See more pictures - Here
Cayman Islands map
THE CAYMAN ISLANDS are three small islands in the Western Caribbean, to the south of Cuba and west of Jamaica. Low-lying and coral based, which gives them excellent scuba diving and excellent sand in some places. Grand Cayman is highly and successfully developed, particularly in the west. Air access is good from the States and the UK, and locally from Jamaica. It is quite American in feel and relatively expensive. Charming Caymanians islanders, quite reserved, large expatriate community of Britons, Americans, Canadians (involved in offshore finance and tourism) and Hondurans, Jamaicans (mainly in construction and tourism). The main beach, Seven Mile Beach, is excellent, and otherwise there is good sand. Many large hotels, some latterly top notch luxury, some inns, many apartments, condominiums and private villas, very good restaurants and good watersports, particularly scuba diving.
Little Cayman and Cayman Brac are much quieter and accessed mainly via Grand Cayman. They have just a few delightful inns, a few private villas, also superb scuba diving.
The scuba diving in the Cayman Islands is reckoned to be some of the finest the whole Caribbean. Below is an article about diving the Mixing Bowl in Little Cayman, first published in the Financial Times. For a general article about Caribbean scuba diving, please see here.
The Mixing Bowl, Little Cayman
by James Henderson
But I want to tickle Ben too....
It sounds like an extremely dodgy notion altogether, coming from an adult with all his faculties (or so I would claim), but there’s an innocent explanation, I promise. I was scuba-diving in the Mixing Bowl off Little Cayman, reputedly the finest wall diving in the Caribbean, even the world, some say. And Ben; Ben is a grouper who lives in the area. Apparently he likes scuba divers and doesn’t mind them tickling him under the chin.
The ‘wall‘ which makes Little Cayman so famous is the side of the submerged column on which the island stands. It drops sheer all around Little Cayman--in the click of a depth-sounder you can go from thirty feet to six thousand--and at the Mixing Bowl it starts within twenty feet of the water’s surface, making the area a superb dive-site.
The dive started with a scare. After a briefing we collected underwater on a sandy ledge, ten people in perfect frog freefall positions descending and checking their buoyancy. Then we headed for a chute, a sort of sluice that cut through the coral to the outside of the wall. From my position all I could see was divers disappearing down into a tiny hole. I nearly balked, imagining a traffic jam in a tunnel three feet across, sixty feet below the surface, head pointing downwards in total darkness. As I came closer, though, I saw that it was in fact a narrow gulley, still quite claustrophobic, but worth a punt. I tagged on the end of the line and the ragged walls rose high above me, just four feet apart. Gradually we snaked through the curves of the chute until we emerged into the open sea ninety feet down.
Below, the wall stretched down into a limitless deep blue; above, it towered like a monolith. We swam along it, past barrel sponges which sat squat and immobile, tendrils waving in the water and sea fans that cast out from the wall, sifting the currents. The dive leader pointed out a lobster lurking in a crevice waving its antennae, and each diver in turn paused momentarily to peer inside. A tiny shrimp lurked in the recesses of a tube sponge.
We ascended gradually as we swam along the wall and the corals and sponges began to change--at greater depths they are flat and broad in order to get the maximum sunlight and they are dark in colour because shorter wavelengths of light have been absorbed (shine a torch on them and you will see the true colours). Steadily the brighter colours brightened and the corals became tightly bunched, jostling one another to get the best of the light near the surface.
Eventually we reached another chute cutting into the wall and so we followed it up, inching one by one through its curves. At one stage the walls closed overhead and we passed through a small cavern. A queue formed and our expelled air pooled in the roof of the cavern, shimmering silvery overhead, like mercury. Coral rock is porous and so when we emerged on top of the reef moments later the air had seeped through and was releasing, rising in ten or twelve columns of bubbles. In the crystal clear water, it was like swimming in an oversized glass of Champagne.
On top of the reef the fish were schooling among the standing sponges and sea fans: a crowd of small bar jacks rode the current, dipping and darting in unison; squirrelfish, their huge black eyes bleary on their bright orange bodies, loitered under branches of coral. Occasional solitary fish swam in the open, picking over the reef: parrot fish, all pastel pinks and greens, and queen angel fish, a luxurious deep blue with yellow glints.
Suddenly Ben was there. He appeared next to the dive leader up ahead, seemingly greeting him. The dive leader cupped him under the belly and tickled him on the chin. It was an odd sight: ‘man strokes fish’, but Ben seemed unconcerned. Groupers are pretty ugly of course, with an undershot jaw of Habsburgian proportions, and thick rubbery lips that make them look permanently grumpy.
Ben was passed down the line, each diver detaining him to take their turn. They seemed to be taking an awful long time over it, I thought, becoming steadily more frantic and impatient at the back of the line. He might lose interest by the time I got to him, or he would get bored and impatient. But I could hardly push them out of the way… At one point Ben even started to change colour. Groupers, normally a dull brown, will send out warning signals if they are angry. Suddenly Ben was an alarming shade of red with large white spots. I decided I didn’t fancy a run-in with his teeth. Then, with amazing speed, he was gone. But a moment later he was back, mud brown once again. He had seen off another grouper that had strayed too close.
Finally it was my turn, with Ben loitering around the corals below me, gurning for all he was worth. Trusting to my buoyancy I swam down and reached for him, sliding my hand beneath his chin and gently scratching his slick and scaly skin. Success at last.
There is a distressing and frankly scurrilous rumour abroad that Ben doesn’t in fact care much about humans after all. Some say that the only reason that he hangs out with divers is that such large, wet-suited creatures bemuse the squirrel fish. Goggle-eyed, these orange simpletons apparently let down their guard, coming out of their crevices for a closer look. Which of course gives Ben a better chance of an easy lunch. Personally I don’t believe a word.