There’s nothing quite like a close encounter with marine creatures, whether it be a school of colorful fish off the islands of Raja Ampat or floating beside whale sharks in Cancun. But, in the Caribbean’s Grand Cayman sealife is all about swimming with stingrays in Stingray City. At least it was for me.
Stingray City Tour: Swimming with Stingrays
in Grand Cayman
What is Stingray City?
Imagine standing on a sandbar in shallow turquoise-blue waters surrounded by dozens of southern stingrays. Pretty great, right? But, that’s not all. Also, imagine being able to interact with them. That’s what the Stingray City experience is all about.
The ‘city’ is actually a set of sandbars in the Grand Cayman island where there is an abundance of stingrays. It all started many years ago when fishermen would throw the remains of their catch into the shallow waters attracting stingrays who would gather there to feast on them. So, the stingrays here have been accustomed to boats and humans for decades. For me, Stingray City was a popular cruise excursion that I didn’t want to miss out on, though you don’t need a cruise to take a tour, you can book on your own too (check out this tour).
About Grand Cayman
Islands in the Caribbean have an amazing appeal with their crystal-clear waters and natural attractions. With so many islands in the region, there are several things to see, do and experience. The Cayman Islands is located in close proximity to Cuba and is very popular with tourists. Consisting of three islands–Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman–it is an ideal place to relax and also have some bucket list worthy adventures. Of the three, Grand Cayman is the largest island dotted with many places of interest including the capital George Town.
A major hub on the island is the Seven Mile Beach with its beautiful sandy beach, many swanky hotels, resorts and shops. George Town is a stop for cruise liners arriving from various places, with passengers looking to have a good time on the island. While it attracts the wealthy, it is also a magnet for tourists who want to enjoy snorkeling, diving, kayaking, parasailing or a cruise on a catamaran. Due to its rich marine life, coral reefs, and places like Stingray City, Grand Cayman is a favorite with travelers.
Experience of Visiting Stingray City
Islands with a wealth of marine life offer superb opportunities to look at underwater creatures through snorkeling and diving. At Stingray City in Grand Cayman, the experience goes one step further as it gives a greater degree of proximity through petting and feeding in a natural environment. On your tour, you will go on a 15-minute boat ride from the north end of Grand Cayman to Stingray City. The boat takes you to the sandbars where you can stand in water around three to four feet deep as the stingrays swim around.
For those of you concerned about motion sickness, I did not see one passenger get sick throughout the tour (thank God!) and even my husband, who gets crazy car sick, only felt slightly queasy…once.
Tour durations vary although three hours is the norm during which you can also combine snorkeling and activities at other places. You can opt for longer or shorter tours depending on your preference and choice of activity. During your Stingray City experience, you will be accompanied by a tour guide who will help you in your interaction with the stingrays.
Tours to Stingray City – There are plenty of choices for tours to Stingray City in Grand Cayman, so do your research well before selecting a tour. Some of them offer the main Stingray City experience where you can interact with stingrays while others club activities such as snorkeling, diving or sailing as well. Although there are tours available through the daytime, if you wish to avoid the crowds, go for an early morning tour to Stingray City.
Some of the most popular Stingray City tours are:
- Stingray City Experience from Grand Cayman (book here)
- Stingray City and Snorkel Tour in Grand Cayman (book here)
You can also check out these highly rated tour companies:
During my tour, about twenty of us entered the water to swim with stingrays and formed a circle as if we where going to play ring around the rosie. For a second I was afraid that there would be no stingray to swim with, like the missing monkeys at Gumbalimba Park in Honduras due to cashew season. But, this was not the case. The ray swarmed us as if they were killer bees and we were dipped in honey.
While I was anxious initially, it turned into a memorable adventure after a few minutes with these fascinating creatures. As you feel them gliding up against you, it is quite thrilling and as you get used to the feeling, it becomes an enjoyable experience. Remember to treat the animals with respect and avoid stepping accidentally on them! You can touch and take photographs, and if you feel brave enough, you can feed squid to the stingrays.
Other Things to Do in Grand Cayman
There is more to the Grand Cayman than just the Stingray City experience, as I discovered much to my delight. You can go for various indoor and outdoor activities on the island. Enjoy the good life at the Seven Mile Beach that thrives with all kinds of interesting activities. If you are a foodie, the restaurants are top notch and the sea food, delicious. Shop, eat, drink, unwind at the beach, try water sports and have fun on the Seven Mile stretch! You can also head to more secluded beaches on the island for a quieter time on the shores. Or, go diving to see shipwrecks!
Other places of interest include Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park with its wonderful flora and fauna, historical sites such as Pedro St. James, the Cayman Islands National Museum in George Town, and Bodden Town. You can also make a visit to the Turtle Centre, go hiking through subtropical forest on the Mastic Trail or take a tour of the captivating Cayman Crystal Caves (tour info here).
Essential Tips for Visiting Grand Cayman
Getting There: Travel by air or by sea to reach Grand Cayman. From the US, there are airlines with flights that go to Owen Roberts International Airport in Grand Cayman. Regular air services are available from most major cities with a stop in Miami, and it only takes a little more than an hour by flight from Miami to reach Grand Cayman. You can easily check for the best fare deals at Skyscanner, which also has the option to choose ‘cheapest month’ as the departure to find the lowest priced dates to fly to your destination. If you enjoy cruises, book a trip aboard a cruise liner with a stop at Grand Cayman to experience a Stingray City excursions and other attractions. Cruise ships dock at the port in George Town from where you can proceed to see the island.
Where to Stay in Grand Cayman: It’s typically best to stay near the city center, public transportation or the area that you will be spending the most time in. But, the Grand Cayman is fairly small and almost anywhere can be reached within an hour (minus traffic). Beach Suites (moderate) is a great choice along Seven Mile Beach. For something on the less expensive side, try Compass Point Dive Resort (budget-moderate) located on the east end. For a hotel with a little more extravagance, book a room at the Ritz Carlton (luxury) or the Westin (luxury). Or search some great deals on hotels of your choice at Booking.com. If you’re looking for more of a home atmosphere (or are traveling with a group of people), head over to Airbnb that has houses, apartments and even just a room for rent in every price range.
Getting Around: Renting a car in Grand Cayman is the best to really experience the island and RentalCars.com has some great deals. If you are not renting a car, you can go by taxi, but it may get expensive if you are doing it for every trip.
Insurance: It’s always a good idea to travel fully insured so you are protected in case of trip cancellations or medical emergencies. You can check out pricing are Travelex Insurance.
If you are looking for a unique wildlife activity, an up close and personal encounter with stingrays on a tour to Stingray City is a must. Friendly stingrays, beautiful waters and the best of island life–I couldn’t ask for more!
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