The Cayman Islands: A Tropical Scuba School by Lynn Seldon

If you want to learn to dive, there may be no better destination in the world than the Cayman Islands. The islands of Grand Cayman, Little Cayman, and Cayman Brac offer the ideal environment and conditions: a long history of world-class recreational diving; crystal-clear, calm, and warm waters; colorful coral reefs; wall and wreck diving; a huge and varied fish population; lots of dive operators experienced in training and with high safety standards; varied topside activities; and a wide range of accommodations and dining at many price levels.

“My daughter learned to dive here and absolutely loves it,” says Angela Martin, Director of Tourism for the Cayman Islands. “You couldn’t ask for a better learning and diving destination.”
“Maybe you’ve dreamed of being a diver from the first time you saw Jacques Cousteau on television exploring the magnificent depths or maybe you’ve just begun to think of diving as your next great adventure. Either way you won’t be disappointed,” says Regina Franklin, executive director of the Diving Equipment & Marketing Association (DEMA). “Scuba diving also provides the perfect reason to plan a vacation.”
Learning to dive is easy and fun. And you can make it even easier and more fun by getting certified in the Cayman Islands.

Learning to Dive the Cayman Islands Way

Since the first dive shop opened on Grand Cayman in 1957, the Cayman Islands have been recognized as the birthplace of recreational diving in the Caribbean. The Cayman Islands now feature more than fifty dive operators, as well as live-aboard diving opportunities. In addition to the professionalism of the dive shops and the great resort options, the lure for both new and veteran divers lies underwater. Less than a quarter-mile offshore on all three islands, the reef begins just below the surface and drops to more than 6,000 feet (of course, diving depths are limited to much less).
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Abundant fish, healthy reefs, and dramatic walls are the first things most people notice about diving in the Cayman Islands. After spotting that first brightly-colored fish on the equally exotic reef, it’s easy to see why so many people become hooked on diving in the Cayman Islands. But there’s so much more, including:
*The unique variety of unusual and approachable marine life, including the rays at famed Stingray City, green and hawksbill sea turtles, eagle rays, schools of tarpon and silversides, barracudas, angelfish, puffer fish, scrawled filefish, flying gunards, moray eels, angelfish, and many others that allow divers (and snorkelers) to come close.
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Calm, current-free conditions, with generally exceptional visibility year-round.
*Protection of marine life through enforcement of Marine Parks and conservation laws.
*Popular dive sites (including several wrecks) marked by permanent boat moorings (more than 200 on all three islands), which prevent anchor damage to fragile coral and other marine life).
*The variety of instruction, photography, and video opportunities and services available.
*The range of professional dive operations and support services to make time underwater safe and fun.

*The Cayman Islands Watersports Operators Association’s insistence on safety, education, and conservation.

Perhaps the most famous attraction in the Cayman Islands, Stingray City provides the only consistent opportunity in the world to dive, snorkel, and swim with more than two dozen ‘tame’ Atlantic Southern Stingrays (which also seem to enjoy the experience). Often called the ‘world’s best 12-foot dive,’ Stingray City is located on Grand Cayman’s North Sound. The site was ‘discovered’ around 1986, when local divemasters noticed the congregation of rays that seemed to allow human interaction. This area had been known for years by local fisherman, who watched the rays gather to feed on scraps of fish from the cleaning of their catches. At the neighboring Sandbar site, the rays gather in only three feet of water, greeting snorkelers and swimmers. From your first dive, the thriving marine life will hook you in a way that keeps you coming back to the Cayman Islands long after earning your C-card.
Anyone can dive. It really is a simple sport to learn, it’s good for you, and it’s something you can pursue for life. Once you take that initial plunge, we guarantee you’ll want to get your certification card, but if you’d rather take it slowly, you can begin with a Resort Course. This is a brief “Experience Scuba” course which usually includes a couple of hours of instruction and a shallow dive with an instructor. Most resorts and operators in the Cayman Islands offer this program. Once you decide you want to be a certified diver, you must earn a C-card (certification card). With this card, you can rent or buy scuba equipment, obtain air for tanks, and participate in other exciting diving activities throughout the world.
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The certification process is interesting and easy. It is divided into three parts totaling approximately thirty hours: classroom (using a book and visual aids), pool (confined water), and open-water instruction. The classroom and pool sessions generally take place at the same time, while the open-water dives (at least four of them) serve as the final test.
Many people choose to complete their classroom and pool sessions at home and then head to the Cayman Islands for the open-water dives (followed by more diving-it’s addictive!). Others choose to do everything while visiting the Cayman Islands, where dive operators are experienced in completing the certification process while still giving you plenty of time for vacation fun. Couples and families where one or more are already certified find that the Cayman Islands is ideal for veteran and new divers, with all returning home certified.
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Topside sites to see in the Cayman Islands include the Cayman Turtle Farm with 15,000 endangered green sea turtles; Cardinal D’s Park featuring more than 60 species of native birds, blue iguana and miniature ponies; the Mastic Trail, where a guide can lead visitors over distinct topographical regions, discussing the vegetation and wildlife that make the Cayman Islands unique; and the newly restored Pedro St. James, the country’s oldest stone structure and the birthplace of democracy for the Cayman Islands.
Further outing options when you’re not in scuba school include the Cayman Islands Museum, Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, walking tours of several districts, biking, horseback riding, visiting one of many caves on Cayman Brac and conching (snorkeling for conch and then preparing a snack).

Topside Time (diver lingo for any vacation time not spent underwater)

The Cayman Islands also offers a great variety of activities to fill your topside vacation time. Banana boats, catamarans, ocean kayaks, sailboats, waverunners and windsurfers. Plus glass-bottom boat trips, sunset cruises, semi-submersible and fully-submersible submarines and an authentic replica of a 17th century Spanish galleon. And, in case you didn’t know, the Cayman Islands is a fishing mecca with experienced captains and their crews operating excursions that include some of the world’s best fishing, swimming, and a fresh-caught lunch or snack.

No Time Like The Present

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You’ve considered it before. Now you’ve read this and your interest is peaked. Do it now. Dive in. Start the certification process to learn to dive. Book a learning to dive trip now to the Cayman Islands or start the process at your local dive retailer and tell them you want to do your check-out dives in the Cayman Islands. They may be able to help you plan your trip or you can do it yourself by contacting one of the resorts or operators on the next page. And if you’d like a little more information before you start, you can call the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism at (800) 346-3313 or visit two very helpful websites: http://www.caymanislands.ky and http://www.divecayman.ky.