Did you know that Turtle Stew is the National dish of Grand Cayman? I didn’t until we visited the Cayman Turtle Farm while on our Carnival Legends cruise. I’ve tried alligator, frog legs and rabbit but not turtle … yet … maybe next time.
Grand Cayman is the largest island in the Cayman Islands and a British Territory. We boarded a nice air conditioned bus at the cruise dock. Cayman Turtle Farm is located on the Northwest tip of Grand Cayman in the district of West Bay, just 8 miles from George Town.
On the way, we were treated to a scenic drive with authentic Caymanian architecture and world-famous Seven Mile Beach.
The Turtle Farm began in 1968 as a way to domesticate Green Sea Turtles. Currently there are 4 species on the farm: Green, Kemp’s Ridley, Loggerheads and Hawksbills, totaling over 7,000. All of the turtles are held in separate tanks, grouped together by species and age.
The first thing you see when walking in is Green’s Breeding Pond. This is home to the Green Sea Turtles who have become mature enough to mate. The turtles here were quite large, some over 500 lbs. The farm helps to conserve the Green Sea Turtle by releasing yearlings into the wild, about 20 annually.
The Kemp’s Ridley species is actually the rarest, most endangered turtle. They are known only to breed in the Gulf of Mexico, but a few were found and brought to the farm.
The highlight was holding a yearling turtle (squealing with delight).
I wish this little guy could have come home with us. Isn’t he/she adorable…apparently you can’t tell the sex until they are 9 years old.
Anyone can step inside the water tanks and pick up a turtle, as the water line is fairly low. To pick one up, hold it by grasping firmly under the flippers. He may start flappin’ his little flippers, so hold on tight and over the pool.
You are more than welcome to take pictures with your own camera.
Here are some other random things we learned about turtles:
- You can tell the gender of a turtle by their tail. The males have much longer tails than the females.
- You cannot distinguish the sex of a young turtle just by looking at them. The sex can only be distinguished in green sea turtles at about nine years of age and older.
- The white marks on the back of a turtle’s neck are scars from bites that are caused by normal turtle behavior, especially during breeding. This does not damage the heavy underlying skin of the turtles.
- Mature breeding turtles can weigh between 350 – 500 pounds. The biggest turtle on the farm is a female named “Sparky”, and she weighs in at a whopping 575 pounds! Whoowee, that’s a big girl!
Female turtles can lay between 50 and 100 eggs at a time, up to 10 times in a season.
- A turtle can hold its breath for 15 minutes, and when it is sleeping it can hold its breath for up to 12 hours.
The Cayman Turtle Farm is the world’s only sea turtle farm…but there is more to the attraction than just turtles. There is a colorful bird aviary, a predator reef tank with sharks and barracuda, Cayman Street, two lagoons, a restaurant, a gift shop, a nature trail and an education center. There is something for everyone.
You’ll get to see more island wildlife than you’d expect – colorful tropical birds, sharks, iguanas and other local flora and fauna.
We also spent a few minutes roaming through the free-flight walk-through Aviary. It’s very small but worth a stop.
You can even feed the birds.
There are many activities to do as well. One of them is snorkeling with marine life – yes, turtles – in a 1.3 million gallon saltwater lagoon (Snorkel gear is provided as part of the excursion).
When you are snorkeling, it looks like you would be in the same area as the sharks and barracuda……don’t worry, there is a separation.
We decided not to swim/snorkel in the saltwater lagoon, we opted instead to relax at Breaker’s Lagoon, the largest fresh-water swimming pool in the Cayman Islands. This lagoon is definitely more child-friendly, has lifeguards, and boasts an incredibly fun water-slide.
This is where we hung out for the remainder of our visit.
NOTE: Our excursion was 4 hours, which included travel time. There wouldn’t be enough time to visit both the freshwater lagoon and snorkel in the saltwater lagoon, unless you did not spend any time at the turtle tanks or passed on lunch. The time went very quickly and I sure wish the excursion had lasted longer, so you could experience everything the Turtle Farm had to offer. (For those interested, the cost of the excursion was $49.99 Adult, $29.99 Child and if you wanted to include lunch it was an additional $10.)
What an experience! We had a fabulous time and learned so much about turtles.
Have you ever been to a turtle farm? Have you ever held a sea turtle?