Cayman Islands —A guided tour with Cathy Church
When people ask me where my favorite dive spots in the entire world are, I have to stop and give it some serious thought. I like Fiji for soft corals, Chuuk for wrecks, Indonesia for critters, the Solomon Islands for an all-around trip and the U.S. west coast for kelp. But I usually reply that I like wherever I am going next, and that often includes right here in the Cayman Islands where I have the good fortune to live.
Tags & Taxonomy
The Cayman Islands are three small islands isolated in the Western Caribbean. They barely protrude from the ocean surface, atop a steep mountain that plunges abruptly hundreds to thousands of feet. This wonderful wall provides stunning diving and the water is clear and warm. Although sealife is not nearly as varied and prolific as in the south Pacific, it is nonetheless pretty and interesting and some spots are down-right spectacular.
Grand Cayman is the largest and most populated island of the three and is just 150 miles (241km) south of Cuba, which is south of Florida, USA. It is famous above water for its world class Seven Mile Beach that runs along the entire center of the western coast. The sand is just right—not too fine, but not coarse either. It suits a set of bare feet perfectly.
Where to stay
Seven Mile Beach is lined with every range of accommodations from small condominiums to the extravagant Ritz Carlton Hotel. Many dive operators pull their boats right up to the beach to pick up guests. While the snorkeling here has some good spots, the diving is too far from shore for shore diving. There are other hotels, villas and condos throughout the island.
There are four small, dedicated diving resorts—all with a friendly family atmosphere. Ocean Frontiers Diving Adventure at Compass Point Dive Resort (all with full kitchens) has the whole pristine East side virtually to themselves. Divetech Divers at Cobalt Coast (all rooms are one or two bedroom ocean-view suites) and their new environmentally friendly Lighthouse Point (nine condominiums with full kitchens) on the Northwest corner has the best shore diving for critters. They are also close to the great diving along the north wall and the west bay area.
Sunset Divers at Sunset House on the southwest is closest to the airport, shopping, restaurants and town. They also have the best shore diving for variety—a small wreck, a nine-foot bronze statue, friendly fish, a huge anchor and even a canon. I may be prejudiced when writing about this location, as this is where my photo center is, but I chose to be here because of the easy shore access and leeward location for the most days of the year. The hotel itself does not have the apartment and other amenities of the other much newer hotels.
What to do
If, for some strange reason, you do not want to spend every waking moment underwater, there are a few things to do in Grand Cayman. There is a lovely Botanical Park where you can see the rare and endangered Blue Iguana. They are being overrun by thousands of the recently introduced Green Iguanas everywhere around the island, including one crossing my dock as I write this. Darn, he is going to eat some of my garden plants. Oh, well—my plants should not just be for the bugs to eat.
You can also visit the Cayman Turtle Farm where they raise turtles for food and to replenish their numbers in the wild. This appears to be an environmentally acceptable activity. On the other hand, I would suggest that you consider not paying to watch trapped dolphins work to get fed. The captive dolphin entertainment industry is active in Cayman with two dolphinariums. Since I have seen the horrors of how these wonderful dolphins are captured and ripped from their families, I cannot personally condone supporting their on-going enslavement. That said, there is always another side to every story, and I will still love you even if you tell me you went anyway.
Diving in Grand Cayman
Now for the diving! This is the real reason to visit us. The diving is warm, calm, safe, comfortable, usually free of current, shallow and varied with lots of canyons and interesting terrain. Let’s start with the very first Stingray City.
Stingray City and Stingray Sandbar
Back in the day, fishermen came in from the north wall through a natural cut in the barrier reef of North Sound and cleaned their catch in the calm water. Stingrays quickly associated the sound of a motorboat with the onslaught of fish cleanings dropped overboard and immediately congregated below the boats. One day, Pat McKenney said, “Golly, I wonder if a diver could get close to them while they are eating?” I made up that sentence, but the idea is accurate. Anyway, he got into the water and was mobbed. The rest is history; Cayman visitors come by the hundreds to feed these wonderful creatures. They are smooth and soft underneath and being ....
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X-Ray Mag #41
Special coverage of the Cayman Islands by two renown residents -- take a tour with Cathy Church and Lawson Wood to Cayman Brac, Little Cayman, Stingray City and the new artificial reef of the USS Kittiwake off Grand Cayman Island.
Don Silcock takes us to the mystical haven of Halmahera in the Maluku Islands.