Introduction to the Caribbean
Sea, sun, sand and surf galore
click image for a larger map of all the Caribbean region
This map shows many of
the tiny island nations in the eastern and southern parts of
You're sure to enjoy your time, wherever you choose to visit
in the Caribbean.
There are probably more small
countries in the Caribbean than anywhere else in the world, with
some countries smaller in total size than a large US city, and
with as few as 20,000 inhabitants.
The Caribbean has an
interesting and sometimes troubled history, and with the
different colonial influences (English, French, Spanish, even
Portuguese and Dutch) there's a vibrant mