As one of the Caribbean’s top dive destinations, Cayman is renowned for fantastic wall dives, spectacular shipwrecks and unforgettable Stingray City, but avid divers know that Cayman’s shore diving sets it apart. Here they can maximize their bottom time and add value to dive package with easy shore diving. There are 365 dive sites on the three islands – reefs and shipwrecks in warm clear water, filled with all kinds of marine life. About 50 sites are accessible from shore, and 10 are organized shore diving locations with tank rentals, ladders, showers and other facilities. The rest are more suited for adventurous divers who are up for a shore entry off the beaten path without the amenities.
A newly-certified diver can do no better than Grand Cayman for a first ocean dive. Conditions are reliably good, and they can choose shallow reefs with grottos and swim-throughs or shipwrecks and underwater sculptures that offer their own attractions. Here are some of the most popular starting on the coast south of George Town and traveling north.
Sunset House Dive Resort is widely recognized for its easy shore diving. Visitors can literally walk from their room to pick up their dive equipment at the dive shop and then step into the water. Besides having 6 custom boats to take guests on boat dives, 100% of the Sunset House experience is its fantastic shore diving.
“We have multiple entry points, you can giant stride from the Iron shore or use the ladder in the ocean fed sea pool where divers can out the sea critters before exiting onto the dive site,” said Emma Jane Fisher, Sales and Marketing for Sunset House.
Fisher says divers can follow the natural navigation of the sand chutes to Sunset House’s 9 foot bronze mermaid sculpture, Amphitrite, which sits offshore from the resort in 50 feet of water. From there they can follow the large coral head to the sand flat where the wreck of the Nicholson, a World War II-era landing craft.
“The Nicholson is a great wreck to explore for macro life, beautiful soft corals & you might catch Eagle Rays passing by over the sand. They can then follow the coral ridge out until it rises to 55 feet before dropping into the abyss. As they follow the top of the wall and look out in to the blue, they never know what might swim by.”
Eden Rock and Devil’s Grotto are sites with coral caves and tunnels for divers to explore in downtown George Town. They have easy entry ladders, and during the summer months, divers can experience an extraordinary happening – Cayman’s thrilling “Silver Rush.” The near shore reefs are filled with millions of migrating silversides that swirl through the tunnels like quicksilver, and then large Tarpon show up to feast on the summer migrants.
Bob Soto’s Reef is located North of George Town Harbour just off Soto’s Pier at the Lobster Pot Restaurant. Accessible by ladder, divers can swim out directly from the pier to find a shallow reef with sandy bottoms where depth ranges between 20 – 50 feet. The reef includes caverns, caves and winding tunnels, and curious tarpon are often spotted.
The Wreck of the Cali, a four-masted schooner that sunk just outside the harbor during a storm in 1944, is scattered on the sandy ocean floor 24 feet, some areas in water as shallow as 10 feet. The site has great marine life, including large tarpon, and it’s an excellent dive for newbie divers. The Cali is also a great night dive.
Lighthouse Point and the Divetech Pier are located at Northwest Point of Grand Cayman in the West Bay Region. Divers can easily access the reef here from Divetech’s concrete pier and ladder, and from a saltwater pool that offers access to the sea. Directly out from the Divetech pier is a mini wall begins at 40 feet and drops to 60 feet, leveling off to a sandy flat. The mini wall runs parallel to the shoreline and is filled with sponges, corals and marine life. Divers can also visit The Guardian of the Reef, a bronze statue half man, half seahorse, that sits on a sandy flat just off the pier. Divetech specialize in Nitrox, rebreather and mixed gas training for advanced divers who want to maximize their bottom time. The dive shop also rents underwater scooters for divers who want to try a new adventure.
Turtle Reef, located next door to the Divetech pier, is also a popular shore dive accessible from shore. Nutrients from the nearby Turtle Farm attract feeding marine life, and the reef is accessible by step ladder or by entering in a cove right next to the Turtle Farm. Like Lighthouse Point, the depth at Turtle Farm Reef ranges from 40 – 60 feet.
The East End is typically renowned for boat diving, but there are a few sites that can be dived from shore. These sites are typically for the more advanced “adventure” divers because there are no ladders, marked access or entry points to the sites. East End shore diving typically involves walking over iron shore and then a considerable swim out. Access is determined by wind direction, so divers are asked to check with an East End dive operator for directions and tips on shore diving in this area.
Although Little Cayman’s spectacular drop-offs at Bloody Bay Wall and Jackson Hole are best accessed by boat, there are a few sites available from shore. The Southern Cross Club offers tanks for in-house guests and resort dive staff can point out these unmarked sites, which are also excellent for snorkeling.
“Shore diving in Cayman is a great compliment to boat diving and adds a few extra dives to your log book that are at a different pace,” says Ocean Frontiers co-owner Steve Broadbelt. “Diving from shore lets you follow your own plan and go on an adventure as a buddy team, giving you freedom to explore or simply stay in one spot for the whole dive.”
Dive operators work hard to keep Cayman’s dive product healthy and top-notch. The latest project is centered on coral nurseries used to replenish local reefs. Ocean Frontiers, Sunset House and Divetech have all established nurseries and guests can participate in the coral restoration work. Former combat divers recently installed a bronze plaque at the base of the mermaid at Sunset House to commemorates the first mission for Force Blue, a non-profit organization training former combat divers about coral conservation.
All three operations offer tanks for shore diving as part of their vacation dive packages so visitors can make the most of their trip to the Cayman Islands.