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Cayman Islands Five Ways

By Scuba Diving Partner | Published On November 10, 2015
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Cayman Islands Five Ways

Divers coming to the Cayman Islands are as varied as the tropical fish on the islands’ reefs. Whether you’re traveling with your family, looking for a tec experience, hoping to blow bubbles 24/7, coming as a new diver or returning as an old salt, you’ll find what you’re looking for in the Cayman Islands.

Divers coming to the Cayman Islands are as varied as the tropical fish on the islands’ reefs. Whether you’re traveling with your family, looking for a tec experience, hoping to blow bubbles 24/7, coming as a new diver or returning as an old salt, you’ll find what you’re looking for in the Cayman Islands.

Scuba Diving Magazine

Family Diver
A Cayman Islands vacation has something for everyone — from the littlest snorkeler to grown-up divers
By David Espinosa

My two daughters love everything we adults do in a vacation destination: white-sand beaches, bathtub-warm water and shallow, colorful reefs. So when it came time to plan our first family-friendly dive trip, the choice was simple: a Kids Sea Camp trip to the Cayman Islands.

“The Cayman Islands is perfect for families because there’s something for everyone and for every age of diver,” says Margo Peyton, owner of Family Dive Adventures, which has run Kids Sea Camp weeks on Grand Cayman for the past 12 years. “There are shallow reefs for snorkelers, wrecks, DPV dives, and wall dives, and Junior Open Water divers can explore the Kittiwake.”

Indeed, Grand Cayman and its sister islands, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac, are perfect for families, bathed as they are by calm waters year-round. Many reefs are shallow enough for an 8-year-old on her first PADI Bubblemaker dive, or a 6-year-old snorkeler biding her time until she can follow suit.

For dive-addicted adults, sites like Grand Cayman’s ex-USS Kittiwake, Devil’s Grotto and Babylon offer a taste of the island’s world-class diving. Of course Grand Cayman’s most famous site is one the whole family can enjoy together. Hand-feeding dozens of stingrays 10 feet down at Stingray City, while snorkelers watch a few feet above, is one of those adventures they’ll never forget.

Like Grand Cayman, most of the diving off Little Cayman and Cayman Brac is suitable for everyone. Sites like Tombstone, Treasure Trove and Lynn’s Reef off Cayman Brac are shallow enough for long, easy dives; a little more challenging, the Capt. Keith Tibbetts wreck is a can’t-miss dive. And while Little Cayman’s vertiginous Bloody Bay Wall might not seem ideal for new divers, the Great Wall section of this famous stretch of reef is perfect — shallow on top and home to friendly grouper.

Best of all, since there’s so much variety, choosing next year’s spot will be the easiest decision of your life.

Don’t Miss
Plan a fun-filled vacation your family will remember for a lifetime

• Bat Cave, Cayman Brac
No, not that Bat Cave, but a fun excursion, especially at night when the bats are active.

• Rum Point, Grand Cayman
Kids frolic in the water, while grown-ups can dig their toes in the sand and unwind.

• Stand-Up Paddle Boarding
Get an upper-body workout: Rent boards on Grand Cayman’s Seven Mile Beach.

• Turtle Farm, Grand Cayman
It’s an actual working farm that contributes to the conservation of the islands’ turtles.

• Salt Rock
Nature Trails, Little Cayman Encounter endemic tropical birds, iguanas and butterflies while hiking.

New Diver
Grand Cayman and its sister islands provide a perfect welcome for a diver’s first trip to paradise
By Tara Bradley

After finally graduating from the pool to open water, I’ll never forget that first real “underwater breath.” I was just out of college and Grand Cayman-bound — so long, swimming pool. Little did I know I was trading one pool for another, with Cayman’s barely-there current, 100-plus-feet viz and temps hovering at a steady 78 degrees. And that’s just on Grand Cayman. Once there, you won’t get far without hearing veteran divers speak of the sister islands, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac, beloved for similar conditions and an even more-remote feel. My only concern was trying to fit all of them into one trip.

The islands are known for spectacular walls, and topping the bucket list is Little Cayman’s Bloody Bay Wall. Favorite sites like Lea Lea’s Lookout, the Meadows and Blacktip Boulevard offer newer divers the rush of a wall without intimidating conditions or depths. With some walls starting at 60 feet or shallower, new divers can check out the wall while the more-experienced divers can explore the Volkswagen-size caverns and sunlit swim-throughs found at deeper depths.

Similar to her sisters, Cayman Brac has walls with swim-throughs that seem big enough to park a Mack truck. Sites like Public Beach and Sergeant Major Wall showcase opal-colored hogfish, massive lobsters and vibrant yellow tube sponges.

