Caribbean Snapshots: Stingray City, Grand Cayman

Clear water and gregarious rays make for a memorable encounter


The Caribbean’s favorite marine life encounter doesn’t depend on captive animals, and it wasn’t even a planned attraction, it just happened.

For many years, native fishermen returning to the shelter of Grand Cayman’s North Sound would stop near a shallow sandbar inside the reef to clean their catch. The scraps tossed overboard attracted southern stingrays, which learned that a boat motor was the equivalent of a dinner bell.

Eventually, charter boat operators learned of this gathering, and by the mid 1980s were bringing divers and snorkelers to the site that had earned the name Stingray City.

Today, this mixing of humans and rays has grown to become one of the Cayman Islands’ signature attractions. A number of tour operators ferry passengers from docks along the island’s western end to the site aboard a fleet of PWCs, speedboats, sailing catamarans and glass-bottomed barges.

There are actually two adjacent sites where the rays gather. The most popular is the sandbar, where the water is waist deep. A bit to the north, scuba divers and snorkelers focus on an area with water depths of 10 to 12 feet. Once the boats arrive, the rays soon appear, ready for their daily offering of fishy bits. Participants hand feed the rays, which glide about and take the offerings with nary a nip of a finger.