WHERE ARE WE GOING?
Today we are diving in the Cayman Islands, at Grand Cayman – the largest of the Cayman Islands.
The Cayman Islands covers 3 islands in the western Caribbean Sea; Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac, and Little Cayman. The Caymans are a British Overseas Territory.
HOW DO WE GET TO THE CAYMAN ISLANDS?
There are direct flights to Grand Cayman from all over the US and Caribbean on Cayman Airways and many other domestic US airlines. There is also a nearly direct flight from London, with a quick stop in Nassau, Bahamas. Flights from Florida are the quickest, at 1.5-2hrs. The British Airways flight from London takes approximately 11 hours including the Nassau stop.
WHY ARE WE DIVING IN THE CAYMAN ISLANDS?
The diving in the Cayman Islands and Grand Cayman is known for having crystal clear, warm water all year long, but the wall dives are what sets Cayman apart. The island is surrounded by dramatic wall drop-off. The top of the wall begins around 50 feet (15m) and drops down to a few thousand feet, making it accessible for all levels of certified divers.
Diving in the Cayman Islands is home to all kinds of marine life, including three species of sea turtles, stingrays, eagle rays and sharks. Nurse sharks and Caribbean reef sharks are most commonly seen, but if you find yourself in the right place at the right time, you can even see a Hammerhead shark! Even without the big wildlife, the reefs are healthy and teeming with smaller reef fish.
Read More: Everything You Need to Know About Spotted Eagle Rays!
There are many top-notch PADI and SSI dive centers, offering the full range of courses as well as guided dives.
WHICH DIVE SITES ARE MUST-SEE?
The Cayman Islands (Grand Cayman, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac) have a total of 365 moored dive sites, with the majority of them on Grand Cayman. A few of our more famous and well-known dive sites are:
Trinity Caves (15-30m+) – made famous by the movie The Firm with Tom Cruise. Trinity Caves has a series of canyon ways and swim-throughs that begin around 18m and end off the edge of the wall at 20-22m
Orange Canyon (16-30m+) – one of the more dramatic drop-offs on the west side, Orange Canyon gets its name from the dramatic canyons that lead over the edge of the wall and the gigantic orange elephant ear sponges that line the wall.
Wreck of the ex-USS Kittiwake (21m) – Sunk in 2011, the Kittiwake was a submarine rescue and support vessel. Because it was sunk as an artificial reef, it was cleaned up and opened up to allow for wreck penetration. You have easy access to many rooms, including the engine room, boiler room, and galley. It was originally sunk upright in 18m of water, but a tropical storm in 2018 pushed the ship onto its port side and into slightly deeper water. Although it can be slightly more challenging for some as the angle of the ship can be a bit disorienting, most divers find that it looks more authentic and interesting resting on her port side.
Oro Verde wreck (max 17m) – the Oro Verde was a ship that was sunk in the early 1980’s. After 40 years underwater, she has been bashed and broken and is now a “wreck of a wreck”. Although most of the ship is no longer recognizable, it makes a great home for lots of wildlife, especially critters that like to hide out under the bits of wreckage, like lobsters and eels.
Eagle Ray Pass (15-30m+) – located on the North wall, Eagle Ray Pass often lives up to its name! With a swim-through leading over the edge of the wall, this site is a great place to look for eagle rays cruising out in the blue, over the edge of the wall. Here, the wall itself is almost a sheer 90-degree drop, making it exceptionally dramatic.
Tarpon Alley (15-30m+) – Another favorite North Wall dive, this is a great spot for our reef shark friends. Especially in the summer, reef sharks are often spotted here cruising the reef or our in the blue. This site is also home to a group of tarpon that usually hangs out in a series of small canyons on the top of the wall.
Devil’s Grotto (6 – 18m) – This site is one of Grand Cayman’s most famous shore dives. It only takes a quick swim on the surface or underwater before the hardpan bottom drops off to a beautiful reef. The grotto is most famously known for its incredible limestone swim-throughs. During the late summer (August/September) you can sometimes find these swim-throughs full of tiny silversides… and all the bigger fish that want to eat them! Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen every year, but when it does the dives are an incredible sight, with tarpon, jacks, and snappers darting in and out of the swim-throughs, eating as many of the tiny baitfish as they can. The feast can last for a few days or a few weeks!
