It's surreal to stand on a sandbar in waist-deep water in the middle of the ocean, but I did it at Stingray City Sandbar. Add 30 stingrays to the experience, and it was the highlight of our trip to the Cayman Islands. A visit to Stingray City is a must if you visit Grand Cayman.
Stingray City and Stingray City Sandbar are actually two different locations, but nearly everyone refers to this area as Stingray City. The sandbar is more popular with tourists because it is more shallow (2-4 feet of water). Snorkelers and divers often prefer Stingray City.
If you are thinking about a trip to Grand Cayman, I highly recommend making a 3-hour tour of Stingray City a part of your trip. Here is what you can expect if you go.
What to Bring
The boat ride from Seven Mile Beach is about 30 minutes. You will want to wear sunscreen and bring a towel and hat for the boat ride. You will want a waterproof camera to capture the stingray experience. Most operators will have water for you on their boats, and many will provide a snack. Some boat operators will make you a conch salad from fresh conch they catch on the excursion. Conch is a popular Caribbean dish and has a rubbery texture similar to calamari. I prefer it in conch fritters, but it is worth trying while you are on the island if you get a chance.
What to Expect
When you arrive at Stingray City, the stingrays will swarm the boat when they hear the motor. Boats have been visiting Stingray City for decades, and the rays know to expect food and people. As we stepped onto the sandbar, I was surprised at how comfortable the stingrays were with people. They swam right up to me, brushed by my legs and back, and wanted to interact.
Our tour guide, who has been coming here for years, had names for the stingrays and knew them individually. They loved him and let him pick them up so we could touch them up close. Some of the stingrays even gave us massages!
The boat operators bring chunks of sushi you can feed the stingrays, and anyone who wanted a turn was able to feed them. It is best to keep your thumbs tucked in and your hand flat as you put your hand in the water with the sushi on it, and the stingray will come up and suck it right off your hand. Their mouth felt like the end of vacuum cleaner sucking on my hand.
Will kids like Stingray City? It depends on how brave they are. We had several children in the water with us and a few nervous ones who stayed on the boat. Either way, families enjoyed the outing and even those who chose not to leave the boat could see the stingrays up close.
Stingrays are not agressive and will not bother you so long as you don't step on them. Rays like to hide in the sand, so watch your step and you have no reason to worry about visiting Stingray City.
Snorkel at Coral Gardens
After your outing to Stingray City, most boat operators stop at a nearby coral reef for a snorkeling trip. The snorkeling at Coral Gardens is beautiful – this is the Cayman Islands after all. The day I was there, the current was a little strong and was pushing us toward the coral reef. I had to keep swimming backward to avoid bumping into the reef, but I got an excellent view of the reef, the beautiful fish, and even some conch.
You can find a list of recommended dive operators on Explore Cayman. These operators are accustomed to working with cruise ships, so this would make an excellent cruise excursion. We booked through Captain Marvin's and had a lovely experience. The weather was too windy for the day we had planned to visit Stingray City, and we had to reschedule for the morning we flew home. They worked with us to make sure we could fit our outing in before our flight that afternoon, and I'm so glad we didn't miss this memorable experience.
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