About the Cayman Islands

Christopher Columbus discovered Little Cayman and Cayman Brac in 1503, and named the islands Las Tortugas for the numerous sea turtles he saw. The islands later became known as Lagartos, meaning alligators or large lizards, but by 1530 they were known as the Caymanas after the Carib word for the marine crocodile that lived there.

Sir Francis Drake was the first English visitor to the islands, in 1586. During the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, the islands served as replenishment centers for ships, providing fresh water and food, including sea turtles and wild fowl.

In 1670, Britain took control of both the Cayman Islands and Jamaica with the Treaty of Madrid. Over the next sixty years, the islands would become a popular hideout for pirates. The first permanent settlement of the islands began in the 1730s. Settlers came from Britain by way of Jamaica. Early settlers made their living exporting turtle and cotton, and raising a number of crops for their own consumption.

The Wreck of Ten Sail has become a famous incident in Cayman Islands history. In 1794, ten vessels on their way from Britain to Jamaica hit a reef at East End, Grand Cayman. With the help of settlers, no lives were lost. According to legend, there was a member of British royalty on board, and in gratitude for the settlers’ bravery, King George III granted the Caymans freedom from military draft and taxation. No real evidence has been found for this claim.

The “Birth of Democracy” in the Cayman Islands took place in 1831, when residents decided in a meeting that representatives should be appointed from five districts in order to form local laws for better Government. Elections took place five days later, and less than a month after the meeting, the Legislative Assembly met for the first time in George Town.

Though many of the islands’ early settlements did have slaves, slavery never reached the harsh and oppressive conditions that many other Caribbean islands exhibited. Nonetheless, the emancipation of slaves throughout the colonies in 1835 is a notable event in Cayman Islands history.

In 1863, Cayman was placed under direct control of Jamaica, and in 1898 a commissioner appointed by the Jamaican Governor took over administration of the islands. In 1962, Jamaica gained independence from Britain, and the Cayman Islands broke administrative links with Jamaica, opting instead to become a direct dependency of Britain. The chief official of the islands was the Administrator until 1971, when the first Governor took office. Although Jamaica and the Caymans are no longer linked administratively, the islands continue to share many other experiences, such as membership in the Commonwealth of Nations and a common church (The Church of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands). A large portion (around 40%) of the Cayman Islands population is of Jamaican origin.

The two main industries in the Cayman Islands today are tourism and international finance. The Tourist Board, formed in 1966, launched the tourism industry while the banking industry saw its start in 1966 when the first banking and trust laws were passed.

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