Georgetown, Cayman Islands

When Christopher Columbus discovered the Caymans in 1503, he dubbed them "Las Tortugas" after the islands' large sea turtle population. Renamed "Las Gartos," meaning lizards, and in 1527 "Las Caymanas" for crocodiles, the last appellation finally stuck. Though discovered and charted on earlier maps, the Cayman Islands remained largely unexplored and unsettled until the first recorded English expedition by Sir Francis Drake in 1586, when he made note of the delicious meat of the turtles and their eggs in the ship's log. The island quickly became a deadly lure for ships in search of fresh food and water, and hundreds of wrecks still lie on the bottom as testament to its treacherous reefs. From 1630 onwards buccaneers made the Caymans their base, and the islands frequently changed hands between Spain and Britain until 1670, when the Treaty of Madrid gave Britain all the islands she currently held. Operated as a dependency of Jamaica, Britain's stronghold in the Caribbean, the Caymans opted to become a direct dependency of the British crown when Jamaica achieved independence in 1962. Grand Cayman's first settlers made their living from the sea, either as turtle fisherman or as buccaneers. But times have changed. Grand Cayman today is the world's largest offshore banking center, with 541 licensed banks and over 20,000 registered companies. The islanders enjoy the highest per capita income in the Caribbean. Grand Cayman is also a premiere dive spot in the Caribbean and her reefs are lined with the hulls of ancient galleons. Green sea turtles still thrive in the crystal clear waters and a multitude of tropical fish populate the reefs and wrecks. George Town, the capital, is full of historical buildings, quaint residential neighborhoods and shops specializing in shipwreck treasures. Grand Cayman's colorful past of legends and lore mix charmingly with the present to give this small town a very distinctive ambiance.