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 George Town. 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 10 feet. There are lots of fish and many types of coral and sea fans, 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 Cali, 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 eight 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 George Town 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. 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 worthwhile, 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 Other Grand Cayman Posts:
2011 Trip Report
2012 Trip Report
2013 Grand Cayman & Cayman Brac Trip Report
2014 Trip Report
Comments Moved From Previous System
Galen & Nicole – Nov 27, 2010 – When to Snorkel Grand Cayman?
Great post Tom. Thanks for all that detail. Grand Cayman is now officially on our list of spots to snorkel.
What times of the year would you consider the best for snorkeling Grand Cayman?
Tom & Jan – Nov 28, 2010 – Grand Cayman
We have been to Grand Cayman in November, February, March and April. I would say that February is the best for the months that we have been there. That could be skewed a bit by what we are escaping in Pennsylvania for that time of year. March and April are nice, but it has always been windier in March and April in our experience.
Brad – Jun 18, 2017 – St. John
Have you ever been to St. John, USVI? Curious how the snorkeling compares? Thanks.
Tom Turner – Jun 19, 2017 – St. John
Yes Brad, we have been to St. John. We were there in January of this year, and I have not posted my snorkel report yet. St. John has great snorkeling and we had a wonderful time there. Any drawbacks we had for the island were all people related or road related. We found the snorkeling to be great. If you go, you need to use the snorkeling guide for St. John on this site; it will save you tons of time. I think that you also want to stay on the east end, in the Coral Bay area. This will save a lot of drive time.
Our next trip is Bonaire, but then we need to get back to the Cayman Islands. It has been a few years since we have been there, and I do really enjoy the snorkeling there. Have fun!!
Brad – Jun 19, 2017 – Thanks
Thanks for the quick response and the suggestions for traveling to St. John. I’m sorry I wasn’t clear in my question but we have traveled to St. John three times so far and plan for many more trips in the future.
However we are thinking about going to Grand Cayman sometime soon for the first time. We love everything about St. John especially the snorkeling and the crazy jeep driving. I’m wondering if there is any snorkeling on Grand Cayman that is similar to what you would find on St. John? Particularly if there is snorkeling right off the shore without having to swim out a ways? Thanks again for all your help.
Tom Turner – Jun 19, 2017 – To Answer Your Question…
Hi Brad, Grand Cayman is really quite different from St. John. For one, it is flat and the driving is effortless when you are out of town. It is quite crowded on the west end, and pretty much crowd free once you get east of Boddentown.
I would definitely recommend a snorkel trip to Grand Cayman. There are enough shore access snorkel spots that you can spend two weeks and never get bored. You might even want to work in a trip to one of the other islands. Cayman Brac has some good snorkeling. We have never been to Little Cayman, but understand it is good also.
I would suggest reading my trip report posts about Grand Cayman linked to above. I supply a lot of information on finding the various sites. Also, read the comments. There is some additional information there. I will be glad to answer any questions that might arise from my posts regarding specific information. Remember, salt water cures everything!!
Anonymous – Sep 13, 2017 – Smiths Cove
What about Smiths Cove? I have seen pictures with people jumping off rocks and some say there is good snorkeling there too. I would love to do some small “cliff” jumps and snorkel. Any comments on that spot?
Smiths Cove – Sep 13, 2017 – Tom & Jan Turner
Smiths Cove is one of the spots that we always wind up at when in Grand Cayman. It is a pretty decent snorkel spot with quite a bit of wildlife. The underwater terrain is different in that there are “rolling” mounds under the water. The real coral will be found by swimming out to the dive buoy that is a bit to the left as you stand on the beach at the Cove entrance. It is probably out 300 or 400 yards.
If you go in and swim either direction along the shore, there is lots of coral and wildlife along the way. I think it is better going to the right. It was here that we saw the only Lemon Shark that we have ever come across. It is very easy in and out unless the waves have some size to them.
As far as rock diving, the rocks here are not real high, maybe six feet at most. The water is not real deep, so I think that it is a jump in feet first situation. We have never jumped off of the rocks but have watched lots of people doing it.
Smiths Cove is the exit for a long drift snorkel that we will usually do when in Grand Cayman. We go in at the Paradise Restaurant at Hogs Stye Bay, which is right downtown where the cruise ships park. Swim to the left and it is about two miles or so to your exit at Smiths Cove. You will see lots of wildlife and plenty of coral along the way, along with some unique sites such as the mermaid statue which is off from one of the dive centers, I believe. There are some bare spots along the way, but you scoot through them quickly.
I hope this helps.
Angela 1st cruise – Nov 27, 2017 – Advice… Please? 🙂
I’m 39 and this my first cruise will stop in Grand Cayman. I want to go snorkeling but I don’t want to waste my time nor my money and be disappointed. I have been snorkeling twice… ever! South Florida and Key West. I fell in love with the ocean in Key West. I don’t necessarily want to go with the rest of the tourists. I love local, mom and pop type joints.
