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Best Snorkeling in Grand Cayman

Though the Cayman Islands were discovered in 1503, the first inhabitants did not appear until almost 150 years later. The first land grants were issued beginning in 1734. Credit for discovering the island chain is to none other than Christopher Columbus who noted the islands of Cayman Brac and Little Cayman and named them Las Tortugas because of the large amount of sea turtles in evidence at the time. The Cayman Islands were a haven for pirates for awhile and they even have a Pirate's Week Celebration every year which has become quite popular with residents and tourists alike. Snorkeling on Grand Cayman is the focus.

WEST BAY, TURTLE FARM

Located on the northwest side of the island, this is a great area for snorkeling with a depth range from 15 feet to 40 feet. You can enter a small cove area right next to the turtle farm itself. When you start snorkeling out from the cove you will notice a lot of juvenile fish along with some soft coral formations, sponges and some sea fans. A predominant fish that you will see in this area are the Parrotfish which are pretty impressive in both size and coloration. If you listen closely you will hear a crunching or grinding sound beneath the water. This would be the Parrotfish feeding on the corals. What goes in as coral comes out as sand. You can also view a mini wall here which is located about 20 yards out from shore to the right of the cove entrance. Because this location is next to the turtle farm, you are sure to see a few of these fascinating specimens in the area. The turtle farm has raised and released thousands of sea turtles through the years and was created when it was noticed that the turtle population was on a major decline. They mark the turtles that they release into the wild and they have been spotted all over the Caribbean. The shoreline here is not a beach so wearing water shoes or wetsuit boots or booties is highly recommended.

WEST BAY, CEMETERY REEF

Also located on the northwest side of the island is cemetery reef. While the name itself generates spooky thoughts, the area is named because there is a cemetery in the area which probably made it easier to give directions to someone enquiring about places to snorkel. This is a sand beach entry area and about 75 to 100 yards from shore you will come upon coral encrusted boulders where you will be greeted by Grunts, Yellowtail Snapper, black Sea Urchins and Bermuda Chub. Sergeant Majors are always looking for a hand out from snorkelers carrying any fish food. The Australian pines in the beach area off plenty of shade following your post snorkeling activity. The depths range here varies from 20 feet to about 40 feet.

WRECK OF THE GAMMA

This is the remains of a 200 foot freighter that ran aground during a storm in 1980 just off of George Town. It can be seen from shore as you head in to George Town from the famous 7 Mile Beach area. Shipwrecks are always great places to see larger quantities and varieties of marine life and the Gamma is no exception to this rule. Yellowtail snapper and French Grunts like to hang out here. The parts of the wreck beneath the water are coral encrusted but hurricanes, storms and the water itself have reduced this to a skeleton of what it once was. Star and brain coral formations can be found anywhere from 20 yards to 100 yards in depths ranging from 15 feet to 40 feet. The shoreline here is rocky.

CHEESE BURGER REEF

This is another strangely named reef but it makes sense once you see that is is located right by a well known fast food establishment in George Town. Just north of this establishment, you will see a small cove with an equally small beach. Don't let that fool you because as you snorkel out from shore toward any of the buoys, you will find what has been touted as one of the most beautiful snorkeling reefs on Grand Cayman. With regard to marine life, Cheeseburger Reef is one of the most populated. It is not uncommon to see Sea Turtles, Tarpon and even Stingrays. Coral formations with vibrant colors rise up from 40 feet to about 10 feet of water and encompass about 3 to 4 acres, all there for you to explore.

WRECK OF THE MV CALI

This shipwreck is located in the George Town area where it lies in 10 to 20 feet of water. It was a four masted schooner built in Scotland for a company in California. It was originally christened the Hawaii but went through numerous name changes throughout its 48 years. Diesel engines were added to it in 1926 and a company in Columbia became the last owner in 1945 renaming it the MV Cali. It has been suspected that the addition of the engines is what finally led to the ship's demise. The constant shaking of the engines is believed to have compromised a hull that was not built to withstand the vibrations. In January of 1948, while carrying a cargo of rice, the Cali developed leakage in the hull and was run ashore probably in an effort to save the cargo. Fire broke out which ended up putting it at a total loss. The shallow wreck and has become host to a wide variety of corals, sponges and sea fans. It is home to Squirrelfish, Yellowtail Snapper with an occasional turtle or stingray cruising the surrounding area. The wreck is located 20 to 50 yards from the shoreline.

