Located in the Western Caribbean, the Cayman Islands are located about 480 miles (770 km) south of Miami, 150 miles (240 km) south of Cuba, and 180 miles (290 km) northwest of Jamaica. There are three separate islands: Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac, and Little Cayman. Inundated with the vibrant tropical colours of the lush Caymanian flora, bright coral reefs, flourishing marine life and exotic native birds, the Cayman Islands are a showcase of natural beauty. The islands are the peaks of a massive underwater ridge, on the edge of the Cayman Trench, which goes to a depth of 8000 feet.
We are correctly called 'The Cayman Islands' or 'Cayman' (sound like a local by putting the emphasis on the second syllable--CayMAN). We are a British Overseas Territory, with the governor appointed by the Queen and the premier elected locally in a general election.
The Cayman Islands were first sighted by Christopher Columbus on May 10, 1503, during his fourth and final voyage to the New World. He first spotted Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, naming them 'Las Tortugas' (The Turtles) after the great number of sea turtles in the surrounding waters. Today's name of 'Cayman' came about when Sir Francis Drake named the islands for the 'caiman'- the word for alligator in the Neo-Taino language.
The Cayman Islands were esentially largely uninhabited until the 17th century, serving instead as a stopping point for stocking up on food (sea turtles). While there is no archaeological evidence for an indigenous people on the islands, a variety of settlers from various backgrounds made their home on the islands, including pirates, refugees from the Spanish Inquisition, shipwrecked sailors, and deserters from Oliver Cromwell's army in Jamaica.
Cayman and Jamaica were ceded to the British and governed as a single colony until 1962, when the Cayman Islands became a British Overseas Territory and Jamaica became an independent commonwealth realm.
Approximately 22 miles long and 4-8 miles wide, Grand Cayman has a population of about 50,000 and is the largest and most cosmopolitan of the three islands. Most every service and opportunity you would need or require for a great Caribbean vacation is found on Grand Cayman, from shopping and world-class spas to dining experiences, nightlife and great excursion opportunities both on land and in the water.Most residents live on the western end of the island; there is also where the majority of shopping, restaurants, hotels, condos and services are also located. But don't let that stop you from visiting the East End of Grand Cayman; driving past George Town will allow you visit a quieter, calmer and unique side of this island. It is a very different experience from the busier George Town and Seven Mile Beach areas.
World-renowned Seven Mile Beach is consistently rated as one of the best beaches in the Caribbean by various travel magazines year after year. In 2016, TripAdvisor gave Cayman a Travelers' Choice Award! Forbes rated us as the World's Friendliest Country.
If swimming with stingrays is your plan, you can take a boat ride to the Sandbar, which is located in the North Sound, and enjoy your chance to interact with the velvety soft southern stingrays that frequent this site. Spending time at Stingray City (either the dive site or the Sandbar) is one of the experiences that are a must-do when visiting Grand Cayman.
Cayman Brac, known simply as 'The Brac' to locals, is a cigar shaped island that is about 12 miles (19 km) long. It is named for the limestone bluff (brac in Gaelic) that is the highest point of all three Cayman Islands, rising 138 ft (42 m) above sea level. Approximately 1,400 residents make Cayman Brac their home, and it is a short, approximately 30 minute flight from Grand Cayman on Cayman Airways Express. Cayman Airways also offers direct flghts to Cayman Brac from Miami.
Most Brackers, as the residents are called, live on the north side iof the island. There are no actual towns in Cayman Brac, only settlements -- with Stake Bay commonly considered the 'capital' of Cayman Brac.
The claim to fame of Cayman Brac is that in the 18th century, pirates occupied this island. One of the most famous pirates, Edward Teach (also known as Blackbeard), was rumoured to have spent a lot of time around Cayman Brac. Perhaps the interest in Cayman Brac by the pirates came about because of the 170+ caves that are found around the Bluff.
The smallest of the three Cayman Islands, Little Cayman is about 10 miles (16km) long and one mile (1.6km) wide, with approximately 150 people who live there year round. Little Cayman is known for pristine, world-class diving as well as the opportunity to relax and get away from the pressures of modern life. Time seems to have left Little Cayman behind (electricity only arriving to Little Cayman in 1990 and phone service in 1991), but visitors will be able to get onto the internet at their hotel, if they so choose. No where it is more obvious about the laid-back nature of Little Cayman than when you arrive to the Edward Bodden Airfield; the handpainted sign that indicates you have arrived at Terminal A, Gate 1 says it all.
If you are not keen to dive some of the world's best diving (as described by the late Jacques Cousteau), you can simply relax on the beach, cycle around the island, bird watch at Booby Pond or even row to the uninhabited Owen Island for a secluded picnic and swim session!