received our PADI Open Water SCUBA certification
in the summer of 1996, Nikki and I had intended doing
some dive trips during 97. Due to my illness, however,
these didn't happen but we decided to make up for it with
a week's dive trip to Grand Cayman this year just after
completing our Advanced Open Water certification in Lake
Travis. We flew American
Miami and stayed at the Treasure Island Resort hotel
within walking distance of Georgetown at the southern end
of Seven Mile Beach.
The hotel was basically fine but I think next time I would be tempted to look at the Marriott or Westin, both of which looked somewhat newer than Treasure Island. We chose Treasure Island partly since it had a swim-up bar (next best thing to Pina Coladas on the beach) but, as you can see from the picture to the left, it was undergoing renovation while we were there. Despite that, the other pool at the hotel was great and it had a bar next to it too. I also gather that the drinks are Treasure Island are somewhat cheaper than at many other hotels. They have daily cocktail specials at half price (two for $5.75 CI while we were there) and most of these were pretty good.
All our diving was done with Fisheye, a relatively small dive operator specialising in underwater photography and video. They came highly recommended by a friend who has dived with them a couple of times before. They also scored points for their policy of lending out cameras (Sea and Sea MX-10s in this case) if you buy the film from them. Even at $10 US for a 36 exposure roll, this still worked out as a considerable saving over renting the camera and using our own film (you'll find some of our attempts on the Underwater Photography page). Although their diving was slightly more expensive than the bigger operators, they keep the groups small and offer great service (hey, they even set up your BC, reg and tank for you!). The divemasters were excellent and obviously very knowledgeable about the sites and local wildlife.
Special mention should also go to Don Foster's Dive Cayman too. On our first day, the weather was too bad for Fisheye's boats so they chartered a large pontoon boat from Don Foster. The divemasters here were also excellent though I'm not sure how much they enjoyed the following day when we saw them at Stingray City with 100 snorkellers on the same boat that had hosted 14 divers the day before!
To cut a long story short, the trip was totally outstanding. The diving was absolutely unbelievable (especially the north wall of the island which plunges vertically from 60ft to 6000ft) and the people on the island could not have been more friendly. We were both made to feel extremely welcome by the locals who were always happy to talk to us and offer advice. We would have absolutely no qualms about recommending Grand Cayman to anyone else and will definitely go back if the opportunity arises.
On the downside, the island is rather expensive. Expect to pay around $10 US per person for lunch and $20 US for dinner. If you eat at the more upmarket restaurants, it is very easy to spend $70 US per head. That said, take a look at the Cayman Island Budget Restaurant Guide for information on reasonably priced restaurants on the island. We tried many of these and were very impressed especially by the original Champion House which serves excellent local cuisine at very reasonable prices and Liberty's which had a great dinner buffet and the best Jerk Chicken I tasted on the island.
Apart from diving, we managed a fair bit of sightseeing:
Located in West Bay near the north-western tip of the island and easily accessible using the Omnibuses (see below), this proved an interesting trip. In our naivety, we assumed the turtles were raised for release but it appears that turtle meat is much in demand and the primary goal of the operation is to supply this industry. They do, however, release a number of turtles into the wild each year.
The farm raises Green Sea Turtles and includes many holding tanks containing animals of different ages from 2 inch long hatchlings to the monster, 3 to 4 foot long adults in the large breeding ponds.
They even have their own WebCam.
We walked about a mile to the village of Hell from the Turtle Farm. As you can imagine, there are plenty of predictable T shirts on sale here but it's also an interesting visit due to the wierd rock formations to be found behind the Post Office.
Despite the tacky nature of some of the merchandise, I must compliment the Gift Shop owners we spoke to on being a couple of the nicest people we met on the island.
Queen Elizabeth II Botanical Gardens
If you rent a car, a trip to the botanical garden is very worthwhile. The garden contains two major sections - a mile long walkway through some native woodland and a formal area. Both are fascinating. Watch out for parrots and iguana as you are working your way around the woodland walk.
Half way along the south coast of the island, erosion has created blowholes - fountains of water driven by the incoming waves. These are pretty spectacular but the big attraction here is the stall selling chilled coconuts.
At the north eastern side of North Sound lies Rum Point. The sand here is lovely and the place doesn't seem to suffer from the same hustle and bustle as 7 Mile Beach. You can reach it by ferry from a somewhere behind the Hyatt Hotel on West Bay Road or by car.
We only stayed here about half an hour after our trip to the botanical gardens but we would like to go back for another look if and when we return to Grand Cayman.
You'll find some of the underwater photos we took here along with my "Idiot's Guide to Underwater Photography".
Rent any gear you need at home and carry it with you. We found that rentals from our local dive shop in Austin (Ocean's Window) were 50% to 60% cheaper than on the island. If diving with Fisheye, don't rent a camera before you go (if you are wanting something small like the MX-10 we used).
Definitely buy, rent, beg, borrow or steal a dive computer for the trip. You will definitely want every single minute of bottom time you can get! I took one with me and we ended up renting one for Nikki too since they were so useful.
Don't use taxis to get up and down Seven Mile Beach. If you are going anywhere along West Bay Road during daylight, start walking and wait for a minivan to honk its horn at you then flag it down and get on. These are Omnibuses and they charge a flat rate of $1.50 CI to take you anywhere up and down Seven Mile Beach. If you are going from Georgetown to West Bay (the full length of the beach), a taxi charges about $20 CI for the trip!
We didn't rent a car for the whole week but I would probably do this if we were going back. Although the Omnibuses are great, they stop running at around 6pm and only seem to cover the Seven Mile Beach area. We rented a car for a couple of days and it made sightseeing in the afternoons a whole lot easier.
Definitely dive Stingray City. It may only be 12 - 15ft but the rays are wonderful and, if you go to the western site (there are 2, it seems) there are some great things to see in the coral heads next to the sandbar.
Don't pass up on the chance to snorkel from the beach outside your hotel. We didn't try it until the last day and were amazed at the diversity of life right off the beach. Despite having been diving all week, we saw 4 new species of fish and many worms and shellfish for the first time during our brief snorkelling time. Beware the sea urchins though! Shoes are a must if you are walking over rocky areas!
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Cayman Underwater Pictures