It is no secret that I’m an animal lover, though some people don’t know of my adoration for sea creatures. At one point in my adolescence I was pretty self-assured that I wanted to be an oceanographer, and was active in organizations such as Oceana. I attended lectures, handed out literature, and was very heavily invested in the exploration of our oceans and in the idea of saving them from human destruction. Eventually I moved on to other pursuits in life, but one thing has never changed: I love all things that live in the ocean. Dolphins, wales, turtles, fish, blob looking creatures with weird names, I love them all. So when planning my last cruise to Jamaica and the Cayman Islands I knew I wanted to do some sort of excursion that would get me up close and personal with SOME sort of animal.
It was a bit hard at first, because the dolphin swims were calling my name. The major thing that was stopping me, however, was the nature in which those swims are set up. The dolphins are kept in captivity, which I don’t like, and I don’t feel right in taking joy from another creatures potential misery. Maybe they treat the dolphins well, I don’t know, but I knew it had to be something that involved animals not in containment or if they were contained then at a sanctuary. It was during my research that I found Stingray City and, after doing a lot of reading, I determined that it would be the right fit.
Stingray City is a total tourist destination, but the stingrays are not kept in captivity. They naturally flock to this particular place because that is where the people come, and the people bring food. It’s actually a sandbar pretty far out into the water of the sound off Grand Cayman, so you feel like you’re just hanging out in the middle of the ocean. The stingrays are abundant there, and you have plenty of opportunities to pet, feed, and snorkel with them. Once I found out about it and checked into the prices offered through our cruise ship I knew it was a must-do!
We took a small tour bus (absolutely filled to the brim) from the cruise port to the docks where we would board our boat. The boat ride was actually a great part of the experience, since the guides were all local and strove to make it a good time. The boat was open air with benches in the lower shaded area, and then a top deck where you could sit in the sun. They played music and had free drinks for the trip, which was just long enough to be exciting without being excessive. We navigated out to the sandbar, far enough away from the island that it felt like you were just out in the ocean with nothing around for miles. To be honest the place was rather crowded, there were a lot of other boats there, but it didn’t feel like too much. Each boat had its own little area, and once all the engines died down the waves were pretty manageable if a bit rough at times.
As soon as the boat was parked they gave us instructions on how to avoid being stung (watch for the stingers!) and how to approach and pet the rays. It was a little bit intimidating at first, southern stingrays are BIG, but eventually we all hopped into the water with all the stingrays.
It was so cool! The stingrays are a bit like big floppy salt water puppies, curious about people and eager to see if you have any food to offer them. They’ll just swim right up to you or glide past your legs, not the least bit afraid. I was more scared of them than they were of me, which is definitely not the norm when dealing with any sort of wild animal. The guides held rays for people to pet, and offered snorkeling gear for those who wanted to get a good underwater view. They took a lot of posed pictures, which were cheesy but fun, and mostly we just hung out in the water enjoying the day. The water was super warm, fairly calm, and it was a nice sunny day. The water at the sandbar was so clear you could see everything, which made the experience even more cool. You didn’t have to snorkel, you could just stand there and see everything going on under the water. It was honestly sort of surreal, but in the best way possible.
Petting the stingrays was wonderful, they’re so soft and smooth to touch. My friend fed one a piece of shrimp out of her fist, but I was more interested in just petting them and watching them swim around all the people. You do have to use some level of caution here, because getting stung is a real possibility if you aren’t being careful. So if you do participate in going to Stingray City, keep that in mind! Just stay calm and aware, and enjoy your time while also keeping safety in mind.
Once our time was done we climbed back onto the boat via ladder and were sprayed down from a fresh water hose. We enjoyed some punch on the way back to the island, and were mostly dry from the wind and sun by the time we got back. From there we caught our bus back to the port area and spent a few minutes browsing before we got on the tender back to our ship. The trip in total was a few hours, and it was totally worth the time and the money paid!
You can book an excursion to Stingray City if you’re on a cruise that stops in Grand Cayman through the ship you’re on, or through a private company. There are lots of local charters that go there, which is also a great option for folks who are just staying on the island sans cruise. If you’re a nature lover or just want to experience something totally unique to the island then I highly recommend giving this a try! Especially if you’re like me and you want these experiences without the animals being confined in an isolating environment.
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