Home Services Articles Books Photos Contact Us

Cruise Travel....


There's much more than turtles at this ideal Grand Cayman destination

For disembarking cruise ship passengers, it seems there’s always something new under the Caribbean sun. That’s certainly true on Grand Cayman, where there’s so much more than the sun and the sand of famed Seven Mile Beach.

Opened in 2005, but constantly enhancing the offerings, Boatswain’s Beach has grown into an ideal shore excursion from it’s humble beginnings as the Cayman Turtle Farm (which originally opened in 1968 as Mariculture). Today, bustling Boatswain’s Beach features more than 11,000 green sea turtles, a fresh and saltwater lagoon ideal for swimming and snorkeling, beach space, an Education Center, nature trail, green and blue iguana exhibits, a free-flight Caribbean Aviary, caiman exhibit, the Predator’s Reef aquarium, shopping kiosks, Schooner’s Bar and Grill, a huge retail shop, and lots of special daily activities.

Located in the West End of Grand Cayman, about 20 minutes from downtown George Town and the cruise ship tender pier, Boatswain’s Beach provides something for everyone (including those in wheelchairs and strollers). It starts at the modern Reception Building, where the entrance features a brick pattern of the Cayman Islands coat-of-arms from its flag (the three stars represent the three islands of Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac, and Little Cayman). The building itself represents a “catboat,” which is an old wooden boat used by local fisherman; the high-arched wooden ceiling and portholes provide the feel of the inside of an overturned boat.

The first stop is the Breeding Pond, where there’s an elderly female named Sparky weighing 575 pounds! She’s thought to be more than 70 years old and was one of the original breeding turtles back in 1968. A male they call Old Yellow is also an original and tips the scalesat about 490 pounds. Females tend to grow much larger than males, but have shorter tails. Both sexes have phenomenal longevity once full-grown.

The sand portion of the Breeding Pond is where the females lay their eggs from May through September. They can lay eggs up to ten times per breeding season, with 100 to 150 eggs the typical production each time. In the wild, less than one percent of their eggs typically survive; at Boatswain’s Beach, they’re averaging more than 20 percent survival rate for hatchlings

The nearby Touch Tanks are where to get up close and personal with some of the Boatswain’s Beach residents. These are yearling turtles typically the size of those released back into the wild (Boatswain's has released more than 31,000 green sea turtles into Cayman waters). Helpful tour guides tell visitors to hold them under their two front fins, to rub them under their neck (they love it!), and to replace them in the same touch tank back fins first to avoid a soaking from flapping fins.

Adjacent to the Touch Tanks, the Caiman Exhibit features Cassidy the Caiman, a close cousin to the native crocodiles that once inhabited the Cayman Islands. Due to the large number of turtles originally found here, the islands were first called Las Tortugas, (“The Turtles” in Spanish). However, as the turtles depleted in numbers, the name Cayman Islands stuck due to the large number of crocodiles living in inland swamps.

Next up, the Turtle Tanks feature larger green sea turtles, Kemp’s Ridley turtles, Loggerhead turtles, and Hawksbill turtles. Boatswain’s Beach personnel have helped Mexico with Kemp’s Ridley conservation efforts and they’re keeping 40 or so for future population growth. Smart guides warn visitors to steer clear of the docile-looking turtles, in that Kemp’s Ridley turtles like to bite.

Nearby, Breaker’s Lagoon is a great place for a refreshing dip and some beach time. There are also changing rooms, rock-lined waterfalls--and equally refreshing drinks and snacks (ask about jerked chicken or pork and Boatswain’s Special Hot Sauce) at Breaker’s Snack Shack. The adjacent Predator’s Reef aquarium features several nurse and brown sharks plus many predatory fish native to the Cayman Islands’ colorful reef system.

Enclosed in netting, the Caribbean Aviary is filled with tropical birds often found in the Cayman Islands. Highlights include: white ibis, Monk parakeets, pretty-in-pink ibises, and Cayman parrots, the red-cheeked national bird. The iguana exhibits nearby include gray and green iguanas, as well as endangered blue iguanas--which are now enjoying a resurgence thanks in large part to the Blue Iguana Recovery Program at the island’s beautiful Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park (www.botanic-park.ky).

The Blue Hole Nature Trail is a short leg-stretcher that highlights Grand Cayman’s lowland woodlands. There’s a Mahogany Grove, a Butterfly Grove, and many native trees and plants, including miniature bamboo grass, rosemary, silver thatch palms, and pretty banana orchids. The Blue Hole is a collapsed cave that leads out to the clear Caribbean.

Boatswain’s Lagoon, the saltwater swimming lagoon, is filled with colorful marine life to delight swimmers and snorkelers heading out from the changing rooms and wide, life-guarded beach. There’s even an underwater viewing panel of Predator’s Reef--making for a safe “swim” with the sharks. Be sure to look for the Shoreline Nursery adjacent to this lagoon--it’s a nursery and safe haven for small and injured fish.

Head to Caymanian Street for a little native life in a living museum. Here local artisans and fisherman are often present to talk about Cayman life, from the porches and in gardens of replicas of traditional Cayman structures. Lucky visitors might even get a taste of conch fritters or cassava cake.

Back near the entrance, the Education Center is filled with displays and archives. During the breeding season, the hatchery often features little hatchlings just breaking out of their golf ball-sized shells.

Set in the middle of Boatswain’s Beach, Schooner’s Bar & Grill is a popular spot to head for a cold drink and a traditional menu of native foods. Highlights include local Caybrew beer, tropical fruits, conch, shrimp, fish, and even turtle. Skittish eaters should know the turtle is raised locally and that it’s now illegal to kill any wild turtles or to export any turtle products.

Most days at Boatswain’s Beach bring a schedule of special activities. These might include turtle, fish, and predator shark feedings, hand-feeding of birds in the aviary, and interesting presentations on iguanas and sharks.

As can be expected, the exit leads right through the Gift Shop. This one’s actually quite good, with lots of turtle- and sea-themed items making for great Grand Cayman souvenirs.

For more information, log on to www.boatswainsbeach.ky. A new feature on the website offers a money- and time-saving pre-booking option that includes pick-up and drop-off at the cruise-ship tender pier.