The Ultimate Guide to Swimming with Stingrays in the Grand Cayman
Swimming with stingrays in the Grand Cayman at Stingray City is hands down one of the best experiences ever! It is not only the number one destination but also one of the best activities in the entire Caribbean that you cannot miss! With that said, there are a few elements to think about before planning your visit to Stingray City.
In this guide, I will be explaining everything you need to know about visiting Stingray City from my own first-hand experience. From the unique story of Stingray City to the reasons why swimming with stingrays in the Grand Cayman is ethical, how to choose a tour, what to expect, and more. So do not swim away, stay and read my ultimate guide of visiting Stingray City!
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The Story of Stingray City
The story of how Stingray City became an attraction is quite unique. Back in the 1970s, fishermen would get attacked by mosquitos while cleaning their fish onshore. So they started to clean their fish in shallow water at a sandbar on the North Sound of the island. The fishermen would throw fish guts overboard and wild stingrays would swarm to eat the scraps. Eventually, Pavlov’s Law took into effect and the stingrays would correlate the sound of the fishermen boat engine to food.
After several years of this ritual, in 1981, two local diver instructors decided to take a leap of faith and feed the stingrays while underwater. The divers found the stingrays to be quite docile. Eventually, they were able to earn the trust of the stingrays and start hand feeding them. As lovers of marine biology, the divers began documenting the behavior of the stingrays. Thereafter, world-renowned journalists from the Wall Street Journal and National Geographic published articles of the stingrays for the entire world to see. Thus, swimming with stingrays in the Grand Cayman became an experience everyone wanted to be a part of – Stingray City was born. Now, Stingray City is the number one and most
Is Swimming with Stingrays in the Grand Cayman Ethical?
For those that are longtime readers, you know that we do not condone any unethical animal encounters. So when we heard about swimming with stingrays in the Grand Cayman, we thought, how could this possibly be ethical? After we did our research, we learned enough to know Stingray City is more than a tourist attraction – it is an ethical animal encounter. Then we visited Stingray City first-hand and learned more details on why this is an ethical experience. So if you have any doubts, here are a few insights which make swimming with stingrays in the Grand Cayman ethical.
Please note, we are not experts in animal encounters, we only have our own beliefs and do our best to have amazing experiences without endangering the well being of animals. Some may consider Stingray City to still be unethical, but to our best knowledge, we do not believe that to be true.
The Stingrays are WILD!
First and foremost, the stingrays at Stingray City in the Grand Cayman are WILD! These beautiful animals are not held in captivity whatsoever and have never been captured for profit. They are wild and come to Stingray City on their own. In fact, some wild stingrays choose to not come close to humans because it is too loud for them. Whereas the docile stingrays will swarm to anyone with food and allow to be held, stroked, and even kissed.
With that said, it is important to note that every tour guide respects the stingrays and their freedom. You will never (and should never) see any tour guide or visitor come up to a stingray and forcibly hold them. Instead, you will see the stingrays swim naturally to a human with or without food.
Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation Impact
The Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation (GHOF) has made a huge impact on maintaining Stingray City to be an ethical animal encounter. Moreover, the GHOF stingray census is the longest running study of any wildlife interactive site in the world. Since 2013, the GHOF has completed a bi-annual stingray survey. These surveys provide valuable information to help see the overall health of the stingray population in correlation to the impact tourism brings to the animals. The result is POSITIVE! In 2014-2015, the population of stingrays was around 80-90. Today, the survey has shown a population of at least 113 stingrays. So as you can see, they are
Though Stingray City brings in the most income of any attraction in the Caribbean, the Cayman Islands government puts the health of the animals as the first priority. How? In addition to the information above, the tour operators must follow guidelines. One of the guidelines is the food regulation. Whether a boat has 5 or 20 people on board, only one pound of food per boat. This helps regulate the intake of food for the stingrays. In fact, when there was a drop of visitors after Steve Irwin passed away, the Grand Cayman stingrays showed no signs of malnutrition. Which brings us back to the very first statement as to why swimming with stingrays in the Grand Cayman is ethical…..they are 100% wild animals.
Lastly, you will notice that I say swimming with stingrays in the Grand Cayman often. It is because some other destinations have tried to replicate Stingray City and have failed. Some have even tried to steal the microchipped stingrays and create their own Stingray City. It does not work like that because these stingrays are truly special. They are naturally docile and the Grand Cayman is their HOME. This is why Stingray City is a unique and special experience you cannot find anywhere else in the world.
When is the Best Time to Visit Stingray City?
The best time to swim with stingrays in the Grand Cayman at Stingray City is during sunrise or when there are little to no cruise ships. Otherwise, you are looking at a very overcrowded experience. With that said, I understand you cannot always get lucky with perfect timing (especially if you visit from a cruise). So regardless of when you visit, trust me when I say, any time of any day at Stingray City is still an amazing experience.
Sunrise Stingray City Tour
If you have the opportunity to visit Stingray City during sunrise – take it! Our friends were able to enjoy a Stingray City sunrise tour with Whitesand Water Sports and had the most unique experience for two main reasons. One, a sunrise tour will most likely have no more than two to three boats at Stingray City. In total, you could have dozens of stingrays amongst only 30 visitors, compared to at least 10 other boats filled with 16 to 30 people each. Moreover, the other important reason is you are the first boat to the sandbar. Therefore, you get to watch dozens of stingrays come swarming to you. Yes, it might sound frightening, but our friends said it was one of the most breathtaking experiences ever!
