Caymans celebrate 500th year

GEORGE TOWN, Grand Cayman -- Celebrations that mark the 500th anniversary of the founding of the Cayman Islands coincide this year with Batabano 2003, the islands' annual carnival event.

When Christopher Columbus discovered the Cayman Islands in 1503, he named them Las Tortugas after the large number of giant sea turtles in the surrounding waters.

Over the next 200 years, the islands supplied turtle meat to naval fleets based in Jamaica, and Caribbean traders frequently anchored off Grand Cayman to take turtles on board for transport to Europe.

Batabano is the word given to the tracks left by turtles after they emerge from the water onto the beach to nest in the sand.

Batabano events, set for May 1 to 4 this year, are highlighted by the Mas' (Masquerade) bands that parade through George Town on May 3 in elaborate costumes. The parade is followed by street dances and song competitions.

Batabano, the annual carnival event in the Cayman Islands, features elaborate costumes and parade floats, street festivals, musical competitions and communitywide celebrations on Grand Cayman, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac. Carriers serving the Cayman Islands are offering special fares for Batabano and throughout the summer.

From May 1 through Oct. 31, Cayman Airways' $99 Buddy Fare from Houston and the Florida gateways of Fort Lauderdale, Miami and Tampa is available for $99 roundtrip when another ticket is purchased at a regular price.

Delta Airlines has a Companion Flies Free offer, good for travel from May 1 through Oct. 31 on Delta Vacations' four-night, air-inclusive packages at 12 participating properties in Grand Cayman.

Continental Airlines is expected to participate in quincentennial packages in conjunction with its new four-times-a-week service between Houston and Grand Cayman, effective May 2.

The flights will depart Wednesdays and Fridays through Sundays.

Meanwhile, Cayman's 500th anniversary, three-night land package, available May 9 through 12, features accommodations at a choice of Grand Cayman properties, two two-tank dives per person and a voucher for admission to various heritage sites in Grand Cayman.

Other programs are:

• Taste of Cayman, July 4 to 7, offers visitors the opportunity to sample the cuisine at more than 40 restaurants in Grand Cayman. Rates cover lodging and two dives per person.

• Pirates Week package, Oct. 30 to Nov. 2, includes street dances, a mock pirate invasion in the harbor of George Town, local Caymanian cooking, arts and crafts and sports competitions.

Prices cover hotels, two dives per person and discounts on sightseeing.

Rates and information on the quincentennial programs and packages are available at www.caymanislands.ky.

Tourism exchange set for May

GEORGE TOWN, Grand Cayman -- The second annual Cayman Islands Tourism Exchange will be held from May 7 to 9 in George Town.

International wholesalers will meet with more than 35 local tour operators, ground suppliers and hoteliers for updates on new offerings, products and services to the Cayman Islands.

For details, contact the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism at (877) 4-CAYMAN.

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