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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Stingray City- Grand Cayman VIDEO

The older I get, the more I try to avoid the touristy gimmicky attractions when I travel.  When I plan my trips around the globe, I try to avoid the "Blue Lagoons" of various destinations. More often than not, they are usually overpriced "in and out" types of deals that you do for the bucket list or a quick picture.  The older I get, the more I try to avoid the crowds of people and 5 second photo ops. 

I have to admit, when I booked my trip to Grand Cayman, I had one overly touristy activity on my radar: Stingray City.  If you've been on a cruise in the Caribbean, you have probably stopped at GC and saw this exact activity as one of the excursions along the way. Stingray City is the famous little sandbar in Grand Cayman where you can hop in the water and feed the wild sting rays.  My internal debate was "Yes, Yes I want to feed and swim with wild sting rays." and then "No, No I do not want to give someone all this money to some guy who doesn't care for something super touristy that doesn't support eco-tourism".   
First world problems. 

All week the weather prevented us from getting out to Stingray City and I started to accept that this was a sign I shouldn't bother.  But then, in the last few days of the week, the wind slowed down and boats were finally making their way out to the sand bar  On Friday night (our last night on the island) a couple from the group had booked two spots on the Saturday morning trip with the company recommended by our dive shop.  It was our last day on the island with a 5 pm flight later in the day and there were only four spots left on this charter.  I finally decided to put on my big obvious "I am a tourist" hat and book a spot to Stingray City. 

Stingray City Video Recap 

The company that came highly recommended to us was White Sand Water Sports, the only charter Compass Point books for their guests.  The details were as follows:  $60 to the captain and the boat leaves Kaibo Yacht Club at 7 am.  All you need is a swim suit and a towel.  That meant a 5:30 alarm to make the 40 minute drive across the island with plenty of time to get lost and try to find the charter.  Why so early?  Are the sting rays that picky about breakfast times  That is one early alarm on vacation and these Sting Rays better be hungry.  We arrived at Kaibo, met the owner. and from there we hopped on the boat and headed out to "Sting Ray City".  

Stingray City is a sand bar off the northwest corner of the island at the "mouth" of Grand Cayman.  A quick boat ride out to the sandbar, throw the anchor over and you look out into the water.  Within minutes, you can see the FEVER OF STINGRAYS (yep thats the technical term for a group) coming in and the water is filled with black blobs making their way to the boat. Stingrays were everywhere around the boat and let me tell you.. they aren't shy.  According to the captain, they hear the boat coming and head on over to the sandbar for food.  As soon as we hit the sandbar, I realized why we had to be at the boat so early.  We were the first boat out there and at least 30 hungry Southern Stingrays were waiting for us as we threw on some snorkel gear and jumped in the water.  If you aren't a great swimmer, don't worry.  The water is only about 3-5' at its deepest at the sandbar. 

The stingrays you are feeding are Southern Stingrays which typically eat bivalves, small fish and worms underneath the sand. To locate their food, Stingrays have a special set of tools-- they use electroreceptors on their snouts as well as their excellent senses of smell and touch. They uncover prey by blowing water out through their mouth and flapping their "wings" over the sand. It is typical to see other species of fish following southern stingrays as they feed because they stir up extra bits of food as they go.

Each captain is allowed to bring 1 lb of food out to feed the stingrays. Thankfully, White Sand Water Sports only goes out in groups of 12 or less. During our charter, we only had 8 people on our boat which meant a lot less people and a lot more food to feed the stingrays. Our captain jumped in the water and handed out the squid with some quick instructions: make a sideways fist, hold the squid in the opening of your hand and make sure to keep your thumb down. The stingrays will come over and eagerly "vacuum" the squid out of your hand. No, they don't bite and no, it won't hurt. You may get a hickie or two and be warned...these guys aren't shy. The first five minutes was a swarm of stingrays flapping up and climbing up your side, gliding around and approaching you for breakfast. 

