Grand Cayman: stingrays, snorkeling, and beaches

Pink oleanders bloom profusely along the road out of Georgetown, Cayman Islands—an apt sign of the lovely day ahead. Our tour bus is headed to Cayman Islands Yacht Club where our group from Royal Caribbean Voyager of the Seas will board a motor boat and sail to famous Sting Ray City. We pass the fish market, rum distillery, and a plethora of fast food and fine dining restaurants.  Whether you prefer a BK burger, Texas barbeque, or white-tablecloth meal at the Ritz Carleton, there’s an option to suit your taste.

Business establishments and hotels totally line the highway, so it’s difficult to imagine that the road we’re traveling on and 80 percent of the island were under water during Hurricane Ivan in 2004.  Recovery and reputation seem intact.

At the yacht club we board a Resort Sports Explorer boat called Sea Ray, crewed by Arthur, Trish, Ian, and Captain Roger—an enthusiastic and amiable staff. During our 20 minute boat ride to Sting Ray City, we pass over Cayman Ridge. At more than 25,000 feet, it’s the deepest part of the Caribbean. Sting Ray City

Once anchored at the stingray sandbar, we jump into shallow water, about three or four feet deep, and spend a thrilling half hour cavorting with some of the 2500 sting rays that hang out there.  Stoop down in the water to shoulder level, and the ray will slither up your back. Or hold both arms out in front of you, and the ray will slide up on them.  A ray’s skin is surprisingly soft and silky, and they are very friendly creatures, especially the large females.

Sting Ray CityOur knowledgeable crew gave pointers on playing with the rays: Stroke each large fin and the nose. Don’t touch the spine on back or the tail. The barb on the tail is the only dangerous part, but only if you rub backwards on it.  Don’t touch the two blowholes behind their eyes. When feeding the rays squid, make a fist with your thumb enclosed, so it won’t get sucked into the mouth underneath. 

After that adventure, we motor to the barrier reef nearby. Because it’s in a marine park police boats are stationed around to make sure no one damages the reef in any way.  The reef is not so deep where we’re snorkeling, but on the other side, the ocean drops off to 6,000 feet.  We marvel at the many beautiful and unusual fish flitting through clear, blue water.

Grand Cayman

Fish and coral provide lovely snorkeling views

It’s almost noon and time to head to Tiki Beach, a private section of public  Seven Mile Beach, Cayman’s most famous landmark. I sit back and relax on the boat, watching large fluffy cumulus clouds—thick in the middle and luminescent around the edges–hang stationary in the sky like giant mounds of whipped cream. The wind has calmed and the weather is just about perfect.

Tiki Beach, Grand Cayman

Tiki Beach is one section of famous Seven Mile Beach

Back at the yacht club, a bus takes us to Tiki Beach, a lovely area with trees, pergolas, and enough shade to stay comfortable. Hungry from our morning activities, we devour a tasty lunch at wooden picnic tables. It’s so pleasant we can’t resist stretching out on lounge chairs listening to small waves roll gently to shore.  There’s time to wander in soft, golden sand (avoiding rocks and shells that have washed up) and wade into cool water. In the distance the sun glistens like thousands of tiny crystals on turquoise waves.  What a magical place to spend the afternoon. 

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier