Saturday, January 15, 2011
SNORKEL GUIDE: BAREFOOT BEACH
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View from atop the stone staircase at Barefoot Beach, East End, Grand Cayman
LOCATION INFO: Perhaps one of the most stunning vistas in all of Grand Cayman can be viewed looking west from the widow's walk, atop the stone staircase at Barefoot Beach. This idyllic spot has pretty much dropped-off the tourist radar (if it ever was on it) once the planned Mandarin Oriental resort fell into post hurricane Ivan limbo. Having seen a brief mention of this spot (when describing the shore dive at neighboring Anchor Point) in the snorkeling guide that got me started on Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands Discounts Dive and Snorkel Guide; I thought it might just be a nice quiet little beach worth searching out one day.
Having correctly guessed at the location thanks to an entrance sign on the defunct Barefoot Gardens Villas development, Mrs. Testudo and I took our chairs, cooler of CayLight and sauntered down the path to the beach eager to see what we happened upon. The short downhill path through some Seagrape trees opens to a small natural sandy beach. The surrounding palm tree fringed cliffs create an amphitheater like setting and which adds to the beauty of the spot. There are washed up strands of sea grass with some intermingled flotsam and jetsam (Anyone lose a flip-flop?). Just clear out some space and make yourself comfortable. Following the beach westward towards the abandoned villas leads towards another good snorkeling area Anchor Point .
FINDING IT (19°21'12.91"N 81° 7'36.05"W): Look for the Barefoot Gardens Villa sign on the abandoned development's wall when coming from the West (Old Man Bay, approx. 3.3 miles from the Frank Sound Rd. intersection) or a long, low stone wall when coming from the East (the Reef Resort is about 2.3 miles away). The entrance to the beach is an unmarked, small tuck-in opening between the Seagrape trees, with parking for 2-3 cars (if done right) or park along road. It is easy to miss, so just drive slow when you come upon one of the landmarks and keep on the look-out for a speed limit sign and a driveway on the opposite side of the road. There is little traffic on the road, so backing up is usually possible in the event of a drive-by.
Link to a larger interactive map of Barefoot Beach
CONDITIONS: The sandy beach gradually spills into the usually calm water, making for a very easy entry and donning of gear. When not snorkeling, the water is perfect for swimming or leisurely floating the day away, enjoying your favorite beverage. From the beach, the best snorkeling can be found by heading straight out towards the barrier reef. The initial 125 yds are approx. 4-6 feet deep, passing over seemingly endless beds of sea grass. Here you are apt see an occasion turtle, reef squid or a curious gang of Bar Jacks.
Upon reaching the end of the grassy meadows, you will start to see large mounds of interspersed coral heads popping up from the ongoing grassy bottom. This area is very much reminiscent of the Queen's Monument location in terms of seascape and marine life. Depending on the tide, the depth can range from 3-8 feet with little or no current.
There are some underwater vents in the area that can cause the water to become a bit blurry. This is due to the chemicals being ejected (more on the vents to come in the upcoming Anchor Point Guide) mixing with the sea water. You may notice a sulfur smell on the beach if the vents are particularly active or it is a windless day.
WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT TO SEE: The rapidly unfolding coral formations and marine life are abundant throughout the area. Start exploring in a westerly direction out to the reef, then zig-zagging back and forth over the shoal area. The coral in this shoal is among the healthiest near shore I have yet encountered. There are young Elkhorn, budding Brain corals, large carpets of green Mountainous Star corals and some eerie ancient Elkhorn remnants out by the reef. Fish of all kinds can be seen darting about and many are unafraid.
Since the water is rather shallow, close-up observation and of the creatures that dwell within nooks and crevasses of the corals is easily accomplished. Careful observation may yield an anemone or sea flower spreading and closing its "petals" in search of a drifting morsel. Lots of juvenile fish that look nothing like their older siblings are also fun to discover. Small schools of the shy Black Durgon can usually be seen on a nearby coral head, only to gradually drift away as you approach. Grunts and small snapper are plentiful, and the grassy sea bed makes it a great environment for rays. Scorpionfish, Glasseye Snapper, and Glassy Sweepers are also regular sightings. The conditions make this a great location for snorkelers of all abilities, except for possibly first-timers (due to the moderate swim out).
Here are some pictures from my last snorkel. The seas were a bit cloudy, but the fish were friendly:
Barefoot Beach Gardens Villas landmark - Views from East and West
Stone Wall landmark heading west Tuck-in, with a small parking area at base
Squadron of Bar Jacks
Juvenile Yellowtailed Damselfish
Juvenile Smooth Trunkfish
Elkhorn and Brain Corals
Christmas Tree Hydroid
Yellow Sting Ray
Mountainous Star Coral
More Mountainous Star Coral
Corky Sea Fingers
Grunts and a Wrasse
Green Sea Turtle
View of Barefoot Beach from the water
This site is quickly becoming my favorite due to the great corals, abundant fish and beautiful setting. So for somewhere truly off the beaten path, go run Barefoot to this beach. If you get the opportunity to visit let me know what you think.
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ADDITIONAL PICTURES ALBUMS HERE: 1 2
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Posted by Testudo at 11:25 PM