Many experienced reef snorkelers agree that Cayman snorkeling is one of the best ways to explore Caribbean coral reefs.
The Cayman Snorkeling Environment
The Cayman Islands have been selected as one of our top picks for a best Caribbean snorkeling vacation for several sound reasons.
Not the least of these is the superb Marine Park system that manages and protects most of the surrounding waters, coral reefs, and associated marine life through a set of sophisticated regulations and laws which are strictly enforced.
Another real plus for Cayman islands snorkeling is that the location of the island group is relatively close to the center of the Tropical Western Atlanticbiogeographic region.
This means that exploring reefs of the Cayman Islands will generally reveal a higher diversity of corals, fishes, and other forms of marine life than more distant areas of the region.
Also, the extensive and well developed fringing reefs surrounding each of the three Cayman islands provides a good variety of easily accessible shallow snorkeling sites with plenty of coral reef habitat.
Water temperatures average a comfortable 79 to 83 F.degrees, and the underwater visibility often exceeds 100 feet – even on shallow reefs where most snorkeling takes place.
Georgetown (Grand Cayman) is the Cayman Island’s capital, point of arrival for international flights, and main tourism and commerce center. Grand Cayman has an abundance of lodging choices ranging from the many 3 or 4 star hotels on Seven Mile Beach to smaller hotels and rental cottages nearby.
Many excellent Grand Cayman snorkeling sites are quite close to shore, and offer good views of abundant marine life in relatively shallow water. These areas can easily be reached right from the beach by a short swim.
Smith’s Cove is situated less than 2 miles east of George Town on the south side of Grand Cayman. The inshore protected limestone cove is only 10-20 feet deep, and offers interesting coral formations along with a good variety of fish, corals and other types of reef life. It’s a great place to spend an afternoon or entire day dedicated to Cayman snorkeling, as it offers (free to the public) picnic tables, toilet facilities, and fresh water.
Rum Point Beach also offers good beach-access Grand Cayman Island snorkeling. Because the inshore waters here are protected by an offshore reef, it is accessible in all but the most severe weather conditions. Patch reefs and isolated coral heads harbor reef fishes and other common marine life less than 50 yards from shore. Water depths in the better snorkeling areas here range from 15 – 40 ft.
The Great Wall is an excellent snorkeling site somewhat farther offshore the coast of Grand Cayman. This well-developed reef must be accessed by boat (many daily tours available), but is considered by many a world-class snorkeling destination. Even the more shallow portions of this site teem with a variety of corals, fishes, and other marine life. This probably a better choice for intermediate to advanced snorkelers, as beginners sometimes feel uncomfortable in deeper water far from shore.
A Perspective On “Stingray City”
It is unfortunate, considering the superb and extensive Marine Parks system of the Cayman Islands, that one of the few areas exempted from these regulations (“Stingray City”) has become the most highly publicized icon of Cayman Islands snorkeling tourism. This shallow sand area is far removed from coral reef habitat, and what happens here has little or no impact on the island’s reef system itself.
Nonetheless, the feeding and manhandling of these peaceful marine creatures by tourists encourages less informed visitors to believe that its OK to do the same things to any marine life, anywhere else in the ocean (big mistake, bad impression).
Little Cayman And Cayman Brac
The most pristine Cayman Island snorkeling sites, as might be expected, are located on the far less visited shores of Cayman Brac and Little Cayman.
These small islands are sparsely populated and have fewer lodging and dining choices than does Grand Cayman, but each island nonetheless has its own small array of dive resorts, lodging, dining, and other amenities that make for a great snorkeling and beach vacation.
Buccaneer’s Beach on Cayman Brac’s north coast offers gorgeous underwater viewing of shallow reefs and marine life. An entrance ladder carved out of the limestone shore makes entry and exit to this site a breeze.
Among Little Cayman Island’s best snorkeling sites are Lea Lea’s Lookout, Sheer Wall West, and Three Fathom Wall. All abound with octocorals, sponges, and myriad colorful reef fishes. Hawksbill turtles are common at these sites as well.
Cayman Islands Travel Information
The Cayman Islands (Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman) are located in the western Caribbean Sea about 150 miles south of Cuba and 180 miles northwest of Jamaica.
Cayman Brac is about 90 miles from Grand Cayman, and Little Cayman only about 5 miles further west – about a 30 minute flight from Grand Cayman.
Cayman Brac and Little Cayman are a good choice for those preferring a quieter, slower pace of life than that found in Georgetown on Grand Cayman.
All three of these islands are low and narrow, with the highest elevation of the entire group (found on Cayman Brac) reaching only about 140 ft. above sea level.
As with the rest of the Caribbean Sea, the weather is predictably coolest and calmest November through May when daytime highs average about 82 degrees F. The more warm and humid hurricane season lasts from June through October.
The Cayman Islands are readily accessible. From North America, Grand Cayman is just over a mere hour’s direct flight from Miami. Direct flight service to Grand Cayman is also available from other major U.S. and Canadian gateways, including Atlanta, Charlotte, Detroit, Ft. Lauderdale, Houston, Memphis, Newark, Philadelphia, Tampa, and Toronto, Canada.