Kicking off two days of adventure on the island of Antigua, our first stop was to visit Stingray City for the opportunity to jump into the ocean and see them up close. After a short boat ride to a floating dock, we climbed out of the boat and down the ladder into the shallows on a sandbar.

Stingray City Antigua
Sandy is surprised by a stingray as soon as she gets off the ladder

Since there are coral reefs along the north side of the island, we didn’t have to worry about waves. There is only the floating dock and a ring of buoys to mark the spot. No fences, screens, or anything else to keep the stingrays in that spot. So why are there here? Regular feedings. When there’s no tourists to feed them, the guides from Stingray City still come out for a visit and bring them food to keep them coming back to this spot.

I’ve petted a stingray before, of course. I saw plenty of them in my youth in the Indian River Lagoon, and on later trips while visiting the Bahamas. But this experience was a first. I had never just stood in the ocean with stingrays swimming all around, bumping and rubbing past us as they swam by. And at three to four feet across, these were much larger stingrays than I had ever been around!

Antigua stingrays
It was pretty amazing to be in the ocean with stingrays this big. And we are glad we had a waterproof camera with us!

With a little help and encouragement from our guides, Sandy was one of the first to hold a stingray. Now, these are not trained animals. They haven’t been kept in any kind of enclosure to help them recognize some trainer or particular human. These are wild marine creatures that have adapted to people being around them. They’ve learned that when there are people in the water, that means they will be fed. “See people, get squid” is a pretty easy concept. It’s not something we’d want to try at home, however, with alligators and crocodiles sharing the same waters with stingrays.

Stingray City Antigua
Sandy holds a stingray for the first time ever

The folks at Stingray City provided us with masks and snorkels if we wanted to snorkel with the stingrays or across the reefs. It was enough to just stand there and watch them swim past, but a few people did snorkel. They also provided buckets of squid for us to feed the stingrays, and instructions on how to share the ocean safely with these beautiful creatures.

Stingray City Antigua
I spent quite a bit of time chatting with our guides

If I hadn’t been on their tour, with people who’ve spent years around these unique creatures, being surrounded and circled by a dozen stingrays of this size would have been really intimidating. We had one lady from England in our group who was extremely nervous about getting in the water, especially after seeing how large the stingrays were. While it took quite a bit of coaxing, we eventually got her to join us and smile for the camera.

Stingray City Antigua
Everyone has the opportunity to pose for an “official” photo, but you can take your own as well

Before boarding the boat for the return trip, I was talking to one of our guides. He pointed out why we had been taught the “stingray shuffle,” something all Floridians know about. When resting, the stingrays lay along the bottom of the ocean, covering themselves with sand. Only their eyes and tail remain visible. If you step on one, their first reaction is to flip up their tail and strike you with a painful sting, something you don’t want to have happen. By shuffling your feet, you’ll bump into the edge of the stingray and it will swim away, instead.

stingray in ocean Antigua
Seeing the barbs on a stingray up close gave me a new respect for them. Never touch the tail!

Visiting Stingray City in Antigua was a fascinating family-friendly activity that anyone interested in marine life can try. Learn more about the facility on their website.