EDEN ROCK / DEVILS GROTTO

These two spots are located close together on the southern portion of George Town. These two areas are a myriad of fascinating coral formations. You will cruise over caves, tunnels and chimneys, all of which are a dramatic backdrop to the colorful fish. You are sure to to see a lot of Sergeant Majors at both sites as snorkelers have made this a popular place to sneak them food.The entry into the water is via a ladder which is attached to a pier. made of concrete. You really don't have to go far out to enjoy the scenery colorful sponges will delight your senses while sea fans lazily wave at you from below.

SMITH BARCADERE

This is located in the South Sound area of the island an it is commonly referred to, by snorkelers as Smith's Cove. There really is no English translation for the word Barcadere which has been used by Cayman residents for quite a few centuries. It is a Caymanian specific word that has its derivation from the French language. It simply means a place where boats land. This is a very nice sand beach area with shade on site and restrooms nearby. The beach is flanked by iron stone shore on both sides of it. You can see plenty of juvenile fish in this area. You can explore both sides of the cove but you will probably enjoy the southern portion more because of the higher concentration of coral here. The depths here are anywhere from 6 feet to about 40 feet as you swim out from the cove itself. If you want to explore further, just 20 yards out from the cove entrance is where you will find some coral heads which will make your journey worthwhile.

BEACH BAY

This beautiful sandy beach area is one of the more secluded on the island, being located about a mile south of Bodden Town. Bodden Town used to be the capital of of the Cayman Islands until it was changed to George Town because the harbor there offered deeper water which was closer to shore for the shipping traffic. Bodden Town also has the distinction of being named for the one of the first settlers on the island who arrived in the mid 1600's. The depths here are anywhere from 7 feet to 40 feet. There is a man made lagoon here which helps make the entry pretty easy. The reef that surrounds the area here begins at about 60 feet from shore. While you are able to snorkel on the outer portion of the reef, the conditions have to be good in order to do so. It is suggested that you stay on the shore side of the reef for your snorkeling adventure here. Make sure that you look at all the nooks and crannies as this is where you will see all the little inhabitants which make their home here Damsel Fish, Tube worms and shrimp are common but you might catch a glimpse of Stingrays or Turtles here as well.

WRECK OF THE PALLAS

This steel and iron three masted freighter was built in Scotland in 1875 and her final journey from Buenos Aires in August 1910 was under the flag of Norway. Her destination was Gulfport Mississippi in the United States. The ship was caught in a very violent hurricane which broke the masts leaving it to drift to its final resting place off of Seven Mile Beach in Grand Cayman on October 10, 1910. The depth range of the wreck is anywhere 3 feet to 50 feet and due to its distance from shore it is best done from a boat through a local snorkeling tour operator. Parts of the back end of the ship still extend well above the water's surface giving it an eerie quality. Since its demise, soft and hard corals began making the Pallas their home. Blue Tangs, Yellow Tail Snapper and Angelfish cavort among its remains.

ANCHOR POINT THERMAL VENTS

Located along the northeastern shore, Anchor Point is a little tricky to get to but if you are looking for a unique snorkeling adventure, you will find it here. To get to the small sandy entry area does require careful footing and appropriate footwear as this area is mostly ironshore. If the wind is right you will know that you are close because you will start smelling sulphur in the air. Grand Cayman does have a town on it that is named Hell on the other side of the island so I guess smelling sulphur somewhere seems appropriate. The sulphur actually is going up through vents on the ocean floor in this area. These vents are said to be Sulfatara which is a mixture of sulphur and steam. The temperatures are not really hot enough to really be considered true Sulfatara but the visual effect is the same. As you cruise around this area, you will see little plumes of what looks to be yellow smoke rising up from the seabed.There seems to be more plant life in this area rather than marine life but it is said that this is an area that tarpon frequent. There are some coral formations in the area which include, brain, star and elkhorn corals.

