On October 12, 1492, Christopher Columbus disrupted the lives of the peaceful Lucayan Indians when he landed on the island of Guanahani, which he renamed San Salvador. Apparently he knelt on the beach and claimed the land for Spain. (Skeptics of this story point to a study published in a 1986 National Geographic article in which Samana Cay, 60 miles southeast, is identified as the exact point of the weary explorer's landing.) Three monuments on the island commemorate Columbus's arrival, and the 500th anniversary of the event was officially celebrated here.
The island is 12 miles long—roughly the length of Manhattan—and about 5 miles wide, with a lake-filled interior. Some of the most dazzling deserted beaches in the country are here, and most visitors come for the peaceful isolation and the diving; there are about 1,200 residents and more than 50 dive sites. There's also world-renowned offshore fishing and good bonefishing.