Water, Water… Everywhere
Published in the Summer 2007 Issue of Canadian World Traveller
By Melanie Reffes
Photos: Cayman Islands Department of Tourism (www.caymanislands.ky)
Recognized as the birthplace of recreational diving in the Caribbean, the Cayman Islands are among the top five destinations in the world for underwater adventure. From their coral reefs that grow like giant underwater mushrooms to the marine life burrowing in their back bays, these environmentally protected islands are all about fantastic fishing, superb snorkelling and the endless exploration of a riotous array of marine life.
The Cayman Islands is a peaceful British Overseas Territory consisting of three islands – Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac, and Little Cayman. They lie in the calm, warm waters of the Western Caribbean Sea, just 480 miles south of Miami.
With more than forty scuba outfitters, one hundred and thirty dive sites – many a stones throw from the shoreline, spectacular shipwrecks and dramatic underwater drop-offs, there is something for every water baby in the Caymans.
Sea turtles, stingrays, schools of tarpon and silversides, barracudas, angelfish, puffer fish, scrawled filefish, flying gurnards and moray eels glide through the canyons and the nooks and crannies of the lush, shallow reefs, creating a kaleidoscope of colour in a magical underwater world.
City of Stingrays
Located in the North Sound of Grand Cayman, at a three-meter dive site and adjacent sandbar, Stingray City (www.stingraycitytrips.com) is the Caribbean’s most popular marine animal attraction and a rare opportunity to cavort with the tame Atlantic southern stingrays that sail gracefully through the iridescent blue sea.
In water that is just waist-deep, you’ll feel the friendly creatures that measure nearly two meters in diameter and look like large dinner plates brushing their velvety bellies against your hands and feet. These toothless stingrays will gladly accept pieces of squid from your hands, quickly ingesting them into their large mouths while helpful fishermen snap photos of your adventure.
Seaside Rocks and Underwater Caverns
South of the capital city of George Town on Grand Cayman Island, one finds Eden Rock and Devil’s Grotto. Eden Rock is a gigantic mound of limestone coated in a living shell of sea fans, coral, coralline algae and sea sponges. And at Devil’s Grotto, underwater caverns pierced by rays of sunlight attract hordes of yellow fish, big tarpon, damselfish and vibrant parrotfish.
Fantasies of exploring the mysterious underwater world can also be met — without getting wet! By viewing marine life from a submarine, land-lovers can discover the fish covered reefs and enthralling drop-offs of the seafloor.
Atlantis Adventures offers submarines rides aboard its 48-passenger Atlantis XI; its Deep Explorer 1000, which takes two passengers at a time on dives of 800 to 1000 feet below the Caribbean Sea; and its Seaworld Explorer, which takes 35 passengers just five feet below the surface.
The SEAmobile Submarine, operated by Cayman Submarines, has room for two passengers who want to explore underwater life at depths of up to 60 feet with a 360-degree view, and Nautilus Cayman offers its 60-passenger air-conditioned semi-submarine with a protected glass hull that cruises five feet below the sea’s surface.
Unique Diving Experiences
On the west end of Cayman Brac Island, a warship named Captain Keith Tibbetts, featuring four deck guns, cannons and turrets, was intentionally scuttled.
This is the only sunken Russian warship in the Western hemisphere that is open to recreational divers. Cayman Brac also boasts a 7-foot dolphin statue called the Oceanic Voyagers, which was sunk in the island’s shallow water amidst breathtaking undersea caves and stunning coral gardens. This provides an unforgettable underwater experience.
Little Cayman’s most famous dive attraction, Bloody Bay Wall – a short swim from the shore and more than 304 meters below the sea – is dotted with yellow tube and orange vase sponges, tangled masses of rope sponge and the rare long snout seahorse.
South Hole Sound and Point O’Sands are also enchanting snorkelling sites where you might catch a glimpse of a feisty bonefish or a regal queen conch. This tropical underwater wilderness is a sight to behold and with the marine life accustomed to the presence of human divers, they are happy to pose for personal portraits. Bring your underwater camera!
It would be difficult to spend time in Cayman without being offered conch fritters, a Stingray beer, or Cayman’s own ‘heavy cake’. But don’t miss out on the other island specialties that will make your visit a truly unique one.
For a snack that is not to be missed, stop in at any of the Tortuga Rum Company stores for a Tortuga Rum cake, or Cayman’s own Blackbeards Rum Company for their version of rum cake. And for a real meal, compare the spicy taste of Cayman Brac’s McCoy’s BBQ to the unique flavour of Bussy’s Jerk Chicken on Little Cayman Island.
Visitors and locals alike crave Joe’s Caribbean Shack’s delectable fruit smoothies and to satisfy an island sweet tooth, ICOA chocolates are the perfect remedy. Available in individually wrapped boxes, these Caymanian specialties make great gifts and can be purchased at their specialty shop on North Church Street in George Town.
A Colourful History
The Cayman Islands’ National Trust office, located in George Town, offers visitors extensive information on the Islands history, national symbols and culture.
Tours are also available for guests to uncover the Cayman of yesteryear by learning about wattle and daub, a method of construction used to build local homes. This method has also been used to restore historic sites such as the Bodden Town Guard House, the Old Savannah Schoolhouse and Watlers Cemetery, the Mastic Trail, the Herbarium and the Insectarium.
Other historical sites not to be missed include the National Museum in George Town and Pedro St. James, Cayman’s oldest surviving stone structure and the nation’s “Birthplace of Democracy” located in the Savannah District of Grand Cayman. Interactive displays in the multi-media theatre of Pedro St. James help to familiarize visitors with the history, lifestyle and economy of the Cayman Islands during the 18th and the early 19th centuries.
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