As Horning notes, divers of all experience levels also get a chance to see an unrivaled selection of marine life, which makes for a thrilling underwater experience without having to venture out to more advanced sites. One reason for the strong presence of sea creatures and vegetation is that the island is situated in the heart of the Caribbean and is surrounded by deep waters. But it’s also thanks, in part, to the dedication of the Caymanian people.
Since the island became popular for diving in the 1950s, the local government has done much to preserve the marine environment. Moorings placed around the islands protect the reefs from damage caused by anchors being dropped onto delicate coral formations. Additionally, there are designated “no-take zones” designed to prevent overfishing and to allow for nurseries that serve to replenish fish populations. A captive-breeding program at the Cayman Turtle Farm in West Bay, for instance, is helping to restore the number of green sea turtles in the area. A highlight of many Cayman dives is an encounter with one of these graceful creatures as it slowly swims along the reef, unconcerned with the divers around it.
American Airlines offers daily direct service to Grand Cayman’s Owen Roberts International Airport from Miami International Airport.
Divers looking to get up close and personal with stingrays should visit Stingray City, which is, without question, Grand Cayman’s most famed dive site. A shallow site perfect for beginners, it is frequently called the world’s best dive in less than 15 feet of water. Southern stingrays are normally quite skittish in the wild, but here they are accustomed to visitors, who are encouraged to pet the surprisingly gentle creatures.
Grand Cayman’s newest dive site is also ideal for novice divers. The Kittiwake is a former U.S. Navy submarine rescue vessel that was donated to the islands and scuttled off the famous Seven Mile Beach in 2011 to create an artificial reef. Many wreck sites are recommended only for advanced or technical divers, but this one has been thoroughly prepared for divers of all ability levels. With her keel nestled comfortably in the sand at just 64 feet, the Kittiwake is shallow enough for beginners — and even for swimmers wearing only a snorkeling mask and a pair of fins. Sections of the hull have been cut away to provide safe access and to allow sunlight to penetrate the interior of the craft, which was originally built in 1945.
At 251 feet long and five decks high, this beauty of a ship offers plenty to explore, including a plaque on the bow deck with Nancy Easterbrook’s name emblazoned on it. Easterbrook, a matriarch of scuba diving on Grand Cayman, was instrumental in bringing the Kittiwake to the island. She was also one of the key players in the founding of the island’s renowned Cobalt Coast Dive Resort, owned by Dutch hotelier Arie Barendrecht.
After years working in the hospitality and travel industries in the United States, Barendrecht envisioned creating his dream hotel in the Caribbean and set out on a quest through the tropics to find the perfect island paradise. Upon landing on Grand Cayman, he knew his search was over.
It’s easy to see why Grand Cayman, celebrated for its solid infrastructure, stable government and low crime rate, appealed to Barendrecht. There is an amicable and collaborative relationship between locals and the significant expatriate population that makes the island its second home. Caymanians are a friendly, hospitable people, many of whom have worked in the U.S. Merchant Marine or have other close ties to the states. Barendrecht took note of this association, referring to the island — which is a British Overseas Territory — as “a little America with a palm tree.”