Cayman Snorkeling provides a quick, easy and very affordable means of exposing almost anyone to Cayman’s spectacular underwater world. A mask and fins—available for sale or rent at any of our recommended dive operators is all that you need to participate in this fun and exciting activity. Note: we recommend bringing a surface flag or other means of alerting others to your position.
If you haven’t snorkeled before, begin in the shallow water of a calm sandy beach. Always snorkel with a buddy, and help each other as you don your mask and fins in waist-deep water. Practice clearing your snorkel with a fast exhale and lie motionless face down while breathing normally through the snorkel to gain confidence in your ability to float effortlessly on the surface.
As you venture out to Cayman’s deeper waters, be mindful of currents and keep a watchful eye on your point of entry. Darker areas below the surface usually denote the presence of a reef system, sometimes as shallow as only several feet below the surface. Even at these depths, Cayman Islands snorkeling will reward you with sightings of myriad species of colorful fish, including: snapper, angelfish, tang, barracuda, damselfish, trumpet fish, starfish, turtles, parrot fish and many more.
Snorkeling in Grand Cayman or virtually anywhere in the Cayman Islands will expose you to approximately two hundred species of corals and over a thousand species of fish in very different appearances depending on their stage of development. For instance, a juvenile parrot fish looks completely different from an adult parrot fish and there are several different genera of parrot fish, many of which play important roles in creating the soft white sand beaches surrounding the Cayman Islands, as explained in our Cayman Beach Tour.
Grand Cayman snorkeling conditions and topography vary significantly depending on the weather conditions and snorkel site, which are explained in great detail in our Cayman Snorkel Sites Tour. In general, snorkeling around Grand Cayman will involve distances of up to 30 yards from shore to depths not often exceeding 30 feet; anything farther or deeper not being particularly conducive for snorkeling.
Take three deep breaths (and no more), holding the third breath deeply; immediately bend over forward while lifting your legs towards the ski and start kicking as you begin your descent.
PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH ANYTHING!
Most divers gain at least a rudimentary level of marine awareness during their certification course given even a moderately qualified instructor; absent the need for any formal snorkel training, many snorkelers are not even remotely aware of the amount of damage they cause. Owing to the irreparable and exponential destruction of the world’s reefs, some 90% of our reef environment is immediately threatened and over 20% has already been completely destroyed. It takes most species of coral between one and ten years to grow a single inch. Just imagine the enormous amount of destruction that could be caused by a single callous fin kick or any number of means of incidental or accidental contact. A living reef is among the most intricate enigmas in all of nature, second only perhaps to the rain forest. Besides the beauty and vital role our reefs play in the overall health of our planet, their potential benefit to medicine is also tremendous. All of this notwithstanding, there are many fish, such as the lionfish, corals and other creatures that can deliver a painful—and sometimes toxic sting!
Starfish Beach, or Starfish Point, is one of the most popular snorkel sites in Grand Cayman, owing primarily to its resident starfish population. Starfish is a misnomer as they are echinoderms -several species away from fish. Sea Star is a far more accurate name. The water at Starfish Beach is typically crystal clear and calm. Situated in Cayman Kai, look for the Starfish Beach sign and wade out to see these brilliantly colored and fascinating creatures. PLEASE do not take them out of the water! Even handling them is a cause for stress and diversion of energy otherwise crucial to their survival. The water is so shallow and clear that you will be able to obtain excellent photos with you and the starfish without the need of an underwater camera or any physical contact with the Sea Stars.
Excellent snorkeling can be enjoyed in the waters off virtually any resort or condo’ on Seven Mile Beach. Other popular spots include: Cemetery Beach, Public Beach, Wreck of the Cali , Smith Cove, Eden Rock, and Devil’s Grotto. The most spectacular areas are near the Cracked Conch and Old Man Bay in Northside. All of these and many more popular Cayman Islands snorkeling locations are listed on our snorkel site map and covered in great detail in our Cayman Snorkel Site guide.
