Sunset on Montserrat

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, Dominican Republic 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 includes the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands, and the Lesser Antilles, a group of much smaller islands to the east.


Greater Antilles

Lesser Antilles

Leeward Islands

Windward Islands

Valley of desolation at Morne Trois Pitons National Park

Leeward Antilles


A beach on Barbados. Beaches are a major draw of the Caribbean.

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, Central America and Mexico.


Other destinations

The Viñales valley


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.

Get in

Queen Beatrix Airport, Aruba

By plane

From Europe to

From the United States to

From Canada to


By boat

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.

Get around

Mein Schiff I of the German TUI travel company docked in Grenada

Numerous companies offer cruises, charters, and boat tours in the Caribbean.

By plane

By boat

Express des Iles offers transport between Dominica, Guadaloupe, Martinique, St. Lucia and others for about €67 one-way and €100 round-trip.

Sail Caribbean Yachts offers all of the best Sailing Boats, Motor Boats, Catamarans and Gulets for exploring the Caribbean sea.


Quelle Soufrière?

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.



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.


"Cracked conch", deep-fried mollusk with rice, Bahamas' national dish

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.

Stay safe

Natural disasters that may affect the Caribbean are hurricanes during the summer and autumn and more infrequently but anytime and usually without warning: earthquakes and volcanic activity.

Go next

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.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Tuesday, March 08, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.