It’s no secret that the Cayman Islands is home to some of the finest scuba diving in the world. Thousands of people each year take their first-ever plunge into these glistening waters, many of whom get instantly hooked on the experience as well as the perfect year-round conditions. The variety of dive sites available have something for everyone, from first-timers to seasoned enthusiasts who wouldn’t dive anywhere else. With a world of options to choose from, you have to ask yourself: What is it about Cayman diving that attracts so many people to the region year after year?
Those who have never previously dived the Cayman Islands may picture magnificent coral reefs teeming with vibrant marine life. Local waters are home to friendly turtles, octopus, brightly coloured tropical fish, majestic eagle rays and so much more. Although this stunning backdrop is more than enough for most dive vacations, some further exploration will be rewarded with sunken ships, swim throughs, the legendary Stingray City and the breathtaking sight of the Great Wall.
Coral reefs provide a habitat for fish and other marine life, which are the glue that holds this ecosystem together. The south coast of Grand Cayman is rich in shallow corals such as elkhorn. These large formations can be so close to the surface that snorkellers sometimes have to be careful not to bump into them.
Below 30 feet, the scenery changes as coral growth becomes far more abundant and varied. Species like brain coral, tube sponges and staghorn populate reefs, which stretch out into snowlike sandy fields. These areas offer the perfect environment for a first introduction to scuba as well as a beautiful dive for more seasoned divers. It’s not uncommon to see kids as young as 10 all the way up to salty sea dogs in their 70s marvelling at the colourful angelfish, blue chromis, snappers and grunts in the reefs.
Each of the three islands are surrounded by an underwater wall, which is crowned with vivid coral. The top of the wall is between 20 and 100 feet deep, depending on where you are. A big feature of this natural attraction is looking over to witness the impressive cliff plummeting into the abyss below.
The shallower parts of the walls can be enjoyed by recreational scuba divers. In addition to being an impressive sight to behold, they are home to features that include pinnacles — cave-like passages that weave through the reef, canyons and overhangs.
Many consider Bloody Bay Wall on Little Cayman to be the jewel in the crown of Cayman diving. The shallow depths provide an easier, longer dive, but it is also home to some of the friendliest fish around. The protected Nassau grouper on Little Cayman will often buddy up with divers and swim along with them whilst scouring the reef for lionfish.
For those who like to surpass recreational limits, tech divers can use their specialist training, equipment and gases to explore hundreds of feet below the surface. At such depths, sightings of sharks such as white-tips and hammerheads are more common; but a lucky few may even find a tiger shark hiding down there.
A Rich Background
The underwater world of the Cayman Islands is a rich and diverse asset that has something to offer everyone in the dive community. Nonetheless, the environment alone is not the sole reason for the popularity of this destination. The region has been fortunate enough to be home to some of the scuba industry’s most accomplished pioneers, enthusiasts, professionals and leaders. In recognition of the value such influential people provide to the industry as a whole, the Cayman Islands Ministry of Tourism established the International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame (ISDHF) in 2000.
The ISDHF hosts an annual event to induct new members from around the world into the organisation. In order to earn such a prestigious accolade, people who have been recognised as having significantly contributed to the sport of scuba diving are nominated for the title. Amongst the line-up of industry big hitters are names like Jacques Cousteau, Sylvia Earle and local legend Bob Soto, who opened the first Caribbean dive centre on Grand Cayman back in 1957.
This truly unique experience offers divers the opportunity to get up close and personal with some gentle southern stingrays. Not to be confused with the sandbar, which is shallow enough to stand up in, the dive site offers a comfortable depth of 15 feet. In the warm waters of the North Sound, divers get to enjoy the feeling of being completely surrounded by stingrays as they cruise through the water.
There are hundreds of charted shipwrecks in the Cayman Islands, but the vast majority of these have now been consumed by the ocean. Those that make every diver’s must-do list are:
>> Doc Poulson. Depth: 50 feet
The Doc Poulson is a picturesque little vessel that has attracted so much coral growth that it looks like a wreck-shaped reef. Large entrance and exit points at either end of the vessel make it possible for those inclined to explore inside. A five-foot green moray eel has made the Doc his home and can often be found relaxing under the stern.
>> Oro Verde. Depth: 50 feet
The Oro Verde was originally a U.S. spy vessel called the USS Palm Beach. When her sister ship the USS Pueblo was captured by North Korea, the Palm Beach was sold to a Panamanian company to transport bananas. Whilst the wreck is quite broken up now, the sheets of tangled metal make a perfect environment for lobsters and grouper.
>> USS Kittiwake. Depth: 60 feet
No dive itinerary is complete without a trip to this 251-foot, former USS submarine support vessel. Large schools of horse-eyed jacks lazily circle the wreck, which is home to recompression chambers, a diving bell, engine rooms and so much more. If you like little critters, then be sure to look closely for arrowhead crabs and banded coral shrimp. Larger creatures such as spotted eagle rays, giant barracuda and even the odd goliath grouper drift through the structure.
The Fourth Cayman Island
Diving on 12 Mile Bank is a far cry from the tranquillity of the waters surrounding Grand Cayman, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac. The top of this underwater mountain is 90 feet below the surface of the sea.
Strong currents and considerable depths mean that scuba tanks are drained more quickly. Divers who make the 19 km pilgrimage may find the conditions too fierce to dive in. With such adverse elements, you may wonder why anyone would even consider such a dive trip.
In 2016, The Advanced Diver Magazine (ADM) Exploration Foundation teamed up with local dive operator Divetech to host an expedition to the location, colloquially known as “the bank,” in order to explore the pristine coral-tipped formation. The adventure was motivated by the fact that the region is still largely unknown. The dive team used rebreather technology in order to spend time at depths that are impossible to experience with regular scuba equipment. In addition to charting over two miles of stunning coral formations, the marine life was reported to be astonishing. Divers found a greater abundance of fish than the main islands, and sightings of sharks and pelagic fish like tuna and wahoo were reported out in the deep blue.
Cayman Airways aims to make travelling with scuba gear as effortless as possible. Scuba equipment is included in our policy of two free checked bags. This includes one set of scuba equipment with the regulator valve disconnected from the cylinder, wetsuit and fins, all securely packed to avoid protrusions. Excess fees may apply if the item is in excess of our baggage policy. Visit CaymanAirways.com for more details.
Author: Drew McArthur