A popular destination for scuba divers, friends, and families, the Cayman Islands offers a wide range of activities both above and below the waterline, and are a great option for a quick dive break in the sun. While Grand Cayman may be the best-known, there are are actually three islands in the Cayman group, each offering a very different but equally impressive diving and vacation experience.
Here's a quick summary to help you decide which island to visit for your Cayman Islands diving vacation.
Located between Cuba and Jamaica in the Caribbean Sea, Grand Cayman is by far the largest of the Cayman Islands, and the most populated. The island is a well-loved tourist destination offering sophisticated resort options, a lively nightlife, and plenty of vacation activities. Many cruise ships visit the island, and while it can be busy during peak season, it offers all the high end facilities expected of a popular commercial island.
The diving infrastructure here is excellent, with a number of well-established operators catering to recreational and technical divers. Grand Cayman boasts some of the best known dive sites in the Caribbean, with the USS Kittiwake and Stingray City topping the bill. The island is surrounded by a wall that features many corals, sponges, and gorgonians, and a great variety of Caribbean fish life. Grand Cayman is an ideal place to learn to dive and has plenty of gentle diving for novice divers.
Approximately 60 miles to the east of Grand Cayman, the far smaller Little Cayman is the least developed of the three islands, with much of its 10 mile squared area a haven for endangered species such as the Lesser Caymans iguana and the West Indian whistling duck. There are far fewer services and facilities available here, and restaurants can be expensive, however, there is resort-styles accommodation available, and plenty of dive operators to choose from. There is no international airport on Little Cayman, so visitors will need to transit through Grand Cayman or Cayman Brac.
Diving Little Cayman is a thrilling experience, and the island is perhaps the most popular Cayman island amongst seasoned divers. Sheer drop-offs and vertical walls, thousands of feet deep, create stunning underwater scenery that can explored from over 50 different dive sites. The most famous areas are Bloody Bay and Jackson's Bight, both on the north side of the island. Sites are characterized by exceptionally healthy reefs and a wide range of marine life, including southern stingrays, eagle rays, green turtles, and some very friendly grouper.
Just five miles east of Little Cayman, and 40-minutes by boat, Cayman Brac is slightly larger and more developed than Little Cayman, but not to the same extent as Grand Cayman. Although a quiet island, visitors can discover a range of activities such as rock climbing, hiking, and fishing, as well as a selection of resorts, guest houses, and self-catered accommodations to suit all budgets. Cayman Brac has an international airport, although with a limited schedule, so visitors may prefer to transit through Grand Cayman.
The diving on Cayman Brac is varied, with some excellent wall diving similar to that on Little Cayman, shallower reef dives featuring abundant corals, and the famous wreck of the M/V Captain Keith Tibbetts. This Russian-built frigate was purchased and sunk in 1996 as an artificial reef, and now rests in two sections at a maximum depth of 88 feet. Good visibility and some fascinating coral and sponge growth make it an extremely photogenic wreck.
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Cayman Islands Liveaboards
One of the best ways to explore the Cayman Islands and discover all the best sites in one trip is from a Caribbean liveaboard boat. Liveaboards depart from George Town on Grand Cayman and offer 7-night itineraries around the islands.
Cayman Islands Diving Conditions
Water Temperatures: Between 78-82°F (26-28°C)
Visibility: Between 60 and 100 feet (18-30 meters)
Depth Range: 20 - 699 feet (6 - 213 m)
Cayman Islands Travel Information
A direct flight from Miami to Grand Cayman takes only 70 minutes. From Grand Cayman, you can transfer to Little Cayman or Cayman Brac. There are also usually direct flights from Boston, Chicago, and New York.
Diving is available year-round. "High Season" at the hotels is mid-December to mid-April, so rates will be higher then. September can bring rougher waters if there is a tropical storm, and this is also the month with a higher chance of a hurricane, although hurricanes are not common. June to October brings higher topside temperatures - 91F (33C). There is slightly more rain during the summer months.
For information on shooting in underwater mode, check out these helpful tips from the Underwater Photography Guide.