Just a 5 minute flight from Grand Turk will get you to this tiny island in the Turks and Caicos. If you are wondering how tiny, it measures 2 miles on a side and is in a triangular shape. It got it's name in the 17th century when people from Bermuda came over and began producing salt from brine. This became the main industry which would last for the next 300 years. At it's peak it was home to several hundred people who were all reliant of this lucrative industry. It was in the 1920's when the industry basically began declining for a number of reasons. The population dwindled to, where today, it numbers about 100. Visitors to Salt Cay have described it as an island that time forgot. There are three grocery stores here and if you want to go out for dinner reservations need to be made before 3pm to ensure that the restaurant will be open.
In days gone by schooners would be anchored off of Salt Cay waiting for their loads of salt to be ferried out to them. There were no deep water areas close to shore so the transfers would often be time consuming. The skipper of the 5 masted schooner Chicamauga, a man by the name of James Buffett had made many a trip here. The schooner was out of Pascagoula, Mississippi in the late 1800's and it's trips were fondly remembered by the father of the famous singer and songwriter Jimmy Buffett who related some of his father's memories in his book "A Pirate looks at 50".
Salt Cay is very informal and though there are a few cars on the island, the main mode of transportation is by golf cart. If you are looking for a party like night life here, then you might want to reconsider this destination. If you are looking to get away from it all and unwind then it is the perfect destination for you. There are several areas that boast notable snorkeling with 100 foot visibility being the norm and surface water temperatures ranging from 77 to 83 degrees Fahrenheit you are sure to see some phenomenal marine life as you explore it's waters. Whether you are visiting for a few days or a few months, we have listed the best snorkeling in Salt Cay for you.COTTON CAY
This uninhabited island located just north east of Salt Cay is just a short 4 mile boat ride to snorkeling heaven. The pristine waters are home to one of the healthiest reefs around. Marine life here can include turtles, dolphins, the occasional whale shark and you might even hear the whale song of migrating humpback whales.BIG SAND CAY
Also known as Great Sand Cay this area is a six mile boat trek south of Salt Cay which is usually booked as a half or full day excursion. Uninhabited, with the exception of birds and iguanas, this area falls under the jurisdiction of the Turks and Caicos National Park Service as a bird watching sanctuary. Visitors often describe this as the most beautiful island in TCI. The truly adventurous may even opt to camp out on the island. The snorkeling here is done off the western portion of the island but in calm weather the northern side proves to be excellent for snorkelers. In the winter months, this area is great for watching the migrating humpback whales whose plaintive song can be both hears and felt in the water by snorkelers.POINT PLEASANT
Located on the northern tip of Salt Cay this area boasts excellent visibility with huge elkhorn, brain and staghorn corals is as shallow as 15 foot depths. This area has been known for spotting turtles as well as graceful spotted eagle rays. Several types of parrotfish make this area their home along with grouper, filefish and even a few barracuda.ENDYMION ROCK
This area was named after a shipwreck that rests here. The HMS Endymion (a three masted wooden frigate) hit the shoals in this area and sank in 1790. It rests about 5 miles south of Big Sand Cay. The remains of the wreck are in as shallow as 40 feet of water and though encrusted with colorful soft and hard corals you can still make out old cannons and various features of this historic vessel. Snorkeling here is entirely boat based as no land is nearby and this should be considered either a half or all day excursion which is usually combined with other snorkeling sites along the way. Water depths in this area can be as shallow as 5 feet.AQUARIUM
This was named for the sheer numbers of diverse marine life that is often in the area everything from squid, colorful parrotfish, snapper, trumpetfish, spotted drum, white spotted filefish have been spotted here. Soft and hard coral flourish here making the perfect backdrop to the photographer. This is a five minute boat trip out from Salt Cay but well worth the adventure.
While many of the sites listed here require the use of a boat for transport, there are tour operators available to take you. They may even take you to secret sites that are not on this list. What ever you decide, Salt Cay is an excellent choice for the novice to expert snorkeler.
By Cathy Aggelopoulos
Written August 21, 2015