Grand Cayman's Stingray City endures as one of the most popular adventures for visitors to the Caribbean island. The mesmerizing creatures with the smooth gray bodies that flow so effortlessly through the waters are intriguing for sure. And in Grand Cayman they have been gathering and regularly interacting with humans for about 40 years.
In fact, Stingray City is the most-visited attraction in Grand Cayman outside of the island's amazing beaches. This means you have to join the crowds to get a chance to interact with these incredible animals. While it's a bit of a tourist trap, you can make the most of your visit if you know what to do.
Many years ago, fishermen began anchoring in the calm waters near the sandbars to clean fish after a day at sea. The stingrays soon found out they could get an easy meal of fish parts every time they heard a boat motor coming up the channel. Thus, they eventually made their home at "Stingray City."
I went several years ago, making it my first excursion on my first cruise. I remember clearly the shrieks and screams of people, including my wife, who were not sure what to do when the creatures, which are related to sharks, began hovering over to greet us after we slipped carefully into the water.
We had been briefed by the guides on how to behave in the water, but a slight panic seemed to be striking many of the visitors. There was no real fear, just a bit of surprise from those uncomfortable with being close to such unfamiliar animals.
And this was well before the most infamous stingray encounter, in which "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin was killed in 2006 after a freak attack. If you're going to try Stingray City on your visit, you have a few options.
Margie Hand, a travel agent with Andavo Travel in Birmingham, Ala., is an expert on the Caribbean who has been to Stingray City several times. She says you can dive and snorkel at Stingray City as well as explore the shallow and much more crowded main sandbar area.
The Stingray City Sandbar is where most tourists will end up, wading in two to four feet of water and interacting with the creatures. You can feed and hold stingrays under the direction of guides. The dive and snorkel site is away from the crowds in about 12 feet of water, which allows for comfortable dives so you can stay down with the rays for a long period, Hand says. Guides provide squid to feed the stingrays in both locations. If you are snorkeling, the guides will bring up stingrays to the surface so you can get a good look. During diving and snorkeling, you also can spot other fish and moray eels.
At the sandbar area, you can hold a stingray. Again, you have to do it the right way to make it safe; you'll spread your arms so you can cradle under their "wings" and let them kind of crawl up you. Don't touch the mouths and eyes, Hand says.
The guides know the animals so well that they give some of them names. The stingrays are very comfortable around humans after so many years of adapting to the environment.
"I like to encourage people to enjoy this adventure and not be afraid," said Hand, who is on Travel and Leisure's A-List of top travel agents. "These creatures are beautiful and graceful, and it will be an experience they will never forget."
Thanks for reading. Have fun and travel happy!