The Cayman Islands are a major tourist and financial destination with sun-kissed beaches luring tourists and bankers alike. The islands jut above the Caribbean Sea, formed from the highest portions of a huge oceanic ridge along what is known as the Cayman Trench. There are three main islands: Grand Cayman being the largest with two “sister islands, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman. It is only since the 18th Century that the islands enjoyed any permanent inhabitants, drawn mostly from deserting British sailors and soldiers as well as African slaves.
The idyllic setting belies some notable history and events, so here are five interesting facts drawn from modern culture and old history.
Captain Jack Sparrow is a mythical character, however Tortuga, the island referred to in the Disney film, Pirates of the Caribbean is based upon the Cayman Islands. In the 18th Century, the islands were used as a hideout by pirates who plundered the Spanish Main: Cuba is only 180 miles to the north and being uninhabited, the Caymans were an ideal pirate base. Blackbeard and other notable pirates of the era are said to have used the islands, including burying their treasure, so “X” may definitely mark the spot!
Initially, the Cayman Islands were known as Las Tortugas because of the large numbers of turtles in the area (turtle is Portuguese for turtle). The islands became known as the Caymanas when the British sailor, Sir Francis Drake, arrived in 1586: Drake noted a sea-serpent about 12 feet long which was known as a “caiman” by the natives. The sea-serpents were actually alligators, but the name stuck to the islands.
If you think the people in Florida are prone to hurricanes, think again!
The Cayman Islands have the misfortune of being the number 1 destination for Atlantic hurricanes. Nowhere else is hit as often, or as hard by Atlantic hurricanes than the Cayman Islands. In 2004, Hurricane Ivan blew through and destroyed or damaged 90% of the buildings on the Caymans. A massive rebuilding program was initiated which took 2 years to bring the island infrastructure back to its pre-Ivan state.
On average, the island is hit every 2 ¼ years.
This wasn’t President George H Bush (the senior) saying this, nor any other American politician. The fact is King George the Third of England made this promise to the Cayman islanders after they heroically rescued a convoy of ten British ships which ran into difficulty. Tax free status was conferred on the islands by a grateful King, but there is a real issue to be raised here.
King George the Third was the same English king that the American Founding Fathers rebelled and railed against – perhaps if they’d been nicer to King George, we’d be enjoying tax free status today!
Actually, it is the name of several popular bars and grills on and off the islands, but the name actually stems from the largest animal which is indigenous to the islands, the Blue Iguana.
The blue iguana is a lizard, colored a characteristic blue and which was on the verge of extinction in 2003 with only 15 iguanas roaming free in the wild. A massive breeding and release program was instigated to bring the numbers up and while the lizard is not going to break any population records, it is unlikely to disappear any time soon.
Tourism is obviously very popular and very lucrative for the islands but it has not always been so. Things started changing back in the 1960’s when the Cayman government actively commenced promoting the islands as a tourist destination. This was on the back of the increasing popularity of scuba diving which had been introduced to the islands by Robert “Bob” Soto in 1957. Reef diving has become immensely popular around the world, but the sport really developed and took a popular hold in the Cayman Islands, which are now regarded as the birthplace of the modern sport.