Three major island “arcs” delineate the northern and eastern edges of the Caribbean Sea and make up what is known today as “The West Indies”. From north to south, these arcs are:
- The Lucayan Archipelago (northeast of Cuba) – comprising of The Bahamas and The Turks & Caicos Islands (Br.)
- The Greater Antilles (the northern boundary of the Caribbean Sea) – including Cuba, the divided island of Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, and the Cayman Islands
- The Lesser Antilles (the eastern boundary of the Caribbean Sea) – made up of the following island groups:
- The Leeward Islands – including St. Kitts & Nevis, Antigua & Barbuda, and numerous British, Dutch, and French dependencies
- The Windward Islands – including Dominica, St. Lucia, Barbados, Grenada, Trinidad & Tobago, Saint Vincent & The Grenadines, and Martinique (Fr.)
- The Leeward Antilles (in the southern Caribbean near South America) – including numerous Venezuelan islands and several Dutch dependencies
This region of the Americas is comprised of around 700 islands, islets, reefs, and cays, some of which lie within the Caribbean Sea and others (namely, The Bahamas and the Turks & Caicos Islands) which lie along its edge, where it borders the North Atlantic Ocean. However, although these islands are sometimes considered to be a part of The Caribbean, they are in fact located neither within the Caribbean Sea nor along its border. The islands of the Caribbean (aka the West Indies) are organized into 30 territories, including sovereign states, overseas departments, and dependencies. From December 1954 to October 2010, there was a country known as the Netherlands Antilles which was composed of 5 Dutch dependencies, and from January 1958 to May 1962, there was also a brief political union known as the West Indies Federation, which was composed of 10 British dependencies.
Several regions of mainland Central and South America are also often seen as part of “The Caribbean”, but mostly because of their political and cultural ties with the region. These include: Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, the Caribbean region of Colombia, Cozumel and the islands of the Yucatán Peninsula (such as Cancún and Isla Mujeres) in Mexico, Venezuela’s Margarita Island, and “The Guianas” (made up of Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, the Guayana region of Venezuela, and the Amapá region of Brazil).
The Caribbean has been occupied by indigenous peoples since at least 6000 BC. However, after the arrival of Columbus and the resulting European colonization, these populations were quickly decimated due to brutal labor practices, enslavement, and disease. The Europeans also supplanted the native populations with enslaved Africans. Not until Haiti’s independence from France in the early 19th century, resulting in the decline of slavery, did the island nations of the Caribbean gradually gain their independence, resulting in a wave of new states during the 1950s and 60s. Also, because of its proximity to the United States, there has also been a long history of American intervention in the entire Caribbean region.
Here is a list of suggested islands and sights to see:
- The Lucayan Archipelago:
- The Greater Antilles:
- The Lesser Antilles:
- The Leeward Islands:
- The Windward Islands: