's a boutique size, as its popularity grows, last-minute trips may be harder to come by. So, book a trip now, before more of Palm Heights' cool clientele spread the word and make it near impossible to reserve.