After several Cayman Islands snorkeling adventures the intrigue and natural quest for adventure inspires most to broaden their underwater experiences. The next step would involve a SCUBA resort course from one of our recommended Cayman Islands dive operators, which provides a brief introduction into the fascinating world of diving under the close supervision of a highly qualified instructor. For those not quite ready for that but still seeking a little more underwater freedom, a snuba or helmet dive experience may offer a more comfortable experience.
In very rare cases and usually because of some type of physical restriction, some individuals will be better suited to a dry underwater experience, which can be easily accomplished with a variety of exciting options with Atlantis Adventures. Even experienced snorkelers and highly trained divers enjoy the comfort and enormous viewing windows offered by Atlantis, where you will frequently see many fascinating animals and formations that easily go unnoticed during a dive. Submarine adventures also make for a romantic and adventurous evening entertainment option.
Basic beginner snorkel instructions:
One of the most important things for a beginning snorkeler is to become comfortable with breathing through the mouth through a snorkel while wearing a mask.
It is common for first time snorkelers to feel varying levels of apprehension and experience some difficulty coordinating breathing through a snorkel while wearing a mask. Always become comfortable with your equipment in shallow water—no deeper than 3 feet before venturing out to explore the reefs.
Stand in shallow water and start by putting your face just below the surface and looking through the mask. Most beginners are amazed at what can be seen even in shallow water in the Cayman Islands so your first experiences should be both comfortable and rewarding.
Clearing the snorkel is an essential skill, as waves often splash water into the open end of a snorkel. Even the best masks can often leak to some extent, especially for people with facial hair. Most professional divers shave their moustache about half way between the nose and upper lip, to provide an airtight seal for the mask to minimize leakage.
Clearing your snorkel is very easy to do by simply exhaling with a strong blast of air through your mouth to force out any water. Some snorkel designs include one way and drainage valves, minimizing the intake of water and facilitating clearing.
Clearing your mask is a matter of displacing water with air. There are several methods taught by various certifying agencies but the easiest and most effective way of clearing your mask is to tilt your head back about 30 degrees and while pushing gently with two fingers just below your eyes, exhale gently through your nose. A little practice in shallow water will make mask clearing experts out of almost everyone, with many people using some variation of the technique described.
Once you become comfortable practicing in shallow water it’s time to don you fins and start exploring the reefs and really enjoying the beauty of Cayman’s underwater world. Enter the water with your buddy with mask and snorkel on, carrying your fins in one hand and holding your buddy’s hand or wrist with the other. Snorkeling—like diving, is very much a buddy sport and not something to do on your own, under any circumstances.
When you reach about three feet of water, stop and using your buddy for support, don one fin at a time by bending your leg at the knee across your other leg. Once you have both fins on, assist your buddy in the same manner.
Once fully outfitted, lie face down in the water and completely relax. You will quickly discover that it is impossible to sink in saltwater. Once you come to this realization it will serve to alleviate any apprehension that may besiege you during any part of your Cayman snorkeling experience; you must always remember that you can simply rest on the surface any time you become fatigued, stressed or simply want to take a few minutes to relax. Over 90% of snorkeling accidents occur when panicked divers flail about and actually force themselves below the surface. Note that this is not the case in fresh water, where most people will have a tendency to sink, as the density of fresh water is less than that of saltwater. The physics notwithstanding, you can easily test this for yourself by comparing the differences of your buoyancy characteristics between a freshwater pool and the ocean.
Once you are completely comfortable in shallow water it’s time to journey out to Cayman’s spectacular reefs. Start with a basic scissor or flutter kick and experiment with different kick strokes until you find the one that best suits your individual physiology. It is good practice to change kicks throughout your snorkel or dive to avoid the overuse of any specific leg muscles in particular. As you kick, use a slow, comfortable pace and remember to keep your fins submerged in the water. Roughly twenty kicks per minute should provide an adequate speed without triggering fatigue. Breaking the surface with your fins requires more energy thus decreasing the efficiency of your kicks; also try to keep your arms at your sides swimming to reduce drag.