If you are reading this and the first thing that pops into your head is Steve Irwin- don't worry you can easily avoid any barb related injuries.  When in the water, make sure you do the "stingray shuffle", shuffling your feet in the sand instead of making big quick steps (potentially onto a sting rays barb). While these rays are wild, they are very used to tourists and tend to act more like "captive rays". With that being said, don't go around picking up random wild stingrays.  Stingrays only flick their tails (barbs) upwards in an involuntary reflex action if they feel threatened, as a defensive measure when if they are stepped on or greatly disturbed. 

According to statistics from a 2006 article, "there have been only 17 stingray deaths recorded worldwide. While what happened to Steve Irwin is a tragedy, it’s extremely rare to have a vital organ punctured by a stingray barb".  According to the fish experts, “You have a better chance of winning the Powerball lottery than dying from a stingray barb.”

So now you know the safety procedures, you are doing the stingray shuffle, and are aware of the unlikelihood of an injury, I am going to tell you can even get the opportunity to "hold" a stingray.  Our captain asked who wanted to and of course, I jumped at the opportunity.  The stingrays are so soft and smooth underneath and a lot heavier than you would think.  After feeding and holding the stingrays, I asked the captain roughly 4 million questions about the stingrays, the business, and the health of the population on the island.  You could tell instantly that this wasn't just a grumpy guy at a job, but someone who was happy to be there.  He was really knowledgeable and passionate about the species.  He was happy to report that the number of stingrays has been increasing over the years, and he served as a responsible advocate for the species.  He told me how some tourists tend to not follow the rules, and he is very strict on how the sting rays are handled, respected and treated.  He told me a bit about the stingrays, how the females are the larger friendlier rays, while the males tend to stick more to the bottom and hang around.  You will also notice a few friendly fish who come with the rays at feeding time. 

He also reminded us that as willing as the stingrays are, they are not our pals and they don't just "love to hang out with humans".  They come strictly for the food and the second the last squid is fed, they turn around and head out.  Just as we finished, another boat was making its way to the sandbar and almost instantly, the stingrays headed off for their next boat and their next meal.  As the next few boats showed up ( much larger, with a lot more people jumping in the water). it was even more apparent why this tour group came so highly recommended.  The early wakeup call and small boat size meant we had a small group and had the "city" and its residents all to ourselves. 

After the stingrays left, we jumped back on the boat for a quick ride out to a reef for a snorkel tour.  Again, the captain has everything you need from masks and snorkels to fins and defog for your mask.  After spending approximately 2 minutes snorkeling in the water we were quickly reminded exactly why we scuba dive.  Once you start diving, snorkeling will never be the same (i.e. drinking sea water through a really big tube you are supposed to breath out of and flopping around at the surface).   We swam with the fish for a little while and I spent some time with one of the stingrays one last time before heading back to the boat and back to shore.  

By 9 am we were back at the resort, having breakfast and a coffee, recounting on how great the morning was.  While everyone was at the resort packing and prepping for our 5pm flight, we were out enjoying another beautiful day on Grand Cayman.  It was like having an extra day of vacation.

I am so glad I finally decided to book a trip to Sting Ray City with White Sand Water Sports.  If I had booked with one of the larger companies, I think I would have had the more stereotypical mob scene tourist experience.  By going with a smaller company recommended by our dive resort, it was an awesome experience in a small group with a captain who cares about the island and the stingrays.  Although the early wakeup call was tough, it meant we were the first ones on the sandbar and had the stingrays all to ourselves.  If you head to Grand Cayman and want to spend some time with the rays, make sure you book a trip with White Sand Water Sports.  It may just be the highlight of your trip.


  1. I am going to Cayman next month on vacation with my girlfriend and was wondering if whitesand watersports was worth going with? They seem to be located quite far away from Seven Mile Beach which is where we will be staying. I was looking at this company but not sure who to go with.

    1. hello! While White Sands is far from 7 mile beach, it is RIGHT next to Sting Ray City itself. I can't recommend this company enough, we had 7 people on our boat and got to the sand bar first. All the other boats had about 20 people (each boat can only bring the same amount of squid too!). This is the only company the dive shop would even book through.

      I hope you have a great time in Grand Cayman and feel free to reach out with any other questions!



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