Grand Cayman, BWI -- 11/97

 

We have visited Grand Cayman frequently, once or twice a year over the last five years. Usually when I find someplace I like, I return but not regularly as this. Grand Cayman is an exception for several reasons.

First, it is an ideal location for the whole family; very safe, friendly and offers something for everyone, even non-divers.

Photo Courtesy of Indies Suites

Grand Cayman map
The diving is excellent though a bit civilized which for some may be a good thing. Cayman has done an excellent job of reef preservation. All boat dive sites in Grand Cayman are accessed via permanent reef moorings which saves the reefs from anchor damage. The Cayman Sports Authority maintains the buoy system and the government has established most of the island's waters as a "no take, no touch" Marine Reserve.

On shore, there is an abundance of shopping, excellent and diverse restaurants, fast food and plenty of night life. Exploring the island one can visit the Town of Hell, named for unusual rock formations, a working turtle farm, Grand Cayman's micro brewery of Stingray Beer, the very picturesque Rum Point, the National Museum or local artist's galleries. Snorkelers and divers alike are delighted interacting with southern stingrays at the world renown Stingray City in the North Sound.

The most significant reason I return to Cayman again and again is the people. The natives are friendly and easy going, the dive community (mostly Americans and Brits on work permits) are great people to know and spend time with. Over the years we have developed many long term friendships that bring us back to Cayman or result in an invitation to the new location of a friend whose gone off-island.

When in Grand Cayman, I stay at Indies Suites on the west end of Seven Mile Beach and dive with Indies Divers. Indies Suites have large rooms with a full kitchen and separate bedroom with AC and Cable TV. The accommodations are much more spacious and flexible than a traditional hotel room and certainly more comfortable.

The two story buildings form a compound of forty units, two of which have two-bedrooms. There is a bar, pool, spa and water sports desk on the property. The hotel hosts weekly BBQs, music, happy hours, sunset cruises and other events. One of the nicest beaches on the island with good snorkeling is across the road and a variety of restaurants are a short drive away. The rates are more than reasonable and less than the standard hotel rooms on the crowded hotel row.

Photo Courtesy of Indies Suites

Indies Divers is the jewel of the resort. I have dived with them since the first week they opened five years ago. They operate two custom built Newton dive boats; one for North Side Diving and one for the West Side. Though the boats can accommodate 20 - 24 divers, they hold a strict limit of 12 divers per trip. If you're a diver, you can appreciate what a difference a small group will make to your dive. Couple that with a friendly, knowledgeable staff who take the time to assure your dive is the best it can be and you have an excellent combination of hotel and dive operator.

Boat diving on Grand Cayman typically comes in two flavors, The North Wall and the West Side. While both sides have walls that start at about 50 feet and drop thousands of feet, it has been said the North Wall is more vertical and therefore more dramatic. There is also a better possibility of sighting large pelagics such as sharks or spotted eagle rays on the North Wall though it is much more prone to rough seas and winds.

The West Side is typically a calmer and shorter boat ride to the dive sites. It boasts several ship wrecks including the Doc Polson, beautiful reefs, swim throughs, caves and pinnacles. Tarpon and Silversides often school under the overhangs and in caverns. Turtles are not uncommon, partially due to the release program of Cayman's Turtle Farm - a commercial enterprise.

Grand Cayman has some excellent shore diving as well. A night dive at the Turtle Farm is one my all time favorite dives - anywhere! The reef is abundant with life, vibrant and healthy. My theory is the years of effluent washed out from the holding tanks of the Turtle Farm have fertilized the reef with nutrients causing an unusual growth rate. A mini-wall starts at 20 feet, drops steeply to 60 feet and parallels the shoreline. Moray eels, rare anemones, octopus and reef life of all sorts abound. I've never been disappointed here and consider the Turtle Farm a world class dive site. Caution is warranted though, since the farm is located close to the west end of the island it is subject to occasional strong and rapidly changing currents.

 
Also on my "Favorite Shore Dive" list is a dive from Eden Rock Dive Center, located on the other side of Georgetown. A short swim from the ironshore is Devil's Grotto and Eden Rock. These two sites feature an extensive series of tunnels, caves and swim throughs formed from centuries of reef growth that have grown together at the top to create an almost closed environment. Swimming through the passages lit by sunbursts of light filtering from overhead skylights and windows, one frequently encounters tarpon resting in secluded caverns.

I'm sorry if this Trip Report sounds like a commercial for Grand Cayman and Indies Suites / Divers. I'm just genuinely enthusiastic about this winning combination and recommend them highly to both divers and landlubbers.

 

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1997 John Petrak