Do you like sea turtles? Then make sure you visit the Cayman Turtle Centre (a.k.a. the Turtle Farm). It was a highlight of our recent trip to Grand Cayman.
The first decision to make when you get there is the exploration tour for $18 USD or the adventure tour for $45 USD. Yes, the adventure tour is almost three times as much as the exploration tour, but it’s the one you want. Trust me. The extra cost lets you swim with turtles. Swim. With. Turtles. Don’t say no.If you visit Grand Cayman on a cruise ship, there’s sure to be an excursion that will get you to the Turtle Centre. If you’re not visiting on a cruise ship, check out the port schedule so you know when you’ll be able to experience the turtles in a relatively uncrowded environment. We visited on a Sunday and pretty much had the place to ourselves.
You first greeted with the breeding area. Green sea turtles use the beach area to lay eggs, which staff collect and incubate in the hatchery. The baby turtles, which you can see in the touch tanks, are raised, studied, and tagged before being released into the Caribbean.
Some of the turtles are sold to restaurants. That may sound odd for a research/conservation place, but the idea is that by providing turtles, restaurant suppliers won’t hunt turtles in the wild and potentially disrupt natural breeding and mess with the environment. For what it’s worth, I never saw a Cayman menu with turtle on it.
The touch tanks have turtles probably up to a year old. You can reach your hands in the water to touch their shells and even pick them up. A couple of the tanks had a wading area with two or three turtles in them. I didn’t understand this – picking the turtles up from the regular tanks was pretty easy – but maybe if you hadn’t purchased the adventure tour, you would want to stand in a cement tank with turtles.
The Centre encourages you to wash your hands before and after handling the turtles in the tank. And they ask you to shower before getting into the Turtle Lagoon.
The Turtle Lagoon is why you buy the adventure tour. Complimentary snorkel equipment is available, as are changing rooms. You can rent a lock for $3 USD, but you have to bring your own towels. We did not have towels so spent time in the lagoon lounge chairs to dry off.
The Lagoon starts off shallow and I saw a couple of families showing their kids how to snorkel and making sure everyone was comfortable. You do need to wear an inflatable snorkel vest, but you can adjust the buoyancy for your comfort.
The Lagoon deepens to about 4 feet in the first part of the loop. You likely won’t see any turtles in this part, although we did see a couple fish and lots of algae. It’s when you get to a drop off that the turtles start to appear.
I know this is artificial. The Lagoon doesn’t hide its metal grates or cement walls. There’s no Disney-scaping to make you feel like you’re in the sea. But there were turtles! Lots and lots of turtles.
They’re obviously used to humans so they would swim close to us. Ditto for the fish. Maybe it was all the algae floating in the water, but a few turtles came within a foot or closer to me.
They ignore you. They’re interested in algae and hanging out on the grates. Maybe that’s their version of a spa. The turtles sure liked them though.
The Lagoon has an underwater window that looks into Predator Reef, the Centre’s tanks that holds nurse sharks, barracuda, chubs, and some other carnivorous fish. The window was the spot where I saw the most fish.
Maybe there was a jet of water there. Maybe this was where the staff dropped food pellets so they stayed there in hopes of getting fed. Or maybe (and this is my theory) fish and turtles congregated in front of the window to taunt the predators on the other side.
The Centre has other stuff to look at – there’s an aviary and butterfly garden, an education building, and a crocodile. If you have kids, another pool/lagoon area has slides and stuff like that. But I was here for the turtles and I was not disappointed.