Cruise Ship Ratio
If waking up at 6 am is not for you, do not worry, I completely understand. So the next best option (if possible), is to ask your tour operator how many cruise ships are visiting on the desired date. We went to Stingray City with only one cruise ship docked and still had at least 10 other boats among us. Ten other boats did not feel overwhelming at all – there was plenty of space for everyone to have a great experience, but it’s still a lot more than the sunrise option. So, I can only imagine what it must look like with more than two cruises docked in one day.
Choosing a Tour to Swim with Stingrays
Choosing the right tour operator to visit Stingray City is vital. It can truly make or break the amazing experience of swimming with stingrays in the Grand Cayman. When choosing your tour operator, I recommend looking at a few variables – price, location, time, group size, extra excursions, and reviews.
The location can play a huge factor in choosing the best tour operator to visit Stingray City. If you are staying along Seven Mile Beach or coming from the cruise terminal, you will want to book with a tour operator that provides complimentary transportation to the boat. Another component to consider is additional activities or sightseeing. A lot of tour operators will bundle Stingray City with either snorkeling, sailing, visiting Rum Point, Starfish Point, etc.
Furthermore, some tour operators will offer small group tours, but make sure you verify the maximum number in a group. Some may claim they have small groups, but they actually have at least 20 to 25 people per boat. In my opinion, that is not a small group – we only had 9 people in our tour. The length of the tour is also an important factor, especially if the group size is large. The more people in a three-hour tour, the less time being able to share the experience interacting with the stingrays. Moreover, a three-hour tour could be including the time to get to Stingray City and back – not the time actually spent swimming with the stingrays.
Of course, price is always something to consider when choosing a tour to swim with Stingrays in the Grand Cayman. Most tours will cost around $40 to $70. When comparing prices, look into what is offered i.e. free transportation to the dock, snorkel gear, group size, and length of the tour. Lastly, look at reviews! TripAdvisor is a great source to see previous customer reviews.
Book with White Sand Water Sports!
For us, we chose White Sand Water Sports because they are a family-run business on the East End of the island with great prices, reviews, and features. They were beyond wonderful and we had a great time at Stingray City because of the team at White Sand Water Sports. In addition to having excellent hospitality, we love their attention to small details to provide the best atmosphere. Their boat holds a maximum of 17 people, whereas other tour operators have a minimum of at least 25 people.
Another great feature was the length of the tour. Since the departure point is closer to Stingray City than Seven Mile Beach, we arrived very quickly which provided us with more time to interact and swim with the stingrays. We also enjoyed the knowledge Captain Chris provided about Stingray City, the luxurious boat, complimentary snorkel gear, life vests, squid for the stingrays, and more.
I highly recommend White Sand Water Sports – they are truly the BEST!
Full disclaimer – We were offered a generous discount by White Sand Water Sports to go on their Stingray City tour. As always, our opinions are non-biased and our own. We want to thank White Sand Water Sports for their generosity and for everyone following and supporting us on all of “Our Sweet Adventures.”
What to Expect at Stingray City
To put it simply, you can expect to have one of the best experiences of your life at Stingray City! Most tours will depart via boat and on the way to Stingray City, they will explain the story (as mentioned previously), how to approach, feed, and interact with the wild animals. Then when you arrive at Stingray City, the real fun begins! It will be natural to get scared when the stingrays swarm to you, but they won’t bite or sting you.
The sand bar at Stingray City is very shallow – about 3 feet deep and the gorgeous turquoise water is crystal clear. Your captain will help bring the stingrays to the surface so you can see them up close, feed and stroke them. You can even give them a little kiss for good luck! Once you run out of food, the stingrays will start to swim away or just glide slightly above the sand.
Though the water is clear and you can see the stingrays from above, we enjoyed putting our snorkel gear on and actually swimming with the stingrays. It was very peaceful watching them hover over the sand so gracefully. Moreover, we felt closer to the stingrays underwater and enjoyed the feeling of being another fish in the sea. Speaking of fish, you will also find silver fish swimming either under the stingrays or above them just like how Nemo and his friends went to school.
How to Capture Special Moments at Stingray City
You are going to want to capture every moment possible of your experience at Stingray City. So my recommendation is coming prepared with the best underwater photography equipment.
The GoPro is always a great option to capture both video and pictures. Though the Super Suit is a great GoPro addition to protect and maintain excellent quality, I prefer my SOONSUN Dome. It has three different switchable filters – red, blue, and macro to provide more options. Furthermore, it has the capability to capture photos half underwater and half above water.
Another option for underwater photography is the Fujifilm FinePix XP130 Waterproof Digital Camera. For a budget-friendly price on a well-known camera brand, the photo quality is fantastic! It is the perfect camera to take along to shoot both underwater and on land. Furthermore, it has Bluetooth capability and can zoom-in for closer photos that a GoPro cannot always capture.
On another note, if you are worried about your belongings getting wet such as a wallet, phone, and hotel key card, then I highly recommend a waterproof pouch. It is also touch-sensitive, so you can still take pictures with your phone inside the waterproof pouch. Furthermore, you can wear the waterproof pouch around your neck to keep it always secured and safe.
I cannot stress enough how amazing it is to interact and swim with the stingrays in the Grand Cayman. Stingray City is truly one of the most unique and special experiences to encounter animals in their natural habitat. So make sure you book this tour during your trip to Grand Cayman! You will leave with amazing memories to cherish forever.