Courtesy of Ty Sawyer
Cayman Islands Specials
This group of three islands just south of Cuba, rise up from a hallowed part of the Caribbean. The three islands — Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman — exist for divers and each exude a unique dive experience.
Grand Cayman, which is surrounded by a fairy ring of more than 230 moored dive sites is the cosmopolitan hub. If you want days spent exploring walls, wrecks, shallow gardens and caverns - followed by nights at world class restaurants or exploring electric night life, Grand Cayman is your ideal dive world. To be sure, if you want quiet on Grand Cayman, you can find it, especially off the bucolic East End. The newest dive site was just sunk off the sweet sands of Seven Mile Beach, the Kittiwake, a decommissioned US Navy vessel, which is attracting both divers and a variety of marine life.
For a pure dive escape, you’ll want to island hop over to Little Cayman, about 40 minutes from Grand Cayman. With only 110 full time residents, Little Cayman is overrun with rare iguanas and marine birds. But, the reason for the pilgrimage is summed up in three words: Bloody Bay Wall. Arguably, the best wall diving in the Caribbean, Bloody Bay Wall will easily soak up a week of underwater adventures. It drops off into the Cayman Trench, so when you slip over the edge, you will definitely know the awesome feeling of flight.
Cayman Brac, perhaps the most underrated destination in the Caribbean, is about 15 minutes from Little Cayman by boat. The most famed site is the first divable Russian warship, the MV Captain Keith Tibbets. The wreck is spectacular, but the walls here rival any in the world and the shallow gardens ripple with life. The island is named for the 34 metre/110 foot bluff off the east end of the island while some say lost pirate treasure can be found in the limestone caves that riddle the island.
Together the Cayman Islands comprise one of the dive world’s best triple threats. In fact, you can Dive Cayman 365 different ways. With a program in place to increase the number of officially named dive sites in teh Cayman Islands to 365 within the next few years, divers will find every good reason to explore the islands' marine marvels. And, the entire experience is wrapped in clear blue, almost current-free water. Can it get any more perfect?
HOT DIVE SITES:
There is no off season in the Cayman Islands. Although you can get better travel deals during the traditional hurricane season from August to October, you can dive year-round in these calm, clear waters. There are three main regions: the North Wall; The East End; and Seven Mile Beach. You can also dive off South Sound, but it isn't well visited and sees the fewest divers. You can expect to see turtles, eels, macro life and tarpon, as well as nice sponge growth on the deeper sections of the wall.
- USS Kittiwake — After years of hard work and a collective community effort, the 77-metres/251-foot ex-submarine rescue ship, the USS Kittwake was sunk just off Seven Mile Beach on 5 January 2011. Lying near the Sand Chute dive site, the vessel is already accumulating marine life and, with intact contours and interior, is an underwater photographer’s dream.
- Ghost Mountain — A lone pinnacle, ghost mountain is so named simply because you can't see it from the mooring ball and it “appears” from the blue as you approach. The lush pinnacle has masses of gorgonians and concentrated color. At 36 metres/110 feet, there’s a gorgonian-crowded cavern that goes all the way through the base.
- Eenie, Meenie, Miney, Mo — A brand new site that is part of the Dive 365 program (an ongoing project to develop and maintain 365 separate moorings so divers have new, beautiful choice every day of the year), this is destined to be a classic. It consists of four overgrown pinnacles sitting off the East End wall and you simply can't see it all on one dive.
- Snapper Hole — Best in August and September, millions of silversides pack into the swimthroughs and caverns of this fairly shallow East End site. Tarpon, bar jacks, black jacks and other predators gorge themselves on this mercurial buffet.
- Amphritrite — The 2.7 metre-/9.0 foot-tall mermaid statue sits just off PADI Five Star Instructor Development Dive Resort Sunset House in 12 metres/40 feet of water. This bronze statue almost always has a gray angelfish or two flitting about and a resident moray that lives under the base. Makes for a unique photo op and can be a shore dive.
- Hammerhead Hill — On the North Wall, this site drops almost straight into the abyss. Spotted eagle rays, hammerheads (in the cooler months), sea turtles and lots of other creatures make this section vibrant with marine life.
- Sandbar — This is a snorkel, but certainly one you won't want to miss. Arrive at dawn when the 120 or so resident southern stingrays circle the shallow sand bank (1-3 metres/3-8 feet deep) like a squadron of stealthy fighter jets. This is an unforgettable experience but don't forget your camera.
Locate a Dive Shop In Grand Cayman
Little Cayman offers an amazing, world-class wall dive experience that will exceed your expectations through an entire week of diving. Between the wall itself and the shallow coral gardens along the top, you'll never want to get out of the water.
