Having enjoyed cruising the beautiful seas for the last three days and visiting exciting places such as Belize (here), we reached the Grand Caymans early in the morning. An overseas territory of the United Kingdom, it is a banking haven with more than 600 banks and trusts. Our guide told us that homes on the island are very expensive because of all these financial activity!
Unfortunately we were not there to perform any financial transaction but to get on an excursion. We had to wait a long time in order to get a tender from the ship and go ashore. Yep, there wasn’t a pier for ships to dock at this island. It was 10:30am before we made it. And that meant that we missed our originally scheduled free tour!
Not a good start.
What was this free tour about? Well, we had booked our cruise with an online platform (and this was 2005). With it came a tour to ‘Stingray city’ here on Grand Caymans. What to do? We were given time to explore the town (shopping) before joining the 12:30pm tour instead. It started late, but we got there eventually. It was a small coach-ride (of about 6-7 miles) before we took a 20 odd minutes’ boat trip out into the sea.
City of the Rays!
Depending on where one set off from, the sandbar would be about 6-7 kilometers (or a mere 2km) out from the shore. There, the water is about waist deep though the sandy bottom might at times sink in. As we got there, we realized that there were more than 20 other boats there.
Each boat disgorged a whole lot of people (~30-40), so the sandbar was really crowded…With limited time, we would only spend about an hour on the sandbar.
There were a lot if stingrays swimming about, waiting to be fed.
Seems that this ritual is a very regular occurrence and our “guide” carried a bag of squids to “lure” the rays. Because they came in real close, we snorkeled and took a lot of pictures of the rays in the water. Tip: bring either an under-water point and shoot film or have you phone/digital camera encased. Its surely worth the effort.
Thousands of people visit this spectacular snorkel site each year as you can see from the pictures of the people in the background. Supposedly shallow (approximately 3 feet deep) sand bank located in the North Sound area of Grand Cayman made it possible to stand up on the sand, just as if you were standing in the shallow end of a swimming pool. Don’t be fooled though, you ARE in the Caribbean sea. This area that we were dropped off was approximately 1 mile off the coast of Rum Point and definitely had the unique feeling of being “in the middle of the Ocean”.
Why did we not embark from Rum point? For one thing it would take a very long drive around the eastern side of the island. Way too long for a shore excursion. But if you happen to be staying for some time, this would definitely be the better option.
Would you feed them?
Although they have a vicious sting in their tail (literally) the fish is non-aggressive and ‘friendly’ to humans. We say that because so long as you do not step on them. Tip: be careful when wading through the water since you can’t see where you are walking!
Stingrays are large flat fishes, and the females can grow to as much as six feet across. Their eyes are on the tops of their heads, their mouths below so they can’t actually see what they’re eating, only sense it! This might mean its eating habits can involve trying to eat your hand instead of the food you are offering. LOL. No. Luckily they don’t have any teeth, it was all suction.
They are graceful animal that normally lurks on the bottom of the sea, camouflaged safely out of the sight. From the photos you should see how as the further they are from you they seem to blend into the surroundings.
Back in the day we did not don life vests. That made is possible for us to easily walk on the sandbar. As we mentioned umpteenth time, take note that stingrays (especially the smaller ones) usually resting at the bottom of the sandbar. Tip: walk slowly and perhaps slide your feet forward rather than step. That will alert the stingray to move away. But we also realize that with all the human activity, usually the rays are swimming and unlikely to be resting.
Which actually makes it quite risky too. Because they may brush by you with their sting, combined with the swaying you have from the water – make impact. So do keep your distance and leave the feeding to the experts.
If one visits or stays on Grand Cayman island, this is definitely a bucket list item to check off!
We had driven along Seven Mile Beach from George Town to the boat docked at the Cayman Islands Yacht Club. On the day we were there, the roads were crammed with traffic. Apparently more than 20 ships had docked to offload passengers into Georgetown – there were choppy seas off Mexico because of a typhoon and these ships had been diverted!
So you can imagine the excitement in us as we looked at the clogged road on the way back. Don’t ever get yourself late for the tender back to the cruise ship. They won’t wait for you! That was the first lesson we took away.
However, the most important lessons we took away from this episode is this : if one booked shore excursions independently, then be prepared not to have priority to get off the ship. You see, the cruise line’s own arranged travel groups get to disembark first. Now this would not be an issue should the ship dock at a pier. But what if it was offshore and the only way ashore was via small tender boats? Thus, do your own research carefully!
This journey was made in March 2005