The Caribbean also known as The West Indies are a collection of tropical islands that form a cultural region at the western edge of the North Atlantic Ocean. The islands form a long chain, called an archipelago, which separates the Caribbean Sea from the rest of the Atlantic. The mainland territories of Belize (Central America) and Guyana and Suriname (South America), are often considered part of the West Indies. These countries share a common history and cultural pattern with the islands of the West Indies. Because of their location in the Caribbean Sea, the West Indies are referred to as The Caribbean.
The Caribbean archipelago stretches from the Bahamas, just off the east coast of Florida (United States) in the northwest, to Trinidad off the coast of Venezuela in the southeast. See the Caribbean Map for more. The name West Indies was first used in the 1500's after people realized that the Caribbean islands that Christopher Columbus discovered and wrongly believed to be the East Indies were territories in the Western Hemisphere, hitherto unknown to Europeans. The name "Caribbean" came from the Carib, one of the groups of original inhabitants found on the islands.
There are two main groups of islands. The Greater Antilles, located in the northwest, include the largest islands. These are Cuba, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica. Each island forms an independent country, except for Puerto Rico and Hispaniola. Puerto Rico is a dependency of the United States. Hispaniola contains two countries--Haiti in the west and the Dominican Republic in the east.
To the east and south of the Greater Antilles are the smaller islands of the Lesser Antilles, which include Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Leeward and Windward Island groups. The Leeward Islands are the more northerly of these two groups of islands. They are so named because they were thought to be less affected by hurricanes and the prevailing winds than the more southerly Windward Islands. Among the Leeward Islands are the Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Christopher (or St. Kitts) and Nevis, and Montserrat. The Windward Islands include Dominica, Martinique, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Grenada.
The largest Caribbean island, Cuba, has an area of 110,861 square kilometres. Most of the islands are less than 1,000 square kilometres in size.
The Caribbean are famous for their warm, sunny climate all year round. With beautiful blue-green seas, beaches of fine white sand, and warm, friendly people, the region is renowned as a holiday paradise. Tourists are also attracted by the carnivals. The most famous is the pre-Lenten Trinidad carnival. The West Indies are also internationally known for their sugar and rum. They are famed for their world-class sportsmen, particularly in athletics and cricket. The literature and music, especially reggae, have also won international acclaim.