- Randy’s Gazebo — Everybody has their favorite section of the wall, but Randy’s Gazebo seems to show up on all the lists. Photographers favor shooting the arch at about 24 metres/80 feet while just about everybody else loves the swim-through chimney.
- Mixing Bowl — The most diverse site on Bloody Bay Wall, the drop starts at about 5 metres/18 feet. After you’ve finished the deeper part of the dive, it’s great to hang out under the boat and try to find all the little creatures, including yellow-headed jawfish, eels, snapping shrimp, Pederson shrimp. All of this happens at safety stop depth, making this one of the most interesting place to off-gas around Little Cayman.
- Lea Lea’s Lookout — This section of the reef is defined by two cuts and most divers start and one cut and end at the other. One of the most easy sections of the reef to navigate, it features thriving coral and almost every section represents a mini ecosystem. Make sure to look for the massive lobster hanging out in the barrel sponges.
Locate a Dive Shop in Little Cayman
Lush walls, lush underwater life and one of the best wreck dives in the Caribbean define Cayman Brac. You'll get the best of both worlds if you split time here with Little Cayman, but the Brac holds its own and will surprise you with its diversity.
- MV Captain Keith Tibbetts — This year, the Cayman Islands celebrate the 15th anniversary of the sinking of this Russian warship. Since 1996 when Jean-Michel Cousteau rode this wreck to the bottom, the Tibbets has enthralled divers from around the world. Although starting to crumble in places, the sharp prow of this one-time Russian warship makes for stunning images. Plus, it’s a haven for marine life.
- Snapper Point — The local divemasters have given in and decided to share this site with everyone. Off the Western tip of the island, it features both a mini wall and coral heads. It’s crawling with grouper, tarpon and even rare blue parrotfish. If you want to go to Snapper Point, you’ll have to ask for it specifically.
- Anchor Wall — No one knows the history of this seventeenth century anchor, but as you descend and pass through the narrow slot to the wall, you’ll see the coral encrusted anchor embedded in the reef towering over your head as you slip into the blue. Look for passing eagle rays to distract you.
Locate a Dive Shop in Cayman Brac
Depths: Can range from surface to beyond 40 metres/140 feet. There’s wall diving off all three of the Cayman Island, so technical divers will have plenty of deeper diving to enjoy as most of teh local dive shops support Nitrox Diving
Visibility: 20 metres/65 feet to more than 50 metres/160 feet, depending on area and time of year. But, dives consistently experience more than 30 metres/100 feet of visibility.
Currents: Can range from gentle to slightly less gentle but most sites have absolutely no current at all.
Water Temperature: 27° C/81° F in summer and 22° C/75° F in winter.
Dive Season: Diving is available all year. Hurricane season runs from August to October, but, if there aren't any, it’s the best time of year for visibility and calm, glassy seas.
Weather: Temperature ranges from 24° C/75° F to 33° C/91° F and sea breezes manage to keep the worst of the humidity at bay. But, it’s the Caribbean, you come to be warm, get a tan and feel the tropical bliss of perspiration.
Access: Cayman Airways is the National Flag Carrier of the Cayman Islands, providing non-stop flights from cities such as New York, Washington, DC, and Miami to name a few. Other airlines providing service to the Cayman Islands include Air Canada, American Airlines, British Airways, Continental Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, US Airways and WestJet
Skill Level: From novice to advanced. There are lots of opportunities for deep wall and technical diving.
Scuba Gear: Most dive centers and resorts offer full equipment hire.
Length of stay: Seven nights will let you sample the diving on each island individually but longer itineraries will allow you to experience all three islands. You'll want to schedule 10 days to two weeks if you can. A live-aboard options also helps you reach the best sites if you only have seven days.
Featured Creatures: You can find stingrays, sea turtles, grouper, eels, angelfish, jawfish, tarpon, silversides, occasional reef sharks.
Currency: There is no need to exchange US dollars into local currency when visiting the Cayman Islands. The US dollar is widely accepted throughout the islands at a rate of CI 80 cents. Canadian dollars (CAD), Euros (EUR), and British pounds (GBP) can be exchanged for CI dollars at local banks
Tipping: Definitely tip your divemasters and live-aboard crews but tipping (usually 15 percent) is also expected at restaurants, hotels and for any guides you hire.
Transportation: Flights among the islands are available daily via Cayman Airways and Island Air. Car hire and taxis are available on the islands.
Major Airports: Owen Roberts International Airport (GCM) on Grand Cayman, Gerrard Smith International Airport (CYB) on Cayman Brac and Edward Bodden Airfield (LYB) on Little Cayman.
Airport Entry/Exit fees: A Tourist Visa is required for many nationalities and available at no cost and issued upon arrival. Check the consulate's web page for complete information. The departure tax of approximately $20 CI is usually included with the airfare.
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For more information about the Cayman Islands, visit www.divecayman.ky