Stingray City (4m) – Once called the best 12 ft dive in the world, Stingray City is a one-of-a-kind dive. Stingray City is located just inside the barrier reef on the North sound. On rough days, fishermen would once anchor in the large sandy patch to clean their catch in the relatively calm waters inside the barrier reef. After years of discarding scraps overboard, Southern Stingrays began to associate the sound of boat engines and anchor chains with a free meal. After many years of this, divers realized that the stingrays were docile and friendly and could be fed by hand. Now, divers can visit the site, kneel down in the sand and interact with wild Southern stingrays while a dive guide feeds them.
TELL ME MORE
Cayman is home to all sorts of diving. The Cayman Aggressor is our only liveaboard which will travel to all three islands, weather permitting. On Grand Cayman, boat diving is the most common way to see our dive sites. Our wall dives are less than a mile offshore, making boat rides very quick. Some sites are a bit farther from dive boat docks, but most dive sites can be reached in 10-30 minutes depending on the speed of the dive boat. Cayman is also home to a few amazing shore dives, the most famous being Devil’s Grotto.
DO I NEED ADDITIONAL EQUIPMENT?
Our water temperatures are between 78 – 85 Fahrenheit (25-30 C) so in the summer, most people forgo wetsuits for rashguards or even just bathing suits! In the winter, the water does get a bit colder, but usually, a 3mm is sufficient. Most dive shops offer 3mm shorty wetsuits to rent.
Cayman dive shops also have a great selection of rental gear, so no need to haul all your gear if you don’t want to. There are also 2 full-service dive retail shops on the island where you can purchase anything you might need. It is good to note that because of the marine park laws, gloves are not permitted.
WHAT LEVEL CERTIFICATION SHOULD I BE?
Most dives in Cayman can be done with an Open Water certification.
WHAT ARE THE CONDITIONS?
Cayman is known for its consistently good conditions. Water temperatures range from 25-30°C. Visibility is usually 18-30m. Because the island is relatively small, calm diving is almost always accessible somewhere on island. The Westside, off 7 Mile Beach, is usually the calmest, being on the leeward side of the island, and this is where most dive operations are located.
The North wall is often the most sought after dive spot but is often only consistently calm in the summer months (June-Sept). The East end of the island is home to a few dive operations as well. It is often the roughest side of the island, but it is the best place to consistently see reef sharks.
Our high season is generally from November to April, with the busiest times around Christmas/New Years and Spring Break (mid-March – Easter). Cayman does not usually have much in the way of currents, so there is not much, if any, drift diving.
HOW MUCH WILL I SPEND?
General prices are:
2-tank dive – $110 USD
Gear packages – $25-$35 USD
Open Water course – $400 USD
WHAT TYPE OF ACCOMMODATION IS AVAILABLE?
Staying in the Cayman Islands is known for being a rather expensive destination. While there are affordable options, many hotels will range upwards of $500 USD a night in high season. We have a few big names as well, such as the Ritz-Carlton, the Kimpton SeaFire resort, the Westin and the Marriott. There are lots of options for vacation rentals through AirBnB or VRBO which can be more budget-friendly options, especially if traveling with larger groups or families.
WHERE DID YOU STAY?
We stayed at the Comfort Suites. While not directly on 7 Mile Beach, the hotel is approximately 2 minutes away from the sand, as it sits directly behind a beachfront condo. Prices are some of the most reasonable on the island at around $250 USD a night. Rooms are clean, basic hotel rooms with mini-fridge and kitchenette.
DESCRIBE YOUR PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
I love Grand Cayman and diving in the Cayman Islands. I’ve lived here for nearly 5 years, so I might be a bit biased, but I would absolutely recommend it. The Cayman Islands isn’t always the most budget-friendly of destinations, but there are definitely inexpensive options for rooms and food if you do a bit of research. Cayman is considered one of the safest islands in the Caribbean and the people are very accommodating and friendly.
WHAT DO WE DO ON SURFACE INTERVALS?
There are great topside activities as well as opposed to just diving in the Cayman Islands! 7 Mile Beach is definitely the most popular and famous with gorgeous white sand and shallow clear water. You can snorkel off the beach or rent all manner of watercraft such as Hobie Cat sailboats, kayaks, paddleboards, and jet skis.
There are other great beaches to explore around the island, with tons of public access points, just look for the brown signs with the swimmer!
Other topside spots are the Botanic Gardens, Cayman Crystal Caves, Starfish Point, and Rum Point, to name a few. The restaurants on the island are some of the best in the Caribbean with all types of food. Caribbean and Jamaican, Italian, Asian, Indian, American… you name it, you can find it on Grand Cayman.
For a good beach party, check out Royal Palms Beach Club, Coral Beach or Calico Jacks. Other favorite bars are Rackams and the Sandbar.