For new divers, there’s more to these three sisters than their walls. On Grand Cayman, sites like Aquarium and Tarpon Alley teem with life, including schools of slow-moving tarpon. Babylon and Sunset Reef are shore dives with easy-to-navigate coral heads. And first-time wreck divers will love Grand Cayman’s Kittiwake and Cayman Brac’s Tibbetts.

Trying to fit all three sister islands into one trip might seem overly ambitious, but dedicated newbies, like I once was, will be rewarded with a dive trip that is sure to fuel their passion for the sport.

Don’t Miss
First time in the islands? You’ll fall in love with everything about them.

• Wreck Bar & Grill, Grand Cayman
The mudslide, a potent mix of vodka, Kahlua and Bailey’s, was invented here. ’Nuff said.

• West Bay Beach, Grand Cayman
Here’s where folks watched the Kittiwake sink; get great BBQ cooked right on the beach.

• Owen Island, Little Cayman
Rent a kayak and pack a lunch — and paddle out in South Hole Sound to find an islet paradise.

• Parrot Reserve, Cayman Brac
It’s worth the early wake-up call: Hikers can enjoy excellent bird-watching.

• Mastic Trail, Grand Cayman
Find rare plants while following a winding path through a mangrove swamp.

Returning Diver
Once you visit the Cayman Islands, you’ll want to come back again — and again.
By Patricia Wuest

My first dive in the Cayman Islands was as memorable as my first kiss: Grand Cayman’s Bonnie’s Arch, a coral formation with an ample swim-through that was nearly obscured by a massive school of silvery tarpon. The tarpon encounters are no longer as reliable as they once were, but this North Wall site, an easy 150-yard kick from famed Orange Canyon, is a lovely photo op. I was hooked.

“The diving is better than anywhere in the Caribbean,” says Keith Sahm, general manager of Sunset House on Grand Cayman. Sahm might be partial, but the islands’ lucky geology — “We are the top of an underwater mountain chain (the Cayman Ridge),” says Sahm — has contributed to the diving’s overall excellence. “There are no industries or run-off from a hilly topography,” says Sahm. The result is “sheer, exhilarating walls in gin-clear waters.”

Sahm’s praise for the islands is echoed by Jason Belport, general manager of Brac Reef Beach Resort and Little Cayman Beach Resort located on Grand Cayman’s sister islands: “The islands have long been viewed as the capital of the diving world.”

In fact, divers have been flocking here ever since dive-industry pioneers started putting cruise-ship passengers on Grand Cayman’s reefs in the 1950s. Since then, some of the dive sites have become legendary, such as Bloody Bay Wall and Orange Canyon. But Sahm has another favorite: “I think the Grand Cayman dive everyone should make is Stingray City. I have seen quite a few folks actually moved by their experience with the rays, and they were skeptical before they went.”

As for the sister islands, Belport has his choice picks too. “The Chutes (West, Middle and East) on Cayman Brac offer tremendous color — beautiful deepwater sea fans and wrasses, angelfish, grouper, turtles, and just about every type of hamlet,” he says. “Mixing Bowl is at the center of the Bloody Bay Marine Park off Little Cayman, and is home to schools of horse-eye jacks and chubs, as well as several resident Nassau grouper.”

As for me? My favorites include the islands’ wrecks — the Kittiwake and Tibbetts — as well as Grand Cayman’s Devil’s Grotto, especially in late summer when the swim-throughs are packed with silversides and tarpon. Shafts of sunlight sifting through the reef’s cracks and openings make this mazelike site especially nice for underwater photographers.

I’ve had countless dives in the Caribbean, but I’ll always remember my first dive on Bonnie’s Arch. Like my first kiss, the memory of that magical experience keeps me coming back to the Cayman Islands.

Don't Miss
The islands continue to surprise—even divers who are repeat visitors.

• Point O'Sand Beach, Little Cayman
Kick off your flip flops, turn off your cell, and curl up with a good book.

• Westerly Ponds, Cayman Brac
Lovely wetlands with spectacular bird-watching—more than 100 species nest here.

• Bar Jack, Grand Cayman
A casual al fresco restaurant that offers divine piña coladas and sunset views.

• Parasailing, Grand Cayman
Look for turtles on the reef as you glide over the Caribbean off Seven Mile Beach.

• Smith's Barcadere, Grand Cayman
Located near George Town, you can shop after beach-bumming.

Alex Mustard

Tec Diver
Ready to try technical scuba diving? You’ll find perfect opportunities to challenge yourself in the Cayman Islands.
By Eric Michael

Peering over the edge of Grand Cayman’s North Wall inspires equal parts terror and awe. But as I fly my rebreather down the vertical seascape, fear turns to wonder at the colorful mural of sponges, corals and bright tropical fish. The suboceanic terrain surrounding Grand Cayman offers divers who want to go deep an endless playground of out-of-bounds adventure. But it’s the experienced operators supporting mixed-gas and rebreather diving who make the destination such a haven for the technical tribe — not to mention the local crew of passionate tec divers and instructors who are willing to share their secrets (well, some of them).

