Carrie and I had the mid-winter blues and, not having been diving since completing our Open Water Certification in August, were itching for some great dives. Anyone who’s done a Google search for scuba diving in the Caribbean knows that there are several destinations all claiming or reported to have the best diving for one reason or another. We looked at several countries before we remembered that the dive school where we started our Open Water Certification, SPE Dive School, offers regular dive trips to the Cayman Islands for their students to get certified. As you may know, we normally aren’t ones to do organized trips but there was something appealing about having everything arranged and being able to focus only on the dives in one of the top diving destinations in the Caribbean, oh and to come away with Advanced Certification! So, we pulled the trigger and signed up for the mid-March trip.
The Cayman Islands are a collection of three islands located south of Jamaica. Grand Cayman, where we stayed, is the largest. The Cayman Islands are famous for their financial services industry, which easily out ranks tourism as the most important contributor to employment and income generation. Tourism does however contribute sizeably to the economy representing a total contribution of 29.5% of GDP in 2017 and a total employment of 31% in 2017. This makes for the possibility of an impactful trip!
Importantly the islands are known for their excellent diving and snorkeling. The Cayman Islands has over 365 dive sites spread throughout the three islands with the majority off the coast of Grand Cayman. With such a large number of dives sites and near perfect diving conditions it’s no surprise the Cayman was voted the best diving destination by Scubadiving.com, a renowned diving publication.
Diving in Grand Cayman
Grand Cayman’s waters are ideal for diving - they’re relatively warm all year around and the visibility is great. The diverse topography of the west coast offers a range of great diving from shipwrecks to wall dives! Our dives were all done with Divers Down, which we highly recommend. They have a great team of dive masters and captains who took great care of us over four days and the nine dives we took with them. Our Dive Master, Kerry was especially awesome. They, and SPE Dive School, who arranged the trip, took such great care of us, we were able to hit the ground and dive almost immediately upon arrival. Actually, that’s a huge advantage to diving in Grand Cayman. It’s possible to arrive early enough to get an afternoon dive in on the same day and who doesn’t want to maximize their dive time?
Here’s why we think you need to go scuba diving in Grand Cayman:
What’s better than scuba diving and being able to swim through rock formations? For us, not much. Being newly certified, we hadn’t had this opportunity before so being able to get up close and personal with the topography was really exciting. Out of all the dives sites we visited on our trip, one of our favorites was Devil’s Grotto, the second dive we did. At this site we swam through several caverns and swim throughs and saw lot of permit fish, dancing fish, and a sea turtle. If you haven't seen our Instagram video then check out Carrie as she swims through one of the caverns!
One of the most popular types of dives is shipwreck diving and Grand Cayman has six shipwrecks to choose from. The most famous is the USS Kittiwake, which is a decommissioned U.S. Naval submarine rescue vessel that the Cayman Islands purchased and sunk to create an artificial reef. Those with certification can dive the site and swim through the sunken vessel. Divers are able to swim through the crew’s quarters, recompression chamber, ammunition storage and the head (bathroom). The dive masters on this dive explained the order of the rooms we would see inside but to be honest, we couldn’t tell one from the other. Still it was really cool to swim through the ship. The wheel of the ship, however, was impossible to miss and is a popular point for divers to stop and take photos. We also dove the wreck of Cali, typically an easy shore dive, but we did it at night (our first night dive), which made it a little more challenging. You have to see our Instagram video of the night dive through this wreck.
Grand Cayman is known for having some of the best wall dives in the world, so naturally we were looking forward to our first wall dive experience. A wall, in scuba lingo is an underwater cliff face, or reef edge that runs vertically. As such, wall diving usually implies a deep dive, which was the main reason for our excitement. Divers Down took us to the Sand Chute Wall, which is not far from the USS Kittiwake, where we descended along the wall to 90 feet. Diving at that depth reduces the duration of your dive due to the increased air pressure and the rate at which you use air, so while it was our deepest dive it was also one of our shortest. WIth our Advanced Certification the maximum depth we can go is 100 ft (30 meters).
In addition to the spectacular diving sites, the waters of Grand Cayman are home to a wide range of marine life. Over the course of nine dives in four days we saw an octopus, sea turtles, a giant grouper (emphasis on giant), barracuda, parrot fish, eagle ray, and lobster to name a few. We also went to Grand Cayman’s second most popular dive site, Stingray City. It’s a shallow dive (15ft) located on the northern coast of Grand Cayman and as the name implies it’s where stingrays hangout, mainly because people go to that spot to feed them. Whether you feed them, like Albert, or not, like Carrie, you are the object of the rays’ attention, which borders on aggressive. Being so close was interesting, especially having the rays eat from your hand but also a bit overwhelming. We also couldn’t help but think about the impacts this type of tourism has on the marine life.
The Cayman Islands offers world class diving for all levels of divers and can be easily reached from most cities along the east coast of the U.S. The diversity of dive sites (wall dives, shipwrecks, swim throughs, etc) and marine life, near perfect visibility, and consistently warm waters makes Grand Cayman a destination you need to go to for your next dive trip. If you’re looking for someone else to plan it all out (including your accommodation which can be pricey) and get certified then check out SPE Dive School.
All Photography by Albert Bond