Scuba Diving in Grand Cayman – A Diver’s Paradise.
By: Cris Merz
Did you know that The Cayman Islands were originally named “Las Tortugas” by Christopher Columbus when he first sighted them in 1503 during his fourth voyage to the New World? Today, The Caymans has not only become a major international financial centre but also a major tourist destination. Besides some great shopping and the seven mile beach, scuba diving is the primary activity among tourists. Going through a Scuba Discovery program or diving off Bloody Bay Wall in Little Cayman or just playing with the stingrays at Stingray City, there is something for everyone. Grand Cayman, the largest of the three Cayman Islands and the location of the territory’s capital, is also well known for several sport/recreational shore dives as well as technical diving. (Intro to Tech)
Located just south of Cuba, the Caymans are a relatively easy location to reach. One hour and thirty minutes from Miami to George Town by plane, it is an easy destination to get to. The Caymans have a tropical marine climate, with a wet season of warm, rainy summers (May to October) and a dry season of relatively hot winters (November to April). August is the hottest month in Grand Cayman with an average temperature of 85°F/ 30°C and the coldest is January at 77°F/25°C.
Between April – October water temperature ranges between 80F to 84F. Between October – March water temperature ranges 78F to 80F. Average Visibility can range from anywhere between 60’-200’ ft . Keep in mind that summer offers the calmest seas and thus, the best visibility.
Divetech Pier and Lighthouse Point – One of the best shores dives in the Caymans.
Located on the north shore of the West Bay region is a site directly of the Divetech pier, (Mission tech, Dive Tech) a dive center specializing in technical diving and mixed gas training. Diving here offers a perfect getaway from Seven Mile Beach and it is just a 15 minute drive North of Georgetown. Access is from a concrete pier and dive ladder set into the Iron Shore. As the divers swim out of the pier, they will encounter a wall with depths ranging from 40 to70 feet. This small “wall” runs parallel to the shoreline from east to west. This coral encrusted step is ideal for beginners and thrives with marine life. The wall is rich with sponges, corals and all types of tropical reef fish, including a school of large tarpon above a white sandy bottom.
Beyond 60ft, out a little farther, In addition to the shear drop of the 2nd wall, you can find canyons, swim throughs, pinnacles, huge barrel sponges and a resident school of Jacks. This dive site is pristine and unspoiled with southern eagle and lemon rays, turtles, octopus, scorpion fish, bristle stars, crabs, anemones, eels, tarpons and an abundance of reef fish from juveniles to old timers seen on a daily basis. Divers may rent underwater scooters for cruising the wall – often called Turtle Farm Reef. The Turtle Farm is almost next door and makes for a good afternoon tour after the diving is done for the day. Shore diving is on your own schedule, relaxed, budget friendly and open any time of day or night.
Aptly named because of its location just downwind of a Burger King on the nearby shore. Access into the water is via a small sandy path of beach between the north side of the Burger King and the south side of the Lobster Pot Dive Shop. Look for the two orange mooring balls that mark the reef. There will be little to see until you get to the reef itself were the coral formations are impressive, rising up to less than 10 feet from the water surface. Boasting incredible visibility, great reef structure, and copious amounts of all kinds of underwater life, this site serves to please. Large fish, turtles, and reef sharks can be seen.
The aspect that makes this dive site the most memorable to many is the opportunity to experience a “Silver Rush.” During the summer months, massive schools of small fish called Atlantic Silversides flood every crevice and swim-through in the reef. As divers make their way through a swim-through filled with hundreds of thousands of the silversides, they part around you and engulf you; it is almost as if you are contained in a small orb, moving through the masses. Every now and then, you will meet a 6 foot tarpon hanging out right in the middle of it all. The experience is surreal and has potential for some amazing photo opportunities!
USS Kittiwake – An amazing wreck!
If you are a fan of wreck diving and taking an exploratory adventure through time and history, then this is a “must do”. Launched on the 10th of July 1945 and following an illustrious half-century in service, she was decommissioned in 1994 and her title was transferred in November 2008 to the government of the Cayman Islands for the purpose of using her to form a new artificial reef.
The 250ft long Chanticleer-class submarine rescue vessel was stripped of hazardous materials and sunk off the northern end of Seven Mile Beach in 2011. Because the marine life marine growth on the Kittiwake is still minimal, you can still see the wreck in all of its glory. With proper training in wreck penetration, (Wreck, adv wreck) divers can navigate through 5 decks of the 47ft tall vessel including the mess hall, hospital station, propulsion rooms and ammunition lockers, and even have a “Titanic moment” on the bridge. With a max depth of 60ft this is an experience for divers of all levels. Heck, even snorkelers can get a great view overhead.
Tarpon Alley – The Place for ‘Silver Kings’
Located on the North Wall, this amazing wall is located near Stingray City and is accessible by boat. A favorite with underwater photographers, Tarpon Springs is named for the many – you guessed it – tarpon who find food and refuge in the reef. What makes this a great site is that the tarpon usually just kind of hover, barely moving out of the way of a diver passing through. Many of can reach a length of almost 4 ft in length though the average may be around 3ft. The topography at depths of 50-80 ft. consists of many incredible drop-offs and canyons covered in coral and sea fans which are home to hawksbill turtles, barracuda, stingrays, yellowtail snapper, and other marine life typical to the area. If you look out into the blue – don’t be surprised to see a shark or two. This is a great site for divers transitioning between open water and advanced. (adv adventure course)
Babylon – King of the North Wall
Although the Grand Cayman Wall runs around the entire Island, offering dives on all sides, the North Wall on may very well offer the best diving for divers of different levels, training and as well as expectations. Behold Babylon, on the East End of the North Wall. Considered one of the “must dive” sites in the Caymans t isn’t easy to reach and usually accessible via live-aboard or a full day trip only – which is why this site may still be so pristine as it is impacted by fewer divers than other sites. Starting at 40ft, the wall itself is full of wired coral, black coral and rope and barrel sponges coloring the wall in red, blues, purples and greens. Marine life includes tarpon, barracuda, parrot fish, wrasse, trigger fish and so much more including schools of chromis everywhere. Babylon is a very easy dive, the top of the Cayman wall starts between 35-45 feet. There are large sand patches on top of the wall and excellent shallow reefs for those scuba divers that do not want to venture too deep. (Deep course) For scuba divers who want a true vertical experience, they will find it on the wall at Babylon – often listed as one of the top Ten Wall Dives in the Caribbean.
The Caribbean offers numerous destinations that have blue waters, white sand and sunsets accompanied by a cool rum-runner and steel drums playing in the backround. This Caribbean destination is not different. Though it may not provide the laid back and relaxing feel as much as some of the other islands including Cayman Brac, it is still a wonderful getaway for divers of all levels as it is a fantastic place to advance your training.