The Cayman Islands is renowned for attracting visitors to its shores from all over the world. Whilst many travel by air, still others arrive on luxury cruise liners to discover the natural beauty of the country. Likewise, the sea was the conduit for the Islands’ earliest visitors, who also explored our lands for what they had to offer. The discovery of the Islands is attributed to the famous explorer Christopher Columbus and his men, who, on the 10th of May in 1503, sighted Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, and laid claim to these lands for Spain.
During his fourth and final voyage, it was purely by happenstance and miscalculation Columbus passed by these Islands, on his way from Central America to Hispaniola. The event was documented by Columbus’ son Ferdinand, who penned, “sighted two very small, low islands full of turtles (as was all the sea thereabout, so that it seemed to be full of little rocks); that is why these islands are called Las Tortugas.” The vessels did not stop but pushed north, eventually reaching Cuba’s southern coast.
Most intriguing is a 1502 map, Cantino Planisphere, which displays a group of unnamed islands in the general vicinity of our Islands. However, it was the Turin Map (1523) that first showed the three Islands with the name “Largatos,” and in 1526, Juan Vespucci accurately illustrated the location of the Islands, giving them the name “Caymanos.”
Once on the map, literally, the Cayman Islands were frequented by mariners and other explorers, such as Sir Francis Drake, for fresh meat and water. These early visitors recorded that the Islands were not only full of turtles but were also populated by caimans (crocodiles).
Remarkably, it is the connection to the turtle that has endured from these early days, as evidenced in many present-day symbols. These include our Coat of Arms and the Sir Turtle logo, which are proudly displayed on Cayman Airways aircraft, welcoming the modern-day traveller to our beautiful Islands.
Author: Text and Photo Courtesy of Cayman Islands National Archive