Poor stingrays. They have such an ominous-sounding name yet they're such gentle creatures. At least the ones in The Cayman Islands are. They glide along, gracefully flapping their wings. OK, there is a stinger, but it's not that lengthy tail you see. The stinger has its base near the tail, and it's just a few inches long. For this kind of stingray to sting you, you'd have to step on its body or otherwise abuse it. They're very friendly and certainly wouldn't just attack you. And I'm happy to report that no one got stung when I was in Stingray City today. No one even got a hickey, which sometimes happens when a stingray thinks your leg is food and starts sucking.
I visited Stingray City in The Cayman Islands today — it was an incredible experience and one that no one who visits Grand Cayman should miss.
Stingray City is not much of a city (unless you're a stingray). It's actually a group of sandbars in the North Sound where stingrays congregate. The shallow water is about waist-deep,and visitors just walk around and check out the amazing creatures gliding about. They'll swim right up to you and sometimes even bump into you, as they have bad eyesight. (Their eyes have poor positioning on the top of their body.)
The stingrays don't mind if you reach out and touch them. The consensus seems to be that their underside feels like a wet Portabello mushroom. But they're not slimy, more like silky. The top side is rougher and it can be gristly if the stingray is old. The underside always stays soft though.
To get a closer look, some people will put on snorkel gear and stick their faces into the water. Or you can just lift the stingray to the surface of the water. (You're no longer allowed to lift stingrays completely out of the water because of an environmental protection laws.)
Pictured at right is one of the crew members of Red Sail Sports, whose excursion I took. He was helping people get friendly with the stingrays. He'd sort of pass them off to you. I held a big one and then let her swim off after about a minute. She was probably at least three feet long — in this species the females are much larger than the males. She was strong and it was cool to feel her strength as she flapped her wings. I could have gone for a swim with her, as some people were doing. But I let her go along on her way.
Red Sail Sports is known for being the top excursion company on the island, and they were terrific. I was on their 65-ft.-long luxury catamaran (pictured left). I love catamarans because they're more stable than most other kind of boats so you're in for a smoother ride. It's about a 45-minute ride to Stingray City and the water was unbelievably calm. We were very lucky with the weather — the sea isn't always as calm as a swimming pool. But should you opt for one of the other companies that has a smaller, more traditional boat, you should still be in a nice ride on quiet waters.
I took the afternoon trip that also included a second stop at a nearby coral reef (USD$60 per person). The snorkeling was good, particularly the coral formations. But for me, the stingrays really stole the show.