My article titled Top Snorkeling Spots in Grand Cayman has been the most popular one on my web site over the years. The folks over at Sunplay have seen my list and sent me videos of some of the snorkeling sites on Grand Cayman. These videos include underwater photography!
While traveling in the Caribbean, I was fortunate enough to visit some friends who were staying in Jamaica. Yes, we were there for the beautiful sandy beaches and nights out in Negril, but local festivals were also on our radar. Of course the sun was definitely a factor too!
If you’re like me, when you think reggae, you probably end up humming a Bob Marley tune. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 50 years, you’ll know that he, along with most other reggae legends, comes from this beautiful island – which brings me to our first July festival!
International Reggae Day
On July 1st, Jamaica hosts an International Reggae Day Festivalwhich celebrates both reggae and the island’s cultural history. Rather than venturing into Kingston for the main festivities, our group decided to celebrate the reggae spirit a little closer to home, at the famous Rick’s Cafe. We danced all day and night to live music, and chatted with both tourists and locals in the laid-back outdoor atmosphere. Known for its music and irie vibe, Rick’s is also a popular cliff-jumping spot. We cheered on the local cliff jumpers (and a few crazy tourists!) while sipping our cold Red Stripes.
Little Ochie Seafood Carnival
If you love seafood as much as I do, you won’t want to miss this annual event in Alligator Pond, Manchester. We shared plates of snapper right of the beachfront grill, curried lobster tails, garlic shrimp and some of the best crab I’ve ever tasted. Not travelling in July? Don’t worry if you miss the beach party – you can enjoy fresh and delicious seafood year-round here at Little Ochie, a family-style tiki hut restaurant known for its fresh and delicious seafood.
Makka Pro Surf Contest
While still relatively small compared to the West Coast surf scene, the Caribbean surfing community is growing steadily. The Makka Pro Surf Contest on Southhaven Beach brings together the local surf talent as well as surfers from around the Caribbean – pack a cooler and a beach chair and catch the excitement.
Portland Jerk Festival
Some fellow travelers we ran into were fresh off a visit to this foodie festival, and I am sorry I missed it! Bringing together a menu packed with jerk specialties (chicken, pork, fish and more), and activities for the whole family, this festival is definitely worth checking out.
Of course after a busy day or night of festivals (and so much eating!), Jamaica’s beaches offer the perfect place to relax.
Susanne Richards is Montreal-based university student who loves music, Caribbean beaches and adventure travel. Susanne occasionally writes for the Luxury Retreats travel blog, about villas in Ocho Rios Jamaica, and her latest travel adventures.
I walked along the path through the dry forest with my eyes constantly searching the rocks and bushes. It was late afternoon and shadows were starting to obscure various possible hiding places. I had walked at least a mile around the trail without seeing one. I was beginning to feel disappointed. How could I walk so far and search so thoroughly but not see one?
Then I came around the bend of the trail back to the main part of the park. There he was in the clearing, lounging in the sun on a large brick circle. The blue iguana.
Many visitors to the tropics have seen green iguanas. Green iguanas may be found in Central and South America, the Caribbean, and as far north as Texas and South Florida. I saw several large green iguanas on a trip to St. John in the US Virgin Islands. One lived on an island in the main swimming pool at the Westin Hotel, serenely observing the children splashing all around him.
Green iguanas are also commonly kept as pets due to their calm disposition, although they can be demanding to care for properly. A guy in my hometown had a very large iguana that roamed freely in his house. I don’t think my mother would have gone for that. Bad enough cleaning up after it when it lives in a cage, what about in the living room? I don’t think you could house train an iguana. And how would you teach it to stay off the couch?
My best friend Chip had an iguana named Zeke. He kept it in a terrarium in his room for several years. It started to grow bigger and bigger, and he had to keep getting a bigger terrarium. Unfortunately, his room was in the basement. It was the middle of winter in Minnesota and he went away for a few days. Somebody in his family, I can’t remember who, saw the light on in his room and thought electricity was being wasted. So he or she turned off the light. Chip came home to find a cold, dead pet. Reptiles need heat, you know.
Blue iguanas are different than green iguanas. Yes, they are a different color (as my kids used to say, “thank you, Captain Obvious!”). Green iguanas were brought to the Cayman Islands from Honduras and are an invasive species. The only place in the world where blue iguanas are found is on the island of Grand Cayman. When I hear statements like that, I always wonder, how did they get there and only there?
Blue iguanas were the original beach goers of Grand Cayman. I can picture them soaking up sun rays on the sands of Seven Mile Beach long before any Native Americans arrived. As humans populated the island in the 1800s, the blue iguanas were pushed into the interior. Over time their numbers fell due to habitat destruction and attacks by feral cats and dogs, and became one of the most critically endangered species on earth. By 2001, only five iguanas survived in the wild.
A recovery program was started at the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park. In 2006, captive bred blue iguanas were first released into the park. Each iguana was tagged with colored beads through its crest and a microchip. A photo was taken of the pattern of the scales on their heads, because these patterns are unique to each individual.
I’m not sure how many blue iguanas are now released into the Botanic Park. There needs to be at least 1,000 animals in the wild to get the blue iguana removed from the Critically Endangered list.
I did see five blue iguanas during my walk around the Botanic Park. If you walk slowly and look carefully at the small sunny gaps between the brush, rocks, and fallen tree limbs, you may spot them. None, however, were as large or as magnificent as the big one snoozing right out in the open, waiting for the sunburned tourists to snap his picture.
P.S. Keith Richards, if you’re reading this, take note of this sign:
Rum Point on Grand Cayman in the Cayman Islands is one of my favorite places on earth. It is on the north coast of the island, far from the crowds of Seven Mile Beach.
The point itself is a small peninsula, with a splendid white sand beach on one side, and rocky iron shore on the other. I like to walk along the iron shore coastline and gaze at the multi-million dollar beach villas, trying to decide which one I would buy if I won the lottery. Along the way I comb the beach for nice shells or interesting flotsam, but all I ever seem to find are plastic bottles washed ashore from Cuba.
Since the Rum Point beach is within the North Sound and far from the reef line, the water is typically very smooth and shallow for at least 50 yards from shore. This makes it great for small children to play in the water and in the sand at the water’s edge. The sand is perfect for making elaborate sand castles. The beach is partially shaded by large pine trees bent by the easterly winds and there are many beach chairs and hammocks for comfortable lounging.
There is a small reef to the right of the pier which is only 20 yards offshore in shallow water. This reef is very accessible for beginning snorkelers to see the colorful fish of the Caribbean in a safe environment.
For those a little more experienced or adventurous, swimming out around Rum Point itself is another option. This area is a marine preserve with lots of sea fans, coral, larger fish, and even some lobsters, conchs, and octopi if you look closely. If the weather is right, there may be a current running from east to west over the point. By starting on the east side, you can swim out 30 yards with your snorkel gear and then float all the way to the pier. No need to paddle, just relax and watch the fish as you coast on by.
The Wreck Bar and Grill is on site to provide a tasty island-style lunch and a fruit smoothie for hot afternoons. Water sports such as paddle boats, wave runners, and small sailboats are available for rent through the Red Sail Sports operation. A trip out to Stingray City in the middle of the North Sound on a large catamaran is good way to spend part of the afternoon.
The beach sometimes gets crowded with cruise ship passengers, who come by boat for a few hours in the middle of the day. Thus the best time for quiet relaxation is in the late afternoon. The sun is not so hot and the shadows from the trees shade you nicely as you snooze or catch up on your reading.
Rum Point is also an excellent spot to watch the sun set. As the sun goes down over the calm waters, you can ponder what to do tomorrow. The answer might be to do the same thing that you did today. Nothing but relax.
Here are the best spots to snorkel in Grand Cayman.
Cheeseburger Reef The reef is about 150 yards offshore behind the Burger King on the north edge of Georgetown. 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 is nothing to see until you get to the reef. The coral formations are impressive, rising up to less than 10 feet from the water surface. Large fish, turtles, and reef sharks can be seen.
Eden Rock The reef is about 100 yards offshore from the Eden Rock Dive Center south of Georgetown. Access into the water is via stairs cut into the ironshore. Swim out to the mooring balls. The reef is a mass of large coral heads connected by tunnels and caves.
Smith’s Barcadere Swim 20 yards straight out from the beach to explore coral heads and schools of small fish. Continue on to either side of the cove. The best snorkeling is on the left of the cove near the shoreline in 6 to 10 feet of water. The beach has shaded areas and picnic tables.
Some other places:
Rum Point – Easy, shallow access good for beginners. Snorkel to the right of the pier towards the small point in front of the Retreat at Rum Point condos.
Turtle Reef – Just north of the Turtle farm lies Turtle Reef. Snorkellers can access it through the shore facilities. There are two different entrances in this location, one, in front of the dive shop by taking a step ladder or by entering in the cove right next to the Turtle Farm.
Cemetery Beach Reef – This patch reef is located near the north end of Seven Mile Beach off a waterfront cemetery. The reef itself is a long, narrow patch reef in less than 10 feet of water. You will find some elkhorn corals on the crown of this reef. The big attraction is the fish. It’s a bit of a swim, about 100 yards, and there is an occasional current, so be aware and cautious.
Wreck of the Gamma – The Gamma is an old freighter that has been sitting just off the shore north of the Cali for decades. Her hull is half exposed and half submerged and presents a striking view. Shore access is easy from a protected rough sand/crushed coral cove. She sits immediately offshore. Depths barely reach 10 feet. Many varieties of fish shelter under the stern while schools of silversides inhabit the interior. The entry cove is slightly north of the wreck.
Wreck of the Cali – Shore access is excellent and the swim is just 75 yards. Watch for the resident population of Tarpon.
South Sound, Blue Parrot: The Blue Parrot is actually the name of a bar that used to be a very popular “hang out” for divers. . The site is now, as was before, at the Coconut Harbor. Because the bar is gone, you can drive your car right to the edge of the water and suite up. The entrance is easy, with steps carved out of the rocky shoreline; one can jump right in and snorkel the 20 yards to the beginning of the coral formation. This site sits in about 30ft of water eventually getting deeper to 50ft in a sandy bottom.
Bodden Town, Beach Bay: Beach Bay is a small cove hidden just before entering Bodden Town. You have to drive down the long Beach Bay road, about two miles, before you reach the shore. There is a small parking lot as soon as you get to the end of the road. From there just walk downhill to the beach, you will see the cove to the left. This snorkeling spot is situated at the end of Pedro’s Bluff. The entrance is fairly easy; the small man made lagoon makes for an easy access to the outside barrier reef that surrounds the area. The area consists of mostly shallow water snorkeling with dramatic coral formations outside the reef in about 30ft of water.
Morritt’s Tortuga – You can snorkel right off the dock at Tortuga located on the eastern end of Grand Cayman. It is a shallow area with coral formations, sea fans and schooling fish. Some of the best spots can be found by the Tortuga Club’s reefs, to both the left or right of the resort as well as the pier. Be aware of the channel that sometimes carries quite a lot of current, snorkel on the right of the pier at the Tortuga club or on the left of the channel by walking on beach or driving to the beach by the point.
Travel Stories from Around the World by Steve Skabrat