You can't really mention stingrays without thinking of the death of Steve Urwin who died by a stingray barb to the chest while filming. Untimely, unfair and completely freakish, this death has managed to make us far more afraid of stingrays than we should be. Even knowing this it took some courage for us all to go out to Stingray City in Antigua and get up close and personal with the stingrays in their natural habitat.
This is one of the most popular things to do on Antigua but as we were out of season we found ourselves being the only ones (so four of us) on this particular trip. Feeling like celebrities having a special trip to Selfridges, we were taken by fast boat about a mile out from land to a reef where you can swim with both stingrays and a myriad of other fish in water that is only a few feet deep (well waist height).
Surrounding this coral reef is a huge drop to the seafloor so you really are on a large underwater platform out at sea. The boats come in to two floating platforms where you disembark, and the stingrays, like Pavlov's Dogs, come in from the open water when they see the boats as they know they are getting a free feed.
I didn't realise there would be quite so many of them. My pictures are misleading as they were taken after their lunch when many had gone out to sea. At one point when we were feeding them by hand (they suck up whole squid from your loosely clenched fist) we were surrounded by 30-40 huge individuals. Stepping into the water in bare feet for the first time is beyond daunting but the expert guides from Stingray City tell you how to place your feet, hold them and what to do if they bump into you which they invariably do. After a few minutes (and a bit of shreeking) we were completely at ease with these amazing animals who are a bit like inquisitive dogs.
These are amongst the most amazing creatures on our planet. They are fish (closely related to sharks) but give birth to live young. They are naturally curious, and here in particular, not at all wary of humans. One large female even sucked my daughters bikini bottom tie causing it to be undone!
We didn't want to leave realising that we had experienced something really special and just amazing - there aren't many other places which allow you to swim with so many out to sea in this way.
If you go to Antigua make sure you go to Stingray City, it's worth every penny!