Turtle Farm Key fact
There are about 8,000 turtles at the farm.
Males have longer tails than females.
Green sea turtles lay 50-120 at a time.
A yearling green sea turtle brushes past at arm’s length while a school of fish circles just feet away, swarming in a feeding frenzy.
The colourful marine life is well within view through my snorkel mask as I float in about 10 feet of water, my eyes darting from side-to-side trying to not to miss anything.
The sights and sounds of iguanas climbing trees and peacocks chirping aren’t far away on a nearby island. The coral reefs and rocks below also compete for my attention.
A short distance from shore, I’m completely enveloped by sea life. Such scenes are commonplace among the crystal clear, natural waters off the Cayman Islands. But today I find myself on a one-of-a-kind snorkelling adventure in a 1.3 million gallon man-made saltwater lagoon at the Cayman Turtle Farm in Grand Cayman.
This is just one of a plethora of activities I’m immersed in this morning as I make sure to take in all that the theme park-style facility in West Bay has to offer.
Later, I enjoy the signature hands-on experience with the star of the show and facility’s namesake – the green sea turtle. But during my time here, I also stroll the Blue Hole Nature Trail tucked away in the far corner of the park, exploring the orchid garden, butterfly garden and mahogany grove.
I also enter the free-flight Caribbean aviary boasting colourful birds including the Cayman Islands Parrot, the national bird, and marvel at these and other brilliant creatures endemic to the region.
Along Cayman Street, the boulevard allows visitors an opportunity to witness the islands’ distinct culture, as the gravel walkway leads me past scenes of architectural heritage and traditional buildings and gardens.
After lunch at Schooner’s Bar & Grill, I find myself basking in the sun next to the largest freshwater swimming pool in Grand Cayman, refreshing myself beneath waterfalls, and taking a plunge on its two-loop Turtle Twister water slide ending in a splash in Breaker’s Lagoon.
Without a doubt, one of the most unique experiences on offer in the entire Caribbean is available for all who choose to embark on an excursion to Cayman Turtle Farm.
Part tourist attraction, part conservation programme, part provider of turtle meat for public sale to local restaurants and individuals, the facility offers something for everyone.
Perhaps you’re a daring adventurist looking to go face-to-face with a shark through the glass at Predator Reef or come eye-to-eye with “Smiley”, one of the few remaining Cayman crocodiles for which the islands are named.
Or maybe you’re a naturalist wishing to hold a green sea turtle at the touch tanks and visit the Agouti and Cayman iguana exhibits to get a closer look at the endemic Blue Iguana, which is native only to Grand Cayman and one of the rarest reptiles in the world.
It’s no wonder the Cayman Turtle Farm is one of the most popular attractions on island as it hosts hundreds of thousands of visitors a year.
It offers fun for the whole family and opportunity to experience something truly unique to the Cayman Islands, while also getting a healthy dose of the legacy of the sea turtle.
Turtles hold a place near and dear to many Caymanians, and for good reason.
The day Columbus first sighted the Cayman Islands in 1503 he referred to them as “Las Tortugas” because the waters were teeming with turtles.
From then on, through the early seafaring days of frontier settlers relying on turtle meat for sustenance and seamen sending home remittances earned by turtle fishing, turtles have been at the forefront of Caymanian culture.
To this day, turtles feature prominently in the Cayman Islands, topping the national coat of arms, gracing the currency as the counterfeit-battling watermark and serving as the logo for the national airline. And since opening in 1968, the Cayman Turtle Farm has served as a wildlife conservation project and commercial breeding operation, releasing more than 31,000 endangered green sea turtles into the wild and presenting disincentives to poachers due to the commercial availability of turtle meat.
One of the last stops I make is a visit to the education centre where I browse on the interactive computers and discover fun facts about turtles and the history of the Cayman Islands.
I am also able to see into the hatchery where, between June and November, golf-ball sized eggs are seen incubating to become the next generation of green sea turtles.