Preparing for your Cayman Dive Trip
When I’m counting down the days till my next dive trip, I’m like a kid waiting for Christmas. Anyone who has booked a Cayman dive vacation and is patiently waiting for the dates to come around will know exactly what I mean by this. You will rightfully be looking forward to an incredible adventure above and below the surface of the tropical deep blue ocean, but the day’s between booking the trip and getting on the plane just seem to go on and on. Instead of wishing your time away, why not use it to do some preparation to help you get the most out of your trip? The following blog should give you some ideas of how to best prepare for your trip, from practical advice of what to pack to places you can research what to eat.
When you arrive in the Cayman Islands you’ll notice that the money has pretty little portraits of the Queen of England splashed across it. The Cayman Islands operate on a dual currency basis, which means that they accept their own Cayman dollars (CI – the ones with queenie on them) as well as dollars from the United States (USD – the greenish ones with pictures of old dudes on them.) For this reason, if you are from the States you have no need to go to the bank to convert your cash into local currency, just take your regular roll of notes and they will be accepted everywhere from taxis to corner stores to fine dining restaurants.
The Cayman dollar is a currency in its own right but instead of having its own position in the global exchange rates it is set so that it follows the US dollar as it fluctuates in value. Ergo if the US dollar is good then the Cayman dollar is also good, they rise and fall together, visitors often like this simplicity. The twist in this little plot however is that $1CI is equivalent to $1.25US which can cause people to suddenly find the whole deal a little less appealing.
On the subject of money, you don’t need to take a massive wedge of bills with you as there are ATMs all over the island which accept all major cards and vend cash in both currencies. Additionally you’ll find you can pay your bill in most bars and restaurants with your bank card from home.
Top Tip – It is customary to pay gratuities in the Cayman Islands but when ordering food and drinks look closely at your bill as often the total will be printed in USD & CI and will already have 15% added to it for gratuities!
Now then, in closing off with the nauseating admin side of things, I’ll state the obvious:
If you want to rent a car in Cayman, be sure to bring your driver’s license. (Take a moment to read our article on how to get around the island.)
Take proof of your dive certification, your cert card is best for this and you may not be able to dive without it. Photographs of C Cards work too.
Your health and automobile insurance from home may well not work overseas so look into that
Get separate dive insurance as a trip to the chamber isn’t covered under most healthcare policies
Don’t forget your passport!
From the Dive Locker
The amount of dive gear you take with you might depend on what you have and how much diving you are planning on doing. You will find that the dive operators on the islands run to very high standards in all aspects including their rental stock. As such, if you are only planning on doing one or two dives then you may not want to shlep all your gear with you if there is good quality equipment available on site already. For most divers however, if they have their own gear then they are going to travel with it and use it on their vacation. Here are some thoughts to help you along the way:
Take a lightweight thin mesh bag to throw your gear in for when you are on the boat. Space is always a premium on a dive boat so avoid being the guy who has his gear strewn all over the deck due to not having a bag or has a bag but it is the huge suitcase with wheels that he used to pack his belongings in when flying down.
Think about taking a dry bag that you can put your phone, glasses, keys, wallet etc in to protect it from sea water or a random squall that could catch you out on the boat.
If you are unsure as to how to use your computer then read up on it now. Understand the settings and if you have an air integrated set up then be sure to understand how to make the transmitter and the receiver pair up.
Take batteries and chargers for any ancillary equipment like flashlights and cameras etc. The electrical sockets in the Cayman Islands are the same as the States.
Check the battery in your computer to make sure it has enough juice to get through the trip.
I’ll talk more about wetsuits later on but for now lets just make sure that if it has been a while since your last dive then just make sure it still fits, you know how those darn things have a tendency to shrink each year!
Do your regs work? When were they last serviced? Are the mouthpieces still good? Does your dive op in Cayman have yoke connections and if not, can they provide DIN tanks or converters?
Top Tip – If you do get your regs serviced before a dive trip than try to take them for a dive while still at home, you’ll be surprised how many divers have faulty regs that have literally just been serviced for that dive trip
What Should I Wear?
I think one of the easiest jobs in the world would be a weather reporter in the Cayman Islands as provided there isn’t a hurricane blowing through, pretty much most of the year the prediction will be sunny with a 30% chance of rain.
Standard attire on the island is beach wear. Flip flops, board shorts, Hawaiian shorts, tank tops, airy dresses, loose T shirts, that kind of thing. Whatever you wear, you should wear something as nudity in public is still a no no on the island and that includes topless sunbathing.