Eons ago, when the submerged walls around the islands were exposed sea cliffs, Mother Nature created chimneys, chutes and tunnels that now make for seriously exciting diving. Sites such as Funky Town, Nancy’s Chute, Dan’s Donut and Elephant Ear are world-class deep dives pioneered by resident tec enthusiasts. Two Grand Cayman wrecks are popular with tec divers: Kittiwake, a training ground for wannabe wreck divers, and the more-advanced Carrie Lee, which teeters on the edge of a cliff at 260 feet. Cayman Brac’s Tibbetts can also be penetrated by certified wreck divers.

For many tec divers, the real attraction is Grand Cayman’s fabled sponge belt, which circles the island between 200 and 300 feet. Gigantism runs amok in this zone, creating massive barrel, elephant ear, and other sponges, thanks to prime growing conditions and very little human interference.

“There is a lip at approximately 200 feet where the main wall tends to just fall away and open up a whole new world,” says Steve Tippetts, senior instructor at Divetech. “My favorite depth is between 200 and 260 feet, where some of the sponges look big enough to climb inside, and the colors in this region are just spellbinding, with lots of reds and iridescent blue coral features.”

Don't Miss
We're betting you like your downtime a bit edgier. We've got options.

• Spelunking, Cayman Brac
There are several caves to explore; Peter's Cave is mammoth, with several tunnels.

• Hungry Iguana, Little Cayman
Live music, conch chowder and tropical drinks are the hallmark of this LC institution.

• Kitesurfing, Grand Cayman
There are several places, including West Bay where you can catch some serious air.

• Lighthouse Trail, Cayman Brac
A three-hour hike will get you to Peter's Outlook, and panoramic views of Spot Bay.

• TikiBeach, Grand Cayman
The private beachfront cabanas are the perfect place to sip a cocktail and watch the sunset.

Jennifer Penner

Guerrilla Diver
If you’re a diver who just wants to dive-dive-dive, then the liveaboard approach to the Cayman Islands is for you.
Mary Frances Emmons

If you’re a diver who cares far more about diving than about glorious beaches or family-friendly turtle farms, someone who just wants to dive-dive-dive, then the liveaboard approach to the Cayman Islands is for you.

There’s only one, but it’s one of the best: Cayman Aggressor IV. You’ll get a fantastic taste of what Grand Cayman and its sisters have to offer — three islands, 16 sites and 25 dives sound good? — including quality time on some of the most famous sites in the region.

Take Kittiwake. You’d be hard-pressed to find a new artificial reef with better reviews than this 251-foot vessel off Grand Cayman’s Seven Mile Beach. It’s been an instant hit with divers, but because you’re on a liveaboard, you’ll have the luxury of multiple, relatively private dives here, plus the chance to explore the gorgeous nearby reef. Cayman Aggressor’s Capt. Lauren Hill confesses that she actually likes the reef even more than the wreck — it’s that good. I soon see why when I dive there: Fantastic formations rise 40 to 50 feet from the sand, draped with sponges and whip corals, and pocked with openings onto long, lovely vistas.

Serious metal heads will also relish the only divable Russian destroyer in the Western world, off Cayman Brac. The Capt. Keith Tibbetts isn’t for the faint of heart, but penetrating both halves of this 330-foot frigate is well worth it for the adrenaline rush.

Prefer natural attractions? Little Cayman is an unspoiled underwater paradise that offers something for all levels of divers, often within a single dive. A good example is the Meadows, along Bloody Bay Wall, a favorite of Aggressor Fleet CEO Wayne B. Brown. “It’s like three different dive sites in one,” he says, from the famous wall to a broad sandy plain on top to a shallow coral maze under the yacht, where you’ll find delicate nudis, curious reef sharks and turtles galore, all seemingly with no fear of divers in this protected slice of underwater heaven.

Don't Miss
Even dive-til-you-drop divers have to come up for surface intervals.

• Kaibo Beach Bar & Grill, Grand Cayman
Get here by water taxi, then order a rum mojito and all-you-can-eat BBQ.

• Scooter Rentals, Little Cayman
What better way to explore an island where iguanas have the right of way.

• Windsurfing, Grand Cayman
If you're experienced, try jamming in the main channel near Barkers in West Bay.

• The Tipsy Turtle Pub, Cayman Brac
The al fresco bar serves excellent pub grub like a portobello and swiss cheeseburger.

• George Town, Grand Cayman
Achieve shopping nirvana on Cardinal Avenue: T-shirts, trinkets, rum and jewelry.