Cayman Brac is the second largest of the three Cayman Islands (Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman), but it is not much bigger than Little Cayman, its slightly smaller neighbor. South of Cuba and northwest of Jamaica, the three islands are located in the western Caribbean. Along with the other two islands, Cayman Brac was designated a British Overseas Territory in 1962. It is located almost 100 miles northeast of Grand Cayman Island and is separated by a seven mile wide channel from Little Cayman. Cayman Brac is accessible by boat or via Cayman Airways from both Grand and Little Cayman. At just under 15 square miles, Cayman Brac nonetheless has the most dramatic scenery of the three islands. While Grand Cayman and Little Cayman have peak elevations of 80 and 56 feet, respectively, the highest elevation on Cayman Brac is almost 152 feet.
"Brac" is the Gaelic word for bluff. The dramatic bluff that gives the island its name rises gradually from sea level at the western edge of the island to its peak height in the east. All along the coast it plunges dramatically into the ocean depths, giving spectacular vistas. There are also numerous caves to visit.
The Spanish first discovered these islands when Christopher Columbus visited in 1503. They were named Las Tortugas (The Turtles) because of the multitude of sea turtles found there. In 1586, Sir Francis Drake was the first Englishman to set foot on the islands. Impressed by the marine crocodiles that were once found there, he referred to them by the Carib Indian word for the marine crocodile, caiman. A treaty with Spain in 1670 gave Great Britain control of the islands. However, the islands for the most part remained uninhabited until the 17th century. Although records show that Little Cayman Island and Cayman Brac were settled between 1661 and 1671, pirate attacks forced abandonment of the settlements. It wasn't until 1833 that a permanent settlement was established by fishermen, turtle hunters and boat builders.
The people of Cayman Brac are primarily of British and African descent. The resident population of Little Cayman is less than 2000 people, with a English as the official language. The least touristic of the three islands, it only has one major hotel of any size. The island's four main settlements are on the north or west sides of the island; the beaches and resorts are mainly clustered around the southern tip.
Unlike the other two islands, tourism is not a significant source of employment on Cayman Brac. The majority of the population are still fishermen. Scuba diving is the main attraction for visitors. Particularly notable is the wreck diving, especially the MV Captain Keith Tibbetts. This is a 330 foot long Russian built Cuban naval frigate which was sunk off the coast in 1996.
Inland, there is the Cayman Brac Museum, hiking and exploring the caves in the bluff and viewing the variety of native plants and animals. Experiencing the laid back lifestyle of these traditional fishing communities, with their friendly and open residents, can also be a fascinating look into the past.
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