Suffice it to say, I was none too keen on swimming with these creatures. However, there are few places in the world where the opportunity even arises. Stingray City, a shallow sandbar found off the coast of Grand Cayman Island, is one of them. Upon learning that I would be visiting this place, I also took time to research and discover that stingrays are docile, peaceful creatures who only use their barb in defense rather than to attack. For generations stingrays have hung out at Stingray City, becoming friendlier and more domesticated with each passing person.
So my adventurousness and thrill for trying new things eventually overcame my timidity and nervousness regarding the stingrays. The voice in my head soothed, “it can’t be that dangerous if everyone else is doing it,” logic that has helped talk many otherwise sane people into foolish decisions. Peer pressure worked like a charm.
Stingray anatomy is fascinating. I freaked out before going into the water. Very few animals flutter. National Geographic calls it “graceful,” I consider it unnatural. They undulate like a flag in the wind, their wings flapping against your skin. It made me want to crawl out of my skin.
A fellow tourist said, “if you can get over the fear factor, they actually feel nice.” I hated to admit it, but it was true. Their underbellies are like velvet. Their tops are slimy. With the big, bulbous eyes they turn upon you, they’re even kindof endearing. And they have smiling mouths. Even though I could partially get over their venomous pointed stinger, I couldn’t bring myself to actually feed the ray. My husband, a bolder, more aggressively adventurous sort, practically chased rays down with fish in his hands. I think he even rubbed some fish juice on his shorts. He said the mouth was like an extremely strong vacuum, and I took his word for it.
Anyway, we took a sunny catamaran out to Stingray City. We spent time with the rays, about twenty minutes (which was more than enough for me), and then another thirty minutes snorkeling. They told us all we had to remember was to shuffle our feet. I shuffled like my life depended on it. I did not want to stomp and startle a ray who would accidentally sting me. That was not in the Caribbean Vacation itinerary (the “Fun Times,” if you’ve ever taken a Carnival cruise.) And the stingrays swarmed. They swarmed for food and for me, for whatever reason. The idyllic water and the calming voice of my husband, along with the presence of some dozen other crazy tourists was all that kept me from leaping back onto the boat. And I’m thankful they did.
A few facts:
- The details: book a tour once in port. 10 minute van ride, 20 minute catamaran ride, two snorkel stops and Stingray City. The total tour takes about 4 hours and will drop you off at either 7-mile beach or the port when you are finished. If traveling by cruise ship, this allows you about 2 hours on your own.
- Is it worth it? Definitely. Stingray City is a must-see, unless you’re even more of a wildlife-phobe than I. It’s good for all ages. Not good for those who get seasick. Our tour included a snorkel stop, which was gorgeous and also worth it.
- Do I have to be able to swim? No. You do have to stand in 3 feet of crystal clear water.
- How much does it cost? If you’re on a cruise and book through a cruise line, the cost is $70 per person. The exact same tour, booked online, is $50 per person. We decided not to book ahead and just find a Stingray City sail tour at the port, which was incredibly easy to do (everyone is standing there holding a sign and calling out their tour.) We bartered a little and got the same tour for $35 per person. There are also options to take a jetski or a bigger boat out there. Not sure how that’s done, but the jetskis looked fun.
- What should I bring? swimsuit, towel, sunblock. They provide a cooler and punch, so adult beverages are on you.
- Any tips? Like I said, it’s easy to book once you’re at the port. We made sure to book a catamaran, for a more scenic trip out there. It’s about a ten minute van ride from the port, then 20 minutes on the catamaran, each way. We were lucky that we were the only cruise ship in port that day; the staff said it is often more crowded when as many as 8 cruise ships can dock in one day. Also, if the weather is too windy, they won’t take tours out to the sandbar, so it is not always available.