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!
The reef in front of the Octopus Resort on Waya Island in Fiji starts five yards from the shore. It has the most amazing snorkeling I have ever seen. The reef is full of healthy and vibrant hard corals. There are giant brain corals 20 feet in diameter, staghorn, elkhorn; more species than I can identify. I have been to several Caribbean reefs and they look wrecked compared to this reef. Perhaps this is what the Caribbean looked like 100 years ago, before the overfishing, clumsy tourists, and coral bleaching.
There are many different kinds of fish weaving in and out of the coral. I see bright yellow butterfly fish calmly grazing in pairs. There are Picasso triggerfish cruising the shallows. Bright blue damsels protect their territory from attack. I catch a glimpse of an octopus as it slides under a ledge fifteen feet down. As I glide over a wall I see a large moray eel ducking in and out of a cavity at the base of the wall, ready to catch any tang foolish enough to swim by too close.
I see a dark cloud up ahead. It is a gigantic school of fish. They are small, maybe six inches long, but there are thousands of them. I find out later that they are sardines. They form an ever changing mass about 20 yards long by 10 yards wide by 15 feet deep. There must be ten thousand fish in the school. I slowly glide into the school and it parts around me. I try to be as still as possible. The school envelopes me like I am the eye of the hurricane. The fish circle me and from time to time I extend my hand to the moving wall of fish. This causes a panic and the fish reverse direction and flee from the threat. No one wants to be the fish on the outside of the school, to be eaten by a predator in the great circle of life.
In the afternoon I take a refresher course in scuba diving. I think it’s a good idea since I haven’t been diving in ten years. The instructor is a big, burly islander named Kuki. Another guest at the dive shop is considering taking a Discover Scuba Diving class. She asks Kuki how experienced he is at diving. He tells her he’s been diving every day for 19 years! Kuki runs through the skills with me in the shallow waters a few feet off shore. I am ready for diving again.
The next day Kuki takes me out into the bay off Likuliku Beach. The first dive is at a site called Three Sisters. We get our gear on and fall over the side. Kuki doesn’t wear a wetsuit. He looks like he has enough insulation as it is. We slowly descend about 30 feet. The assortment of hard corals is amazing. Near one table coral is a cloud of tiny bright blue fish. A school of tangs glide past us.
I follow Kuki as he winds his way along the reef. I try to relax and use only my feet, while keeping my arms folded across my chest. My breathing slows and I achieve neutral buoyancy. Kuki stops by a bramble of coral. He points with his underwater pen at a lionfish. We count five lionfish in this spot. A lionfish has sharp spines to deter predators and gulps his unsuspecting dinner whole.
I see an anemone about two feet across. It is home to two large orange clownfish nestling in the tentacles of the anemone. These fish are not quite like Nemo but a different species. A clam about one foot long slowly flaps its lips at me as I stare at its electric green color.
After 45 minutes of fabulous exploration it is time for our three minute safety stop. We hover fifteen feet below the surface and watch the timer tick down. As I rise to the surface I’m happy with the dive. The visibility was very good, the corals were excellent and we saw many varieties of fish.
After a break we head over to another dive site. This one is called Octopus Garden. I see many of the same things at this site, but because it’s so good I don’t notice until the dive is over. The most memorable thing of this dive was seeing a large Hawksbill turtle. I was at about 50 feet in depth and the turtle was grazing near a wall about 20 feet below me. It hovered there for a few moments and then slowly moved away to deeper water.
Kuki gave me a high five and a fist bump once we were back to shore. It was a great way to spend a morning in Fiji.
The turtle slowly grazed among the rocks along the shoreline. It was a big sea turtle, with a shell about three feet long. It was mostly submerged. Once in a while it would come up for a breath, look around at the sunburned tourists lying on the beach, and duck back down to continue its late afternoon snack. The beachgoers walked by, oblivious to its presence only three feet offshore in two feet of water.
I had snorkeled in the waters all around the sandbar at Poipu Beach that day, searching for turtles. A guy I talked to in the pool at the condo complex told me that there were typically a dozen turtles in that area. I saw lots of fish while I was snorkeling, but no turtles.
Snorkeling in Kauai is a little different than in the Caribbean. The water visibility is much lower. The water is full of bubbles from the powerful surf and it mixes with the sand and red dirt runoff from the recent storm. In the Caribbean, most fish that one sees are small. The locals have caught and eaten a lot of the larger specimens. However, here in Kauai I saw many larger fish very close to shore.
There were Naso Tangs more than one foot long. I saw several Humuhumunukunukua’ua’a (the Hawaiian state fish and my personal favorite) that were also approximately one foot long. Pairs of Moorish Idols glided along the rocks, pecking away at algae. A very large Unicorn Fish boldly sailed within a few feet of my head. I think he was wondering what I was doing on his surf and turf.
After a long time fighting the surf to get to the outer edges of the reef, I gave up and collapsed in a heap on the beach. It was time to take a nap. The soft strains of Hawaiian ukelele music from a stereo at a local family’s picnic lulled me into sleep.
Later, parked on the beach, I scanned the ocean for any sign of whale activity. Just when my eyes started to get tired, I saw a whale spout. It was almost to the horizon line and at the very edge of my long range vision. After a few seconds I saw a whale rise up out of the ocean and then crash back down.
As the sun was starting its daily descent to the horizon, I wandered the beach where the ocean meets the sand. As I walked, I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye. I turned my head to see the turtle catching a breath five feet away from me. It winked at me, and then dived to rejoin its family.
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