Catching Stingrays at Stingray City in the Cayman Islands
An insider guide to Cayman’s top tourist attraction
Grand Cayman is home to one of the most unique wildlife encounters in the Caribbean. Located in the northwest corner of the North Sound, Stingray City is positioned just within the bounds of the barrier reef in the confines of the sandy sound.
Legend has it that fishermen who had spent the day fishing over the depths of the North Wall, would come into the shallow, calm waters of the sound to clean their catch, and toss the guts and butts overboard. The fishermen started noticing round disk like creatures dancing circles around their boats and soon it was discovered that these creatures were stingrays. Over time the rays would recognize the sound of the boat engines and congregate for their daily feast. In the 1980’s curious SCUBA divers discovered they could feed these stingrays by hand and with the growth of tourism stingray city became the most popular tourist attraction in the Cayman Islands.
The stingrays we have grown to know and love are Southern Atlantic Stingrays, common not only around the Cayman Islands and the Caribbean, but in fact have a rather large natural range found as far north as New Jersey in the Western Atlantic Ocean, to the southern seas of Brazil.
Southern Atlantic Rays are flat, disc shaped bottom feeders with eyes on the top of their body. Their mouths and sensory organs are on their flat underside, and they have a long whip like tail. The tops of their bodies a dark brown, olive, grey or dark grey/black color, and feel like sandpaper covered in a raw egg. An odd description I know, but go ahead and pet one of those beauties and tell me that isn’t exactly what it feels like!
Their underbellies are milky white and silky smooth to the touch. And yes they do have a non-fatal yet venomous barb at the base of their tail. Getting stung is extremely rare. Most stingray accidents happen away from Stingray City in other sandy and shallow parts of the island when they are accidentally stepped on while the ray is buried in the sand where they typically feed.
The great thing about Stingray City is that these rays are wild animals. There are no cages and no restriction on these creatures, they are totally free to come and go as they please. This means that if they have had their fill of squid, or their tolerance for tourists has dwindled for the day, they can take themselves away.
Stingray City is qualified by the Department of Environment as a Wildlife Interaction Zone, which means the stingrays can be fed and handled as long as they’re kept out of harms way and treated with respect. They’re also protected by the laws of the island and are not allowed to be caught. As a general rule and also by law it is always a good idea not to touch any wild animals outside these specially designated Wildlife Interaction Zones.
Today, tour operators and private boats gather daily at Stingray City in large numbers. There are a number of companies that offer Stingray City excursions and guaranteed you will find the right company to suit your preferences. The busiest times to go are during the days where the cruise ships are in port, so if you are an on island guest and would like a quieter experience, we recommend Sundays or days when no cruise ships are in town.
A boat ride to Stingray City takes about a 20-minutes across the calm clear waters of the North Sound. Upon arrival the boat will securely anchor itself in the sand. From there you can disembark and enter the waist/chest-high water to interact with the stingrays.
You can usually expect to see other fish too; hound fish, trunk fish, yellow tailed and mutton snappers as well as some feathered friends up in the blue skies, the terns, Cayman’s version of the sea gull. Many tours will also pare the Stingray City stop with a snorkel stop at the barrier reef or a shallow coral reef allowing the guests to maximize their time floating in the warm Caribbean, spotting all the fish life Cayman has to offer.
This experience is absolutely one of a kind and unforgettable.
Words by: Heather Holt