Welcome to the Cayman IslandsThe Cayman Islands are located in the Caribbean Sea, 180 miles northwest of Jamaica, 120 miles south of Cuba, and 480 miles south of Miami, FL. The islands, comprising of Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac, and Little Cayman, are a British overseas territory, steeped in a rich history of exploration, piracy, and international politics. Christopher Columbus discovered two of the islands (Cayman Brac and Little Cayman) on May 10, 1503, during his 4th voyage to the “New World.” He named them “Las Tortugas,” in reference to the many sea turtles he saw in the area. By the time that Sir Francis Drake, the first recorded English visitor, arrived at the islands in 1586, they were more commonly known as the Caymanes or Caymanas, after the Caribe word for the type of crocodile that was seen there. Drake recorded that although the crocodiles were edible, it was the turtles that attracted ships, whose crews would harvest them for meat. Originally under Spanish rule, the Cayman Islands (and Jamaica) were seized by the British under the Treaty of Madrid in 1670. At that time, the islands were a popular hideout for pirates, who would stop there to replenish their supplies, and attacks by Spanish privateers prevented any permanent settlement. It wasn’t until 1730 that the political climate around the islands began to change, allowing communities to crop up. The first residents of the islands were an eclectic mix, including in part pirates and shipwrecked sailors, refugees of the Spanish Inquisition, and slaves. The first recorded residents were members of the Bodden family, who are descendents of Isaac Bodden, thought to be one of Oliver Cromwell's soldiers at the taking of Jamaica. The Bodden name is still present in Grand Cayman’s Bodden Town, and in several of the island’s attractions. For many years, the Cayman Islands remained a dependent territory of Jamaica, although it had considerable self-government. In 1959, the islands severed its administrative ties to Jamaica and became directly dependent on the British Crown, and also established its first written constitution allowing women to vote.
Throughout the latter half of the 20th century, the Cayman Islands began to cultivate a reputation for banking and financial services, and today it is known as a major offshore financial center that includes banking, mutual funds, insurance, vessel registration, financing for companies, partnerships and trusts, and the Cayman Islands Stock Exchange. The industry plays a large role in the islands’ economy, but is secondary to the islands’ tourism industry, which accounts for 70-75% of the region’s GDP. Together, the two industries allow Caymanians to enjoy the highest standard of living in the Caribbean. The first cruise ship, the Atlantis, sailed for the islands in 1937, and since then, the Cayman Islands have been a major tourist destination, hosting millions of tourists every year. The port at George Town, on Grand Cayman, welcomes 4,000 to 22,000 tourists a day, five days a week.
One of the Cayman Islands’ major attractions is the beaches. The Caribbean Sea provides crystal clear waters and white sandy shores that together form a beach-lover’s paradise. The highly acclaimed Seven Mile Beach on Grand Cayman has been ranked as one of the world’s most beautiful beaches, and houses many of the island’s hotels and resorts. The Cayman Islands are a premier destination for scuba divers and snorkelers, and provide a variety of opportunities to interact with water creatures, including sea turtles and stingrays. There are even two shipwrecks off the coast of Cayman Brac, which are favorites for those divers who love to explore.