QUEENS MONUMENT

This area for snorkeling actually goes by a few different names. Babylon Reef and Connoly's Cove are two other aliases. Its referral as Queen's Monument is due to an actual monument that located by the roadside that commemorates the dedication of Old Robin Rd by Queen Elizabeth. The entry area is actually about a half a mile west of the monument itself. This area is best explored at high slack tide because there are a lot of shallow depths here. The entry area is manageable but because of the iron shore proper footwear is recommended. Once you are in the water heading west will bring you to some very nice coral out-croppings that are worth exploring. There will be Blue Tangs and Sergeant majors that will keep you company as you explore the wonders of this site. Depths in this area range from 5 feet to about 40 to 45 feet in some areas. Look closely among the coral and on the sea fans for Flamingo Tongues. This is pretty good for underwater photography.


RUM POINT

Here you will find a minimum of 5 different areas in which to snorkel. Rum Point is an area at the northwestern edge of the sound. This area is one that you could probably spend your entire vacation snorkeling and still not see all of it. There is a barrier reef that parallels the shoreline and the depths in this area can ruin 15 feet to about 40 feet. This area is part of a marine sanctuary so there is a definite don't touch and don't take policy. The closest part of the reef in relationship to shore is about 20 yards out with the farthest being about 100 yards away. If you are not comfortable going out to the farther reaches, don't worry because their is plenty to closer to shore. Black Durgeon, Blue Tangs, Yellow Snapper are just a few of the fish that will be keeping you company. If you go out from the point itself you will be able to explore two areas which are called the coral gardens which offers some great photo opportunities. On your journey out you will pass over a sandy area where you might see some bright orange Cushion Starfish or Eagle Rays along the way. The best snorkeling here is done on the inside portion of the reef.

USS KITTIWAKE

This submarine rescue ship was built in 1945 and was in service until it was decommissioned in 1994. The main function of this ship was to accompany submarines who were going through sea trials to monitor and administer support if needed. In 1986 the USS Kittiwake recovered the black box from the NASA Space Shuttle Challenger disaster of that same year. After it was decommissioned, the title was eventually purchased by the Cayman government with its new mission of becoming an artificial reef. The intentional sinking occurred in January 2011 just off of Seven Mile Beach in Cayman's Marine Park. The Kittiwake sits upright at a depth of 64 feet. The tallest portion of the ship is just 15 feet below the waterline. There only way for anyone to snorkel here is to book a tour through a licensed tour operator. There is a fee involved which goes to maintaining the this artificial reef and the surrounding natural reefs.

STINGRAY CITY

No snorkeling adventure in Grand Cayman is ever complete without a visit to the famous Stingray City. This area is located in the North Sound of the island. Southern Stingray have been coming to this area for decades. The most plausible explanation of this is when the fisherman returned with what they caught, they would enter the calmer waters of the sound and clean their catch before going ashore. What was not deemed usable for food, was tossed overboard. Since Southern Stingrays are considered bottom feeders, they probably came across what the firshermen threw away and feasted on it. Stingrays are normally nocturnal bottom feeders but with a virtual endless supply of food available they really did not have the need to rely on the cover of darkness to hunt for there food anymore. No one is really credited with being the first to hand feed the Stingrays but whoever it was began what is now the single largest tourist attraction of the island. Like Pavlov's dogs the Stingrays seem to associate the sound of boat motors with a dinner bell and they begin to gather. Snorkelers can actually get into the water with them at a sand bar in as little as 3 foot of water. This is one adventure where it is definitely recommended to book through a snorkeling tour operator as they are the one's who are the most knowledgeable about these animals. Though they seem tame it must be remembered that these are creatures of the wild and they can defend themselves when they are provoked. Just watching these beautiful creatures as they glide through the water is both thrilling and relaxing. Many of the Southern Stingrays found here are well above the size average for their species. If you only had time to do one thing in Grand Cayman this should be the one to pick.

All the snorkeling sites listed here are unique in one way or another but they barely scratch the surface as to the true number of snorkeling sites there are on this island paradise. When you arrive in Grand Cayman don't be hesitant to ask about any other sites. The people here are hospitable and quite friendly. Whether you arrive via cruise ship or by air you are sure to enjoy your stay.


RESOURCES USED:
The History & Politics of Grand Cayman
Cayman Turtle Farm
Wreck of the Pallas

By Roy Jamason

Written February 27, 2015



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