You’ll find most day time bars won’t have an issue with you strolling in for lunch wearing what you had on for the dive boat or beach that morning. Even many evening places are very low key but if you do want to go to the more fancy restaurants then think about bringing a shirt and some smart shorts and footwear other than sandy flip flops.
The rainy season is from May to October which sounds like a long time but in honesty most of that period is as hot and dry as ever. It is rare that rainfall is measured in periods of days and more often comes in the form of short but heavy showers lasting 30 mins to an hour. If you are planning to be doing things away from shelter then it might be wise to bring a lightweight waterproof jacket.
Throughout the winter months (December – March) northerly winds can be directed towards the islands which makes some of the locals dig out their sweaters and jeans but those accustomed to colder climates are usually still fine in short sleeves.
Top tip – If you are planning on diving during the winter months then to would be smart to take something warm and dry onto the dive boat to put on in between dives as this is when people get cold. There is nothing that makes the second dive more uninviting than when you are huddled up on the surface cuddling the boat engine to try to keep warm.
What to wear in the water? Rash guards are good for swimmers and snorkelers as well as divers to keep the power of the sun at bay and also to protect the skin against minor irritations that might be floating around. For divers the question to wear a suit or not is age old, personally I don’t wear one at any time of the year but then I know people who would turn blue without their 5mm, hoodie, booties and heated vest. For a more detailed advice on wetsuits check out our article "What wetsuit do I need?"
Finally think practically, if you are travelling to a hot sunny Caribbean destination then it makes sense to have good sun glasses and a wide brimmed hat, especially for those planning on spending time on a boat.
Life in General…
Outside of diving there is plenty to do on the island but it will help you to get an idea in advance of what is on offer. There are two really helpful articles that you should check out which are "What to do in Grand Cayman," and "Where should we eat?"
There are well stocked supermarkets on Grand Cayman so expect to be able to find most of the day to day products you can back home. Cayman Brac is a little less stocked and Little Cayman notably less. Please note however that everything on the islands will cost you more money than back home so it will save you money in the long run to take what necessities you can with you. Consider packing sun tan lotion and mosquito repellent to save you having to buy it there and by the way, the water is good to drink so no need to make plans around that.
Top Tip – Booz is not cheap in the Cayman Islands so consider using your duty free allowance at your boarding airport to get a bottle of your favourite tipple for your stay.
You’ll be surprised to learn about some of the things people try to travel with. There are some items however that you could be forgiven for thinking it was a good idea to bring. Just to put some of these to bed, my advice is do not take the following:
Gloves – These are banned for divers in the Cayman Islands. The idea is to prevent people from damaging coral by touching it and pawing at it, if you have a medical reason that means that you require gloves then contact your operator ahead of time to work something out. An exception is that when hunting lionfish (under the rules outlined by the government) gloves are allowed for protection.
Spears – There is a strong community action on the island to cull lionfish but it is also heavily regulated by the government. If you get caught trying to take a spear into the Cayman Islands then you will get a tough time from customs and immigration as this would be illegal. Talk to your operator about finding out how to use a government spear for culling lionfish.
Cheese Whiz – It used to be a popular thing to take Cheese Whiz along to stingray city and use it to feed the rays with. Fortunately we’ve all grown up a bit since then and this is one of those things that got left behind in the islands’ adolescent years.
Tanks – These are included in the cost of your boat dives and can be rented from shore dive sites for shore dives. If you want to take a tank to an obscure part of the island to do your own thing then Divers Supply are the only place who will let you hire a tank to take off site. There are even operators like Divetech who can rent odd sized tanks like pony bottles etc.
Weights – Again, the cost of these are included on boat dives. Shore dive sites will likely charge you for them but not enough to justify you dragging your own with you from home if you have them.
Guns – yeah you’re right, I shouldn’t really have to point this out but people really do try to do the funniest of things. Remember, the Cayman Islands are a British Overseas Territory, and have strict gun laws. Possession of even an empty shell casing is considered a crime here!
A bad attitude – Especially if you are on a dive boat you need to remember that the people in your close vicinity are in that precious moment of the year when they are away from the stress of the rat race. Be chilled, have fun and try to smile
The thing that everyone appreciates about the Cayman Islands is how convenient everything is and how easy it is to have a good time. Most of the lists above are just friendly suggestions that will help you get the best out of your trip. The Cayman Islands are the kind of place however that if you turn up with nothing more than your passport, bank card and the clothes on your back then it is still completely possible to have the time of your life. I hope you have a safe and enjoyable trip!