Swimming with Dolphins in Anguilla

dolphin flipper wave

Aischa popped out of the water and thrust her snout up to my cheek. She wanted a kiss. She held herself still in that position until I obliged by putting my lips on her face. Now happy, she tilted her head up and then slid down into the water and swam away.

dolphin kiss
Getting a kiss from Aischa the bottlenose dolphin.

I had never thought about interacting with a dolphin before; I thought that was something that would be more interesting for kids. However, on a recent cruise I signed up for a dolphin encounter excursion. I assumed it would be little more than a short photo opportunity in a big swimming pool where a dolphin would be confined like in an aquatic zoo. I was wrong. It turned out to be one of the highlights of my trip.

dolphin discovery
The beach and boardwalk at Dolphin Discovery on Anguilla.

The cruise ship stopped in St. Maarten and from there I sailed for an hour over to the neighboring island of Anguilla. After a short bus ride, I arrived at the Dolphin Discovery facility. These bottlenose dolphins live not in an artificial environment (e.g., a swimming pool) like at Sea World, but in a large fenced in area of the ocean. I walked on a long boardwalk out to the man-made lagoon and got in the water.

Scientists think that dolphins are one of the most intelligent animals on the planet. They’re highly social animals, living in groups (called pods) of up to a dozen members. They establish strong social bonds; they will stay with injured or ill pod members, even helping them breathe by bringing them to the surface to breathe if needed; and they have been known to protect swimmers from sharks. They are great communicators – by clicks, whistles, and other vocalizations, and by non-audible touch and posturing movements.

My guide’s name was Jose, and he was working with a young female dolphin named Aischa. Jose was a new trainer and he was still building up a rapport with the rambunctious teenager. Aischa had learned her dolphin encounter behaviors, but she sometimes disobeyed Jose and swam away to the other side of the lagoon to be with her boyfriend. Sounds just like a human being, doesn’t it?

happy dolphin
Aischa flipping into the air.

The dolphins at this facility were trained for at least four behaviors when interacting with guests.

The first behavior is the kiss. Jose instructed me to hold my hands together in a cupped fashion, extending my arms out in front of me. Jose blew his whistle and in response Aischa swam up to me and held her position with her head out of the water until I smooched her.

Next, I held my hands up high above my head. Aischa came out of the water vertically and, while balancing on her tail, waved her flippers at me. She seemed to be smiling and laughing at me as she nodded her head in unison with the flipper movements. It was so charming…

dolphin flipper wave
Doing the dolphin flipper wave!

For the next two behaviors I swam out into the lagoon. As instructed, I floated with my feet down in the water and held out my right arm while I put my left arm across my chest. On Jose’s command, Aischa swam in a circle around me until she approached me from behind. Right before she bumped into me, she flipped over onto her back and extended her flippers to either side. I grabbed on to the base of each flipper with my hands and away we went! She gave me a fast ride for about 10 yards until she started to turn back to her stomach and I let go. It was exhilarating to feel the strength of the animal as it powered through the water pulling my extra weight.

dolphin ride
Going for a ride on Aischa!

Finally, I floated with the upper half of my body on a boogie board. I straightened my legs, pointed my toes down and stayed motionless. Aischa swam around me in a circle again and approached me from behind. She pushed her snout into the sole of one of my feet and pushed hard. I shot forward like a cannon ball! She propelled me across the water for about 10 yards and then let go.

dolphin ride
Getting a big push!!

It is amazing to me that these animals like humans enough to cooperate with these behaviors. Of course, the sushi they get from the trainers as rewards help to persuade them.

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Grand Cayman Snorkeling Videos

Rum Point beach view

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!

Top Snorkeling Spots: Rum Point, Grand Cayman

Top Snorkeling Spots: Eden Rock, Grand Cayman

Top Snorkeling Spots: Wreck of Cali, Grand Cayman

Top Snorkeling Spots: Stingray City, Grand Cayman

Grab your fins and mask and get in the water!

Rum Point beach view
Rum Point, Grand Cayman.

Festivals in Jamaica

the Caribbean Sea

(This is a guest post from Susanne Richards)

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!

the Caribbean Sea
Come to Jamaica for the Caribbean Sea – but don’t stop there!

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.

Scothies bar in Jamaica
For the best Jamaican eats check out local haunts like Scotchie’s (pictured) or Little Ochie.

In Search Of The Blue Iguana

big blue iguana on Grand Cayman

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.

in search of the blue iguana
These bricks are nice and warm!

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.

big blue iguana on Grand Cayman
Note the beads on his crest

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:

Coconut tree sign
Don't stand under these trees, and certainly don't climb on them...

Relaxing at Rum Point, Grand Cayman

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.

Rum Point Beach
Another day in paradise

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.

Rum Point
The crystal clear waters at Rum Point

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.

The view from the pier at Rum point
A walk on the pier at Rum Point

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.