Another common kick is the dolphin kick, where both legs sweep up and down simultaneously. It may take somewhat longer to become comfortable with this kick but is a very efficient means of underwater propulsion when properly executed.
As you become more confident practice diving below the surface. There are two basic methods of beginning your descent: feet first and head first, with the former being somewhat easier for most people.
The feet first maneuver involves lying flat on the surface and raising your upper torso above the surface by kicking. As your body weight starts to pull you down into the water, raise your arms above your head while sweeping them upward as you push yourself down. Because you are positively buoyant (tend to float) in saltwater, exhaling a bit of air from your lungs will decrease your buoyancy and facilitate your descent. Now pull your knees into your chest as you lower your head; this will shift your position to comfortably swim underwater in much the same position as you do on the surface.
The head-first dive is more common among experienced divers and probably a maneuver that you should strive to achieve. Forward inertia will significantly increase the effectiveness of this approach; put another way, you want to begin with a ‘running’ (swimming) start. Then simply bend at the hips in one graceful maneuver and raise your legs towards the sky, establishing as straight and vertical a position as possible. Once your fins clear the surface, you can easily kick to your desired depth and arch your back to straighten your body and maintain depth. Start at very shallow depths and gradually increase commensurate to your confidence and ability.
The amount of time you can remain underwater depends entirely on how long you can hold your breath. Never fight the resistance to surface because of some exciting sea creature; you can always go back down after a breath and see it again. You can increase your time underwater by expanding your lungs by taking three (and no more) deep breaths prior to descending. As you descend and throughout your dive slowly release the air from your lungs by slowly blowing tiny bubbles or by emitting a soft humming sound. Whatever works best for you, the objective is to very slowly release air throughout the course of your dive; this will also prove to be a handy practice to have grown accustomed to should you decide to pursue SCUBA diving.
If you or any part(s) of you become fatigued, sore or cramped while snorkeling, simply lay motionless on your face or back and relax. If you experience cramps in your legs, try back floating on the surface and just kick enough to maintain whatever comfort level you desire above the surface. You can also ‘sit’ on the water while gently treading your feet.
There has never been any convincing evidence published to add credence to the old adage about not eating before swimming. In fact, most studies show that as your body requires nourishment to produce energy, it would actually be beneficial to eat a light healthy meal prior to embarking upon your snorkeling adventures.
Upon reaching the surface, keep your face down—this should position your snorkel vertically if you have it mounted correctly—and quickly exhale a final blast of air to clear your snorkel. At first, most beginners will want to lift their head completely out of the water and breathe directly through their mouths; there is nothing wrong with doing this at first if it makes you feel comfortable but try work towards the goal of not having to lift your head out of the water every time you surface. As you gain experience, you will notice even the slightest amount of water in your snorkel and instinctively exhale to blow it out. Like anything else, the amount of satisfaction you derive from this sport will be directly commensurate to the amount of effort you put into perfecting it.
Equipment maintenance is an important practice, whether your gear is rented or owned. Always rinse your gear in fresh water and keep it out of the sun when you are not using it. Inspect your mask, fins and snorkel for salt crystals, which will dry and harden, eventually causing scratches and eventually holes and leaks.
Sometimes the inside surface of your mask may start to fog. This occurs when the 02 in your breath condenses on the colder clear surface of the mask. Minimize mask fogging by always thoroughly scrubbing a new mask with toothpaste and a fine brush—a toothbrush works just fine. After 2-3 dives your new mask will be worn in enough that no further scrubbing should be required. Before each dive it’s a good practice to rinse your mask in fresh water if it is available and either spit in it or use a few drops of mask defogger, available at any dive shop. To let you in on a little secret, most commercial mask defoggers are nothing more than a mild soap—such as baby shampoo or mild dishwashing liquid detergent—and water. You can easily make your own, adjusting the ratios and soap products until you achieve whatever works best for you.