I’m also not in the best of shape and don’t want to overdo it but I don’t mind a little work to see something extraordinary!
Thanks! Hope to hear from you soon. We depart on the 3rd.
Tom Turner – Nov 28, 2017 – One Day in Grand Cayman
Hi Angela, if you have one day in Grand Cayman, I would get off of the cruise ship and walk to the right as soon as you get out of the fenced in cruise area. As you go around the bend in the road as the road follows the port, you will come to the Paradise Restaurant. You can rent snorkel gear here if you don’t have your own.
Look out toward the cruise ship and locate the big yellow buoy. This will be your destination. It is out quite a ways, but if the weather is nice, it is an easy swim; there is hardly any current.
The first thing you will see is a lot of big Tarpon as soon as you get in the water. They are big, and therefore a bit intimidating, but they are harmless. There will be lots of small reef fish near the shore, but the real view is out a couple of hundred yards.
As you swim toward the buoy, you will first go over a lot of plain bottom with not much to see. As you start to get near the buoy, great big coral heads will start to come into view. If you continue swimming out, the coral will come to an end with a dramatic drop-off from about 10-50 feet. You will see all kinds of reef fish around the coral, and big fish when the water gets deep. We have often seen Spotted Eagle Rays on the bottom.
You can buy this as an excursion off of the ship for $50-60, or you can walk down and do it yourself.
Then, if you have enough time, take a taxi from the cruise port to Cemetery Beach. All the taxis know where it is and it will not be a problem getting back to the ship. Taxis will be around there as long as the cruise ship is in.
When the taxi drops you off, walk along the path that is along the side of the cemetery to the beach. It is a great beach with a decent amount of shade, but no facilities. The reef at Cemetery Beach is out a ways, but not as far out as at the port. You need to scan the water and find the dark areas. This will be where the coral is.
There are other nice snorkel spots near the downtown area which are described in my other posts, but these are the two I would shoot for when in town for one day.
Jeff – Feb 4, 2018 – Do We Need Marker Buoys for Safety?
My family with older kids are going on cruise, stopping at Grand Cayman. I googled it and found this page.
About snorkeling off beaches such as Eden Rock, I believe divers use a buoy marker to warn boaters there are divers in the area. If you snorkel off a beach, such as Eden Rock, where there are a few boats anchored in the area but not a real populated beach, is there a way to safely snorkel off the beach and not get run over by a boat? I’m assuming the answer is don’t snorkel there, but then how do you and your wife safely snorkel in areas like that?
I’ve snorkeled maybe a dozen places, but never anything on my own.
Tom Turner – Feb 5, 2018 – Snorkeling Eden Rock Area
Hi Jeff, Eden Rock is not really a beach, it is a dive and snorkel area. Before you get to the Eden Rock Dive Center, there is a restaurant called the Paradise that has a bit of beach where they rent chairs and snorkel gear. If there is a cruise ship in, this bit of beach will fill up quick. You can enter the water at either the dive center or the restaurant. There is an entry ladder at both locations.
With a cruise ship in port, there will be a lot of activity around the area, so I don’t think you have to worry about any boats running you over. If we feel it necessary, my wife and I will use an inflatable marker buoy that I tie to my foot with 6-8 feet of light rope, and pull it along with us.
If you go in here snorkeling, most people snorkeling will stay 50-100 feet from where they go in. There is quite a bit of wildlife to see in close, but to see the real sights, you need to focus on the big yellow buoy that is out a couple of hundred yards and use that as your destination. You don’t really have to get all the way to the buoy, it is marking the edge of the ship channel, but heading that way will get you to the big coral area with tremendous wildlife to view.
Have fun. This is one of our favorite snorkel spots when in Grand Cayman.
Mac – Feb 28, 2018 – Is It Worth Going on a Boat to Snorkel?
Hi, we are headed to GC in June and wondering if it is worth paying for a boat ride out to snorkel. Or is it a waste of money and better to just go in from the shore?
We are going to do Stingray City which requires a boat and thought of combining that with some more boat snorkeling. Is it worth it? We are a large enough group to charter a boat, but will save the money if it is not worth it!
Tom Turner – Feb 28, 2018 – Boat Snorkeling
Hi Mac, there is a great reef on the outside edge of the area where they feed the stingrays. Since you plan on taking a boat to Stingray City anyway, I would combine this with a trip to the reef. I forget what the reef is called, but if you are going to use one of the vendors for the Stingray City trip, he will know where to go for the snorkeling. I have only been to Stingray City twice, but both times it was in conjunction with snorkeling at the reef that is out there, which is only accessible by boat.
If you have enough time, there is some great shore snorkeling to be had in Grand Cayman. Have fun.