Snorkeling Grand Cayman
by Tom Turner
(Jamestown, PA USA)
My wife and I have a lot of experience snorkeling Grand Cayman. We have a timeshare on the island, hence we snorkel there every year. In 2003 or 2004, Grand Cayman was devastated by Hurricane Ivan, and there was a dramatic decline in the quality of the reefs, but they are coming back and every year we see great improvements to the sights and views.
One of our favorite snorkeling sites is right downtown in Georgetown. It is called Eden Rock. You enter the water at the Paradise Restaurant. They feed the Tarpon at the restaurant, so you are usually immediately met by 3-4 foot Tarpon. They are pretty cool. As you swim out, you go through a nondescript area for quite a ways. Then you start to hit the coral heads. They rise up to as shallow as ten feet. There are lots of fish and many types of coral and sea ferns, etc. Then you come to the edge of the coral heads and it drops off 50 feet or so to a sand bottom. This drop is magnificent.
There is a yellow buoy that you can see from the restaurant. Use this as point of reference, swim to the buoy and you will come to the coral heads. Cruise ships park right here (out far enough so they aren't a concern), but it can be very picturesque snorkeling around with a cruise ship as a back drop. Also, these coral heads go off to the left for quite a ways. We have always wanted to swim the shore heading west and then around to the south to follow this line of coral heads, but every time that we have had the time to do it, the currents were not cooperative. One of these days.
Another great snorkeling spot is called Hamburger Reef. Head north from the previous spot and go up to Burger King. Go in at Burger King (just find a spot where you can access the water) and swim out. There is a shipwreck out there (the Calli, I think) that has a lot of wildlife living around it. From there, you can find the coral heads that are out there and swim north following the coral as far as you want to go. There is great coral and wildlife all up through there.
Have you ever found yourself in the middle of a "bait ball"? We found ourselves in the middle of one in this area. It was kind of unnerving. All I could think about was a hungry barracuda coming through just biting, but it was a real experience. This reef will run out somewhere up around the start of 7 mile beach. Also, this is a good one to avoid when cruise ships are in. At least from about 10 AM until 2 PM. All of the snorkel excursions off of the ships go here. Actually, if you go late in the afternoon, you can be snorkeling around as the cruise ships depart Grand Cayman. That can be pretty neat, too.
Next, getting away from the real tourist spots, at the far north end of the island is a restaurant called the Cracked Conch. It is right across (and down a little) from the turtle farm. They have a waterside bar that has a ladder down into the water. You can leave your stuff there and use the ladder into the water. This area is different, but very interesting with lots of wildlife. We watched about an 8 foot hammerhead shark at this spot one time. The person working there told us that there is a pair of them that hang out there because the turtle farm releases turtles there and they like the easy food. Interesting.
There is a really deep trench just off to the north of Grand Cayman. I believe the closest that it gets to shore is just off from the "Queens Monument". You can find the Queens Monument by heading out of Georgetown on the main road to the east, follow this along the coast about 10 miles or so to the main north-south road called Franks Sound Road. Take this north past the botanical gardens. You will come to a right hand turn near the north end of the island. I think this is called the Queens Highway. Take this east a mile or two and you will come to the Queens Monument on the right side of the road (it can be easy to miss, so you have to watch close). Park somewhere along there where you can reach the shore.
If you swim off to the north, about a half mile out is the drop. I suppose it is similar to the drop that Galen and Nicole mention in Bonaire, but it is magnificent. It is like a world of blue. All you can see is blue. They say that if it is bright and clear, you can see down along the edge of the trench about 300 feet. This is pretty spectacular, and the snorkeling sights getting there and back are worth while, also.
There are many other sites that we have found that we like to go to but these are the best, in our opinion. There is a spot just west of Boddentown that we have tried to snorkel every time that we have been there. It has big cliffs and looks real interesting, but the waves have always been too big to venture out along the cliffs. One of these days.
Also, it would be nice if the first two sites that I speak of above were not right in the main developed area of the island, but if you go when the cruise ship crowds are not there, it is wonderful snorkeling.
In closing, I would just like to say that we had been around the Caribbean quite a bit, but it took getting to Grand Cayman to convince us to purchase a timeshare (and we have no plans of trading it for different locations). We really enjoy being able to rent a car, and go off snorkeling on our own without needing to hire a boat to take us out. You can pretty much snorkel from shore anywhere on Grand Cayman.
Read Tom's 2011 snorkeling Grand Cayman report.