Despite similarities in their history and geographical location, the 7,000 plus islands that make up the Caribbean each have their own identity. Fought over by European powers for hundreds of years, populated with slaves from African cultures, this conglomerate is known as the West Indies. The islands are organized into sovereign states, overseas departments and dependencies.
The Greater Antilles in the northwest Caribbean, consisting of the larger islands of Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola (Haiti on the western third of the island and the Dominican Republic on the eastern two thirds), and Puerto Rico, are closely associated with Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New World in 1492. The Cayman Islands are generally considered within this group, as are the Turks and Caicos, though not technically in the Caribbean.
The Virgin Island archipelago, to the east of the Greater Antilles, consists of the US Virgin Islands (USVI) and the British Virgin Islands (BVI).
The Lesser Antilles form a barrier against the Atlantic Ocean. They consist of the Leeward Islands in the northeast Caribbean Sea and Wayward Islands, to the southeast.
The Leeward Islands span approximately 200 miles and include many islands operating as different nations. Some are French, some Dutch, some British and some independent. The Leeward Islands consist of: Anguilla, Saint Martin/Sint Maarten, Saint Barthelemy (aka, Saint Bart), , Saba, Saint Eustatius (aka, Statia), Saint Christopher (aka, Saint Kitts) & Nevis, Montserrat, Antigua & Barbuda, Guadeloupe, Marie-Galante, Isles des Saintes (aka, The Saints) and Dominica.
The Windward Islands are named for the fact that they face east into the trade winds. They consist of Martinique, Saint Vincent & the Grenadines (including tiny Bequia, Mustique and Petit Saint Vincent), and Grenada, all a series of volcanic peaks that rise from an underwater mountain chain, as well as Barbados, far out to the southeast.
The Southern Caribbean, consisting of Trinidad & Tobago, plus Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao (aka, the ABCs), are in the south Caribbean Sea, to the north of Venezuela.
Some other terms you may have heard:
French Antilles (Saint Bart, Guadeloupe and Martinique)
Islands that Brush the Clouds (Saba, Statia, Saint Kitts & Nevis and Montserrat)
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