The islands of the Caribbean Sea or West Indies are an extensive archipelago in the far west of the Atlantic Ocean, mostly strung between North and South America. They've long been known as a resort vacation destination for honeymooners and retirees and are a major area for cruise ships, but a small movement toward eco-tourism and backpacking has started to open up the Caribbean to more independent travel. With year-round good weather (with the occasional but sometimes serious exception of hurricane season in the late summer and early fall), promotional air fares from Europe and North America, and hundreds of islands to explore, the Caribbean offers something for almost everyone.
Countries and territories
Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica, Hispaniola (shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti) and Puerto Rico, often grouped as the Greater Antilles, are by far the largest islands in the area and the most visited by travellers. The Caribbean also includes the Lucayan Archipelago to the north, which is comprised of the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands, and the Lesser Antilles, a group of much smaller islands to the east.
- Antigua and Barbuda
- British Virgin Islands
- Saint Martin
- Saint Kitts and Nevis
- Sint Eustatius
- U.S. Virgin Islands
Not in the Caribbean
These countries are not technically in the Caribbean, but are considered culturally part of it:
Further to the west and south, there are various less frequently visited islands that belong to countries in South America and Central America, and to Mexico. A couple of islands (San Andrés and Providencia mainly) off the coast of Nicaragua also belong to Colombia.
- Port of Spain
- San Juan
- Santiago de Cuba
- Santo Domingo
- Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park in Saint Kitts
- Citadelle Henri Christophe and Palais Sans Souci in Milot, Northern Haiti
- Gran Parque Natural Topes de Collantes in Central Cuba
- Jardines del Rey, a chain of islands of the northern coast of Central Cuba
- Maracas National Park in northern Trinidad
- Reserva de la Biosfera Sierra del Rosario in Pinar del Rio province of Western Cuba
- La Fortaleza and San Juan National Historic Site in San Juan, Puerto Rico
- Viñales, a beautiful valley in Pinar del Rio province of Western Cuba
- Morne Trois Pitons National Park on Dominica featuring the Boiling Lake, the world's second largest geyser.
- See also: Voyages of Columbus
The Caribbean islands were first inhabited by the Arawak Indians, then were invaded by a more aggressive tribe, the Caribs. Unfortunately, neither could appreciate their victory forever, although the Arawaks may have had a quiet reign of nearly two millennia. Then the Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, French, Danish, and British arrived, after which the Carib population steeply declined due to various factors - however, genetic research has shown that the current population has more Carib descent than was previously thought. The islands have known many historic battles and more than a few pirate stories. Unlike the Central American mainland, which was colonized almost exclusively by Spain (with English protectorates on the Caribbean side), the Caribbean has seen various colonizers, who sometimes fought hard over control of relatively minor islands, primarily because the Caribbean was a very profitable place to grow the cash crop sugarcane with slave labor. Ultimately, slavery became untenable both due to uprisings like the Haitian revolution, which succeeded in achieving abolition of slavery and independence in one fell swoop, and due to the increasing moral qualms of the European colonizers themselves. As the rest of the world industrialized, many Caribbean nations fell behind because the plantation owners were unwilling or unable to invest their considerable wealth in industry and today most of those islands live from agriculture, the export of raw materials and tourism. Some minor territories have also found success as "tax havens" or as a destination for casino tourism (e.g. Cuba until the 1950s) due to less strict laws than the US and other countries in the region.
While Spanish influence is strong in many parts of the Caribbean, indigenous, African and non-Spanish European influences are strong or even dominant on some islands. While most of the Caribbean is nominally Christian, indigenous and African rites have been blended with some tenets of Christianity to create new and unique belief systems, and there are also many adherents of the Yoruba religion — variously called Espiritismo, Santeria and Vodun — that came to the Americas with enslaved Africans. Some islands also have substantial Hindu or Muslim minorities or both, while small Jewish communities on several islands including Curaçao are among the oldest in the Americas.
The Caribbean is known worldwide for its African-influenced music, including charanga in Cuba; merengue in the Dominican Republic; and ska, reggae and dancehall in Jamaica. And of course there are the steel pan performers on quite a few islands. But this only scratches the surface of what you can hear on a trip to the Caribbean.
In general the climate of the Caribbean is tropical with little change in temperature over the course of the year.
- Antigua and Barbuda (IATA: ANU) from London (IATA: LON),Manchester (IATA: MAN) by British Airways, BMI, Virgin Atlantic and from Frankfurt (IATA: FRA) by Condor
- Barbados, Bridgetown (BGI) from London, Manchester by Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, Caribbean Airlines and from Frankfurt by Condor
- Cuba from London (LGW) by Virgin Atlantic, Air Jamaica, from Madrid (MAD) by Iberia, from Paris (CDG) by Air France and from all three by Cubana
- Grenada, Maurice Bishop International (GND) from UK by Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, Excel from Germany Condor
- Saint Lucia, Hewanorra (UVF) from London (LGW) by Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, Caribbean Airlines and from Manchester (MAN) by Virgin Atlantic
- Martinique Fort-de-France (FDF) from Paris by Air France, Air Caribes
- Tobago (TAB), from London (LGW) by British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and from Frankfurt (FRA) by Condor
- Trinidad, Port-of-Spain (POS) from London by Caribbean Airlines
- Turks & Caicos Islands (PLS), from London (LHR) through Nassau, The Bahamas
- Curaçao (CUR) From the Netherlands (AMS) by KLM, Arke fly. From Germany (DUS) by Air berlin
From the United States to
- Curaçao (CUR), Bonaire (BON) from Miami (MIA) - by Insel Air
- Curaçao, (CUR) - by American Airlines
- Aruba, (AUA) - by Delta Airlines, American Airlines, JetBlue Airways, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines, and SLM
- While there are no direct flights to Cuba, the change in relations and the end of the embargo under the Obama administration mean that they are probably not far off in the future and some airlines have already applied for the necessary permits. For more on the whole issue of Americans in Cuba see there.
- Air Caraibes: from Paris to Guadeloupe, Martinique
- Air France: from Paris to Guadeloupe, Martinique
- Air Jamaica: London to Jamaica and Cuba
- American Airlines: from Miami to; Antigua, Aruba, Barbados, Curaçao Dominican Republic, Grand Cayman, Grenada, Jamaica, Kingston, Montego Bay, Puerto Rico, Santo Domingo, St. Croix, St. Kitts, St. Lucia, St. Maarten, St. Thomas and Trinidad
- British Airways: from London (LGW) to Antigua, Barbados, Cayman Islands, Grenada, Saint Lucia, Tobago and from Manchaster to Saint Lucia.
- Caribbean Airlines: from London to Barbados, Saint Lucia, London - Antigua, Belfast - Tobago (see BWIA Route map)
- Cayman Airways: from the Cayman Islands to multiple gateways in the US
- Condor: from Frankfurt (FRA), see Condor Route map
- Cubana: To Cuba from Madrid, Paris, London
- Iberia: from Madrid to Havana, San Juan de Puerto Rico and Santo Domingo.
- Insel Air Direct flights from Miami and Inter-Island travel. Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, Haiti, Las Piedras, Miami, Puerto Rico, Santo Domingo, St. Maarten, Suriname, and Valencia.
- JetBlue to Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Saint Maarten, Puerto Rico, Aruba, Saint Lucia and Barbados mostly to New York and Boston and some also to Washington DC, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale.
- Virgin Atlantic: from London to Antigua, Barbados, Grenada, Havana, Jamaica, St Lucia, Tobago and from Manchester to Barbados and St Lucia
- WestJet: from Lester B. Pearson Toronto International Airport to Princess Juliana Airport.
Cruise ships are an alternative for getting into the Caribbean. Largely catering to visitors from the US, probably the most popular starting points for Caribbean cruises are Miami and Key West, though there may be cruises starting from the Yucatán Peninsula and Venezuela too. As cruise ships often spend the Northern Hemisphere summer in the Mediterranean and the winter in the Caribbean, they may offer transatlantic cruises to or from the Caribbean depending on the season.
Caribbean destinations are also popular among those who sail their own vessel.
Numerous companies offer cruises, charters, and boat tours in the Caribbean.
- LIAT has connections between most of the eastern Caribbean
- Caribbean Airlines , a Trinidad-based offers flights between islands and Canada, US, Europe and other airport in South America
- American Eagle is another notable air carrier between islands
Sail Caribbean Yachts offers all of the best Sailing Boats, Motor Boats, Catamarans and Gulets for exploring the Caribbean sea.
When the French colonizers gave names to places in the Caribbean, they apparently lacked imagination when it came to volcanoes. You can namely find a volcano named Soufrière ("sulfur place" in French) on Guadeloupe, Montserrat and St. Vincent and Grenadines. On Dominica, Haiti and St. Lucia it is the name of a town. Most of the Caribbean being geologically active, you probably won't have to travel far from these towns to see some...soufrière.
There are many things to see in the Caribbean, but the islands are famous for the "3 S's" Sun, Sea and Sand.
- Seven Miles Beach in the Cayman Islands;
- Arashi beach and Baby Beach in Aruba;
- Downtown Havana;
- Old city of San Juan, Puerto Rico;
- Dutch Colonial Houses of Curaçao (UNESCO heritage);
- Slave huts and Salt Plans of Bonaire;
- The shortest runway on earth on Saba Island;
- Nelson Dockyards and English Harbor in Antigua and Barbuda;
- The pitons in Saint Lucia;
- The Caribbean Indians (The last ones) territory in Dominica;
Two closely related sports that are popular in the Caribbean are baseball and cricket. Baseball is very popular in much of the Spanish-speaking Caribbean, while cricket is the more popular sport in the English-speaking Caribbean.
Local cuisine is usually very well seasoned whether the outcome be savory, sweet or spicy. Don't be afraid to ask about what you're eating but be open minded when patronizing rural eateries where the cuisine is not tailored for international palates. The not-so-secret ingredient in much of the Caribbean (including the Caribbean coast of mainland Central America) is coconut and you may be surprised by the huge variety of foodstuffs that can be improved by the addition of coconut.
Fly west to the great deserts of Mexico, or go in the other direction and visit the massive rain forests of Brazil. Or you could go north and visit the impressive USA. Central America isn't far away, either.