The moment we said we were traveling to the Cayman Islands, everyone asked, “Are you going to Stingray City?” Visions of beach bars on sandy beaches popped into my head. I didn't do a lot of research before traveling to the Grand Cayman so I thought Stingray City must be some private island off the coast.
When we learned it was a sandbar where tourists can interact with stingrays that have become accustomed to humans, we were a bit wary. Was this just another tourist trap where we'd be surrounded by throngs of people invading a wild animal's territory? Well, yes it was. However, our tour was far different than the other tourists loaded en-masse to huge tour boats carrying a cattle call of people who barely had the chance to see the stingrays, let alone get to know them.
We had the good fortune of traveling with Cayman Luxury Charters organised by our pals at Camana Bay on Grand Cayman. We met our Captain, Adam, and guide, Bill, at the Camana Bay Marina and boarded their 42 foot Sea Ray sport yacht. My parents used to be avid boaters and the only boat they would buy was a Sea Ray. They said it was the best. So we were excited to see that we'd be going out to explore Stingray City and the coast of Grand Cayman on the best. This is a luxury charter after all.
We had the boat to ourselves and Bill and Adam instantly made us feel at home. The rock was cranking from the radio, the sun was shining and we were sitting pretty in paradise.
Love marine adventures? See when we swam with Whale Sharks in Mexico
About Stingray City
The trip to Stingray City takes about a half an hour. During that time, Bill told us about the Stingrays and the waters around Grand Cayman. The Cayman Islands have long been known as the diving Mecca of the Caribbean. It's home to the second deepest trench in the Caribbean, reaching depths of 7,686 metres (25,217 ft). It's the crystal clear water, unrivalled visibility and endless Cayman Wall that attracts divers from around the world.
How Stingray City Came to Be
Stingray City came to be when fishermen would use the shallow sandbar to clean their fish before heading back to the island. The fish guts, squid and waste attracted stingrays and they've been drawn to the roar of engines ever since.
It was in the 1950s that a fisherman saw the potential of taking tourists out to see the nearly “tame” stingrays, and it's been the top attraction of the Cayman Islands ever since.
When pulling up to the sandbar, our fears about Stingray City were reinforced when we saw the mass of people surrounded by huge tour boats. Lucky for us, we were on a yacht that had the freedom to anchor wherever we chose. So, Captain Adam chose an area away from the crowds and Bill jumped in attracting several stingrays. He introduced us to Freckles and Scar. These two stingrays were calm and relaxed in his arms.
We jumped in the warm blue waters and joined Bill and the stingrays for an unforgettable hour. We didn't notice the crowds milling around, watching us. The other boats didn't have the private interaction with the stingrays that we had. They were standing in large groups watching us from afar. We held Freckles and felt her smooth slippery skin relax in the water. We hadn't even started to feed them yet. They were simply happy to hang out with us humans for a little bit.
Bill told us that each boat has a limited amount of squid they can feed the Stingrays, so he was saving our feeding for the end.
You have to be very careful to keep the stingrays under the water and let them gently float below the surface. If they feel comfortable, they'll lie in your hands for hours.
We made sure to give Freckles and Scar several kisses. It is said that if you kiss a stingray at Stingray City, you will have 7 years of good luck. I think we're set for life!
After holding them for awhile, it was time to give the squid what they've been waiting for. We held onto the slimy squid with our thumbs tucked into our hands. Stingrays eat with suction. When they see food they suck it up and while your thumb won't get sucked away, it will feel like it went through a cheese grater if it happens to stick up too much and make it into the squids mouth. To me, it felt just a little bit like sandpaper.
After the feeding we let the stingrays float away by holding them and then diving under their bellies. We could see their big smiling faces swimming overhead and off to another spot on the sandbar. These stingrays, seem to love the interaction. They swim around feet and rub right up against legs as they explore the crowds that stop by to say hello each and every day.
We loved our time at Stingray City and were happy to visit it on a private yacht. I couldn't imagine sharing this moment with a hundred other people and having to wait in line to be able to touch them. On the private charter, we had experienced guides to show us how to hold the stingrays and they knew how to attract them safely to hand them over for Dave and I to hold. Other people didn't get that luxury.
Snorkelling at Coral Gardens
We set off for a snorkel at Coral Gardens where we saw hundreds of colourful fish. I loved how Adam got on his jet ski to keep an eye out as we swam around the reef. Dave and I have done a lot of snorkelling before and we've often just been dumped in the middle of the ocean.
In the Maldives, the other tourists were so nervous about getting out of the boat in search of sea turtles, that Dave and I were the only ones in the water with the guide, who easily took us three to four hundred meters away from the safety of our boat. Here on the luxury charter, should you run into any problems, Adam will be right there to rescue you with the jet ski.
After a half hour or so in the water, we hopped on the Sea Ray and popped over to Starfish Point.
About Starfish Point
Located on the North Side of the island, Starfish Point is a beach filled with starfish that are sleeping in the shallow waters. Bill and Adam were quick to point out that you should never take starfish out of the water. Too many people pose for pictures holding onto starfish out of the water. They seem to think that it's ok to pick them up and take them out. Since starfish use seawater to pump nutrients in their bodies and they don't have gills or lungs, they actually pump air into their systems when you take them out of the water. Imagine if every tourist kept taking starfish out of the water? It wouldn't take long for them to die.
We heard that Starfish Point used to be cluttered with starfish. Today there are only a few clusters – and tourists are the culprits. Please travel responsibly and don't take starfish out of the water, ever. We held our starfish under the water and it ended up becoming so relaxed it sucked onto my hand. We had to gently jiggle it away to loosen its grip before bringing it out to the deeper waters. I didn't want other tourist to find my sea star and take it out of the water. During our time there, we saw two different people pick up starfish out of the water. Being me, I couldn't help myself and told them “to put their fish down!”
Be responsible people. You are visiting their homes, have respect and keep them alive.
We ended our time with a spin on the jet ski and I think Dave found his new toy should we ever settle in the Caribbean Islands.
With cold drinks and snacks waiting for us on the boat, we set sail for a beautiful ride back to Camana Bay where we said our goodbyes and walked back to our ride with huge grins on our faces.
Stingray City was better than we ever could have expected, but only because we did it with Cayman Luxury Charters. I know I'm usually one of those people telling others to avoid it, had I been on the cattle boat with the rest of the crowds. Do yourself a favour, book a luxury charter for this excursion. After all, Grand Cayman was made for luxury.