Jamaica is an island nation in the West Indies located in the Caribbean Sea. It is south of Cuba and for comparison it is just under the size of the United States' state of Connecticut. Jamaica is 145 miles (234 km) in length and 50 miles (80 km) in width at its widest point. Today, the country is a popular tourist destination and it has a native population of 2.8 million people.
The first inhabitants of Jamaica were the Arawaks from South America. In 1494, Christopher Columbus was the first European to reach and explore the island. Beginning in 1510, Spain began to inhabit the area and by that time, the Arawaks began to die off due to disease and war that came with the European settlers.
In 1655, the British arrived on Jamaica and took the island from Spain. Shortly thereafter in 1670, Britain took full formal control of Jamaica.
Throughout most of its history, Jamaica was known for its sugar production. In the late 1930s, Jamaica began to gain its independence from Britain and it had its first local elections in 1944. In 1962, Jamaica gained full independence but still remains a member of the British Commonwealth.
Following its independence Jamaica's economy began to grow but in the 1980s, it was hit by a severe recession. Shortly thereafter however, its economy began to grow and tourism became a popular industry. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, drug trafficking and the related violence became a problem in Jamaica.
Today, Jamaica's economy is still based largely on tourism and the related service sector and it has recently held various free democratic elections. For example, in 2006 Jamaica elected its first female Prime Minister, Portia Simpson Miller.