We recently booked a last minute cruise on the Carnival Paradise cruise ship with a stop in Grand Cayman and decided to do something that I knew was quite popular, and highly recommended: Cayman Turtle Center.
Usually I research and plan before I go, but this time I was short on time as well as options as I’ve been to the Cayman Islands many times and have done lots of things like swimming with the sting rays at Stingray City, shopping, and swimming at the beach.
All I knew of the turtle farm was just that you could see and touch green sea turtles, and that I could get there by local public bus on my own, which worked for me. It was an affordable and fun shore excursion choice!
I purchased my tickets on the Cayman Turtle Center’s website and received a 20% discount for purchasing in advance (making the cost of admission for the turtle farm only $18pp). Now you have two options when visiting the center, viewing and holding sea turtles and/or swimming in their pool, playing in their water park, and seeing even more animals. We went with the turtle package only since we were short on time and our main interest was seeing the turtles.
The turtle farm is about a fifteen minute public bus ride from the cruise dock which you tender to shore in from your cruise ship. The cost of the local bus is $2.50pp each way and it’s fairly easy to catch a bus coming or going any time during the day, although it can be time consuming depending on how many stops the driver makes to drop off and pick up passengers.
Once we arrived at the center we purchased a large bag of turtle food for $5.00 from a vendor inside the park. She informed us it was specially formulated, nutritious food for the turtles.
We had the chance to feed the giant sea turtles which was wonderful. They are gorgeous animals and watching them swim and eat and make noises was a pleasure I will never forget!
After that we headed to the touch tanks to actually hold turtles!! They were so cute and it was just a wonderful experience holding them and taking our photos with them. They take a photo for you and charge $25 if you’d like to purchase it, but directly after they take the photo you are allowed to take photos on your own for no charge.
You can hold as many turtles as many times as you like, along with the chance to actually get into a small pool with baby turtles if you’re prepared (swimsuit or clothes you don’t mind getting wet)!
After we spent time with the turtles our mood changed from excited to contemplative.
Were these animals being treated humanely? Was it okay for them to be held every day by all the people visiting? Did they like it, were they scared? Did they breed these turtles to eat as it’s a local traditional dish? Were they really rescuing them and breeding them to put back into the wild or were they eating them? Were we supporting something that we wouldn’t want to support? Questions to think about, and in the meantime feel guilty about because we were there and we didn’t know. If it’s an attraction that involves live animals I’m sure you’ll find yourself wondering if they are being treated right.
We continued on our tour to the conservation center and learned about turtles, and how many they had released into the wild since their opening. We loved seeing the turtles and learning about them, but we left with a growing sense of doubt about the center itself, and the turtles in captivity.
Once we returned to the ship we used our internet to research the center. Yes I know we should have done that before we visited, but like I mentioned earlier we booked our cruise and bought our tickets very last minute and all we knew was that the turtle center was there, we hadn’t done it yet, and it was a popular and highly recommended attraction on the island.
Upon researching the Cayman Turtle Center we found many articles, including this one from National Geographic which confirmed our fears.
I have to say knowing this beforehand we would not have visited, which honestly did make us feel like crap for a while. I had to think of it as a positive experience since we had done it. We got to see and hold green sea turtles, which is a rare opportunity and is something on many people’s bucket lists. Should you go? Well, that’s up to the individual. Would we have gone if we had known then what we know now? No. I try to live life with no regrets therefore I will not regret going and I will take that day and remember the beauty of the majestic sea turtles forever. If I feel badly upon thinking of that day I will remember the turtles and be happy I got to see them and then remember this: do your research when traveling and visiting places you’ve never been, especially if animals are involved. I learn from my mistakes and although I travel a lot I am still learning and still growing.
If you’d like to visit all I ask is that you research before you go so you don’t feel badly about your choice once you visit. Vacations and memories are supposed to be good ones and everyone should be happy! If you decide to go it’s okay! It’s your choice and the center is a very popular attraction, just be educated before making that decision.