A Stingray Gave Me a Hickey!
Stingrays are swimming around me, lazily flapping their wings. I touch the top of a tiny one swimming between my legs, and its skin is the texture of sandpaper. As another one swims over me, I gently touch its underside; it’s as smooth as a cashmere sweater. I’m scuba diving in Stingray City, a wide sand channel in Grand Cayman Island’s North Sound.
Another one bumps me, going for the food I’m holding in my fist. They’re like Hoover vacuum cleaners—as bottom dwellers they can sense and suck up mollusks inches under the sand. I don’t release the food fast enough, so the stingray, who has obviously perfected his technique with other divers at this popular spot, does a quick side maneuver and “kisses” my wetsuit near my hand. Startled, I drop the food, the stingray snatches it, and swims away. The hickey on my arm—a bruise that lasts for days—attracts attention at the beach bar that evening and gives me an excuse to talk about my exciting dive at Stingray City.
Several dive operators on the island offer the Stingray City dive. They leave from various points on the island, including the Seven Mile Beach and the east end of the island. During the boat ride out to the dive site, a dive master or a guide will tell you all about why the stingrays gather here. Once, this spot in the North Sound was popular with fishermen, who would dump their leftover bait and fish. The stingrays quickly realized that they could easily find food here. Since then, the fishermen have moved on because it became too easy to hook a stingray instead of their intended catch. Meanwhile, other boats began showing up, bringing divers and snorkelers. (The dive itself is easy—the sandy bottom ranges from 9–12 ft./2.7–3m deep.) Today, the number of boats allowed here at one time is limited by wildlife zone regulations developed by the island’s government.
The Cayman Islands—there are three—have long been recognized for having some of the best diving spots in the world. Little Cayman’s Bloody Bay Wall is one of the longest walls in the world, with steep cliffs descending down thousands of feet. In addition to diving, there are plenty of other adrenaline rush-inducing activities including kiteboarding, one of the Caymans’ fastest growing sports, parasailing, paddleboarding, rock climbing, and hiking. Shoppers may get their own adrenaline charges buying black coral jewelry and electronics in the duty free shops in George Town.
Cayman Islands ( 345/549-0623; www.caymanislands.ky).
Tours: Red Sail Divers ( 877/RED-SAIL [733-7245]; www.redsail.com). Ocean Frontiers ( 800/348-6096; www.oceanfrontiers.com).
When to Go: Year-round, but dives are weather dependent.
$$$ Westin Casuarina, West Bay Rd. ( 800/937-8461 in the U.S. or 343/945-3800; www.westincasuarina.com). $$$ Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman, Seven Mile Beach ( 800/542-8680 in the U.S. or 343/943-9000; www.ritzcarlton.com/grandcayman).