Top Snorkeling Spots in Grand Cayman

Smith's Cove in Grand Cayman

Here are the best spots to snorkel in Grand Cayman.

Smith's Cove in Grand Cayman
Smith's Barcadere on 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.

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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.

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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.
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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.

Tips for Looking Un-American in Europe

Blending in in Rome

Some Americans get a little nervous about their citizenship when traveling overseas. When Bush was president and the Iraq war was started, there was some ill will towards Americans in some countries. Some travelers didn’t want to obviously stand out as Americans. Of course, if you are wandering around Paris or Berlin with a backpack on your back and your head down in a tour map mumbling in American English about how to find the nearest McDonalds, it’s pretty easy to tell that you’re not a local.

I’m not suggesting that you should try to hide or even that you would be successful at that endeavor, but there are a few things you can do to make it not so obvious that you’re an American tourist.

Blending in in Rome
Blending in in Rome

First, check your socks and shoes. If you’re a man, wearing white athletic socks and white Nike cross-trainer athletic shoes is a dead giveaway. Better to have some black Pumas with dark socks, or nice leather loafers. If you’re a woman, wearing comfortable, practical walking shoes sounds like a good idea and you’re thinking that your feet will thank you after a long day touring every last exhibit at the Louvre. However, the local women most likely will still be wearing uncomfortable, impractical high heels. Because looking good is more important than sore feet.

Next, don’t wear shorts. Even if it is very hot, wearing cargo shorts (with the aforementioned white socks and athletic shoes) is a no-no. For one thing, nobody wants to see your spindly white legs and knobby knees. Instead, get a lightweight pair of pants. But not those travel pants with the zip-off shorts. Those just look dorky, and who would wear those around your own city anyway?

If you have one of those fancy travel vests with the 39 pockets, leave it at home. Those should only be used if you’re fly fishing in Montana.

Americans love their baseball-style caps. They might look great for cheering on the Yankees, advertising your farm’s seed choices, or making political statements, but in Europe and other places you might as well replace the logo on the front with a sign that says “I am an American! Be rude to me in Parisian cafes.”

A good general rule is to dress up a little more than you would do at home. Americans have a tendency to look, well, sloppy. Blue jeans, a baggy t-shirt, and a bulky hooded sweatshirt advertising the college you wanted to attend or dropped out of is the uniform of the American traveler. You don’t have to dress up to look like an insurance salesman. But you also don’t need to look like you just finished cleaning the garage.

Leaving some of the bright colors at home is good, too. The lime green shirt, orange socks, and purple pants might be fine for your golf course, but will look strange in many places in Europe. I was in Copenhagen, Denmark in the winter and I am sure that 99% of the people on the Strøget wore black. Black pants, black boots, black leather jackets, black scarves, and black hats. I thought I was at an undertakers convention. I had a bright blue ski jacket on and felt very conspicuous.

I don’t always follow these tips, but sometimes I do have minor successes. I was waiting for the elevator to go up one of the towers of the Frauenkirche in Munich, Germany when a woman asked me for the time. In German. I gave her a slight smile and answered her in English. She looked puzzled and walked away to ask someone else.

Curacao is an island in the Netherlands Antilles where they speak Dutch, Papiamentu, Spanish, and English. They also get a lot of Dutch and German tourists in the winter. My family was greeted by the owner of a restaurant in Willemstad first in Dutch, then in German, and then in Spanish. We didn’t say a word. Finally, he spoke in English and we all smiled.

You don’t have to shop at H&M or Zara before leaving the US, but a few minor tweaks to the wardrobe may help you blend in. At least until you open your mouth…

Wearing the wrong touring clothes
Breaking all the rules

Walking and Not Smoking in Jamaica

smoking in Jamaica

I always rent a car when I go on a beach vacation.  I like to visit different beaches and that can be difficult without a car.  Well, almost always.  The only time I haven’t rented a car was our visit to Jamaica.  I had heard horror stories about tourists driving in Jamaica, getting lost, robbed, or worse.  I’m sure those are isolated incidents that get international headlines and that I am more likely to get poked by sharp coral.  Still, driving around the island didn’t sound like a good idea, even if we were going to the tourist areas and not the toughest parts of Kingston.

rocks above the Caribbean Sea
The view at Catch a Falling Star in Negril, Jamaica

We were staying in Montego Bay on the north shore for a few days, followed by Negril for a few days.  The resort we stayed at in Mo’ Bay (as the locals call it) was a half mile outside of town. We took a taxi into the shopping area.  There wasn’t much in the stores that interested me.  It was June, off season, and there weren’t many tourists around.  So the storekeepers descended on us like vultures to road kill.  Every other guy kept asking me about Bob.  Who the hell is this Bob guy anyway? And I why should I know anything about him?

