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Into the Abyss: Deep Diving in the Caymans

Slip on your flippers, adjust your oxygen tank and head to the Cayman Islands for some of the best deep-water diving in the world.

 

Two decades ago, I traveled to the Cayman Islands to complete open-water dives for my scuba certification. I wanted my first ocean dives to be fabulous, so I chose the Caymans, renowned for having some of the best diving in the world. I was not disappointed.

On one of my first dives, I encountered a manta ray, a magnificent creature to behold, its huge wingspan about triple that of adult stingrays. Since then, I’ve been diving everywhere from Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and the atolls of Belize, to Bonaire, the British Virgin Islands, and just about everywhere in between.

The Cayman Islands however keep beckoning me back. Why travel halfway around the world to seek great diving, when some of the best is just an hour flight from Miami?

Birthplace of Recreational Diving

The Cayman Islands are the birthplace of recreational diving in the Caribbean, a scuba diving mecca. Grand Cayman alone has more than 150 dive sites from which to choose, with a wealth of dramatic walls and colorful coral surrounded by swirling schools of fish. The dive sites, most within a short distance of Seven Mile Beach, range in depth from about 50 to 100 feet and usually have excellent visibility, with little if any current.

Favorite sites on the shallower end of the spectrum include Aquarium South for colorful terrain and fish and the Wreck of Oro Verde, a sunken schooner with boilers and engine rooms to explore. On the deeper side, Trinity Caves is revered for its swim-throughs and cathedrals, while Orange Canyon has a spectacular sheer drop-off from a coral pinnacle. Even more dramatic diving can be found on the south side of Grand Cayman, where plunging walls attract bigger marine life, even hammerhead sharks, but the frequent swells are not for the faint-hearted.

Environmental Challenge

Though most of Grand Cayman’s dive sites lie within an underwater marine park aimed at protecting precious natural resources, the throngs of divers do aggravate the reefs. After a recent dive, a fellow diver noted that the marine life seemed considerably diminished from 20 years ago; I agree. No matter how lovely the diving off Grand Cayman, it’s not what it used to be. Of course, veteran divers get spoiled, but for beginners, the island still holds many marvels. As for me, the real wonders are found off the more pristine sister islands of Cayman Brac and Little Cayman.

Bloody Good Wall Diving

All three of the Cayman Islands are known for spectacular wall diving where dramatic coral walls plunge thousands of feet. Those walls typically start at 90 to 100 feet off Grand Cayman. Off Little Cayman, however, I can save on time and air, going just 25 feet underwater to the beginning of Bloody Bay Wall, which plunges like a cliff a mile down. Peering out over its precipice into the deep, dark blue from such a shallow depth is an amazing experience, and a reason the wall is considered among the world’s best dive sites.

My favorite spot along the wall is Mixing Bowl, where Bloody Bay Wall corners with Jackson Wall, the resulting mix of currents attracting large schools of fish that make for an almost surreal dive. Donna’s Delight is also a favorite, especially when you encounter the resident orange sea horse. But just about every Little Cayman dive site is good. In just one day’s diving, I see a reef shark, a spotted eagle ray, stingrays, turtles, tons of lobsters, a huge crab and a scorpion fish (a prize to spot, given its superior camouflage). And, like Grand Cayman, most dive sites are only about 10 minutes offshore.

Little Cayman gets my vote for not only the best of Cayman Islands’ diving, but among the best in all of my diving travels.

Chutes of Cayman Brac

Just across the channel from Little Cayman sits my diving runner-up in the Cayman Islands, Cayman Brac. The walls here start a little deeper than on Little Cayman at about 45 feet, but I particularly like the chutes and labyrinthine tunnels at many dive sites, which allow rays of light to peep into their hidden paths creating a cornucopia of color. The tunnels are a highlight of diving off Cayman Brac; I never know what might be unveiled around the corner.

East Chute is one of the Brac’s best dive sites, featuring a sand-filled canyon spilling over into a walled abyss decorated with red, yellow and large barrel sponges. Also among the Brac’s most popular sites is the wreck of the Russian Frigate 356, MV Capt. Keith Tibbets, a 330-foot vessel sunk a dozen years ago, portions of which are penetrable. The bow sits in 85 feet of water while the radar tower starts in about 30 feet, making it an excellent dive for both snorkelers and divers.

No matter which of the Cayman Islands you choose, the diving is always colorful, enjoyable and safe. Safety is key to scuba diving and nowhere is that responsibility taken more seriously than in the Cayman Islands. It’s always refreshing to know that no matter your diving ability, someone’s looking out for you.


Destinations: Cayman Brac, Grand Cayman, Little Cayman, Cayman Islands

Themes: Beach Vacations, Outdoor Adventures

Activities: Scuba Diving


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