I found out that Bob also has other names.  Like Marley, smoke, and ganja.  These people were trying to sell me marijuana.  Which one would think would be illegal, even in Jamaica, but everywhere we went I was approached to buy pot.  I couldn’t sit on the beach for more than 15 minutes without someone, male or female, young or old, asking me to relieve them of some of their stash.  Even the waiters in the restaurants were part-time salesmen.  They were polite and discrete about it, nothing too pushy or obnoxious.  But it still annoyed me and disturbed my attempts at relaxation.

smoking in Jamaica
Hanging with Bob (photo by Allison Skabrat)

After shopping and not buying anything but coffee beans, I suggested we walk over to the marina and have dinner at a seafood restaurant I read about.  We could take the main road the long way around the bay, or take a short cut.  I made the executive decision to take the short cut, because I was wearing flip flops and my feet were starting to hurt.

By this time it had gotten dark, and the road we took cut through an industrial area.  Many of the streetlights were broken, and our shadows from the few that remained danced along the corrugated tin walls of abandoned warehouses.  Litter blew in the sea breeze at our feet as we picked our way through the potholes.

Distant memories of old newspaper accounts of tourist crimes bounced around my brain as I picked up the pace a little.  I didn’t want to alarm my wife and daughter with tales of violent crime as we strolled through an area where we could vanish into the night.

“Let’s walk a little faster.  I’m really hungry,” I said.  I was hungry, but I was also getting a little scared.  I kept looking over my shoulder.  But there was no one on the street.  We were alone.

We eventually found the restaurant and had a nice meal and a couple of Red Stripes.  When it was time to go, I knew we should take a cab.  There was no way I was going to walk back through the warehouse wasteland late at night.  I asked the hostess to call us a taxi, which brought us conveniently back to our hotel.

The next day we left for Negril, which is on the western end of the island.  Negril has a reputation as a hippy hangout and party central.  We stayed outside of town again, away from the main beach in a bungalow above the rocks.  The girl at the front desk suggested we go down the road to Rick’s Café to see the cliff divers and the reggae band.  It was also a great spot to see the sun set over the Caribbean Sea. That sounded like fun.

Since Rick’s Café was only a couple of hundred yards down the road, I thought it didn’t make sense to call a taxi.  The taxis were all back in town. Instead, we’d walk there and back.

The trip there was of course in the early evening, before the sun had set.  We watched the divers, the reggae band, and the sunset. After the band finished its second set, I asked the girls if we could go.  After all, I was tired from a long day of declining marijuana purchases.

“Are you sure we want to walk back?  Can we take a taxi?  It’s really dark out there now and there is no shoulder on the road,” said my safety-conscious wife.

“Hey, we can walk a couple of hundred yards.  It’s not like the road is crowded.  We’ll see cars coming our way,” I said.  I was acting more courageous than I felt.

What could happen?  It’s only two hundred yards.  We left the café and started walking.  It was a warm, humid night.  The moon was a sliver crescent, hanging in the sky to light our way.  The flying bugs were buzzing in the trees.  We strolled along arm in arm.

As we came around the bend near our place, I noticed that there was a guy standing by the gate to our compound.  I could see that he was tall and thin and had something in his hands. I couldn’t tell what it was.

“Uh, there’s a guy in our way up there,” I said.  I was trying to be bold and protective.

“He’s probably going to try to sell us pot, Dad” said my teenaged daughter. Based on our recent experiences in the country, I had to say that was an accurate prediction.

“Just keep walking and don’t say anything to provoke him.”

We approached the guy, ready to run and bang on our gate and yell at a moment’s notice.

“Good evening ladies and gentleman.  Would you care to have a look at my artwork?” he said as he pushed the button on a small flashlight he held in one hand as he pulled some watercolors out of a satchel hanging from his shoulder.

“No thanks, not tonight.  Maybe some other time,” I said.  That was a change of pace.  Not Bob, but art.

We knocked on our gate to wake up the night guard so he could let us in.

The next day Lisa and I went for a walk.  As we turned out of the gate we ran right into the guy again.  We couldn’t avoid him so we stopped to talk.  In the daylight I could see that his eyes were red and glazed over.  I think he had been talking with Bob quite a bit already that day.  It probably interfered with his painting and selling techniques.

We didn’t buy any of his watercolors.  But we did enjoy talking with him.  In the daylight, he was nothing to be afraid of.  He was friendly and offered to be our tour guide.  We politely declined.

Our new friend Russell in Negril (photo by Allison Skabrat)

On the flight home I thought about our experiences and how my perceptions colored my attitude about the place.  We weren’t any more unsafe than many other places we have visited.  I knew that in my rational mind.  However, that didn’t mean I was ready to book a return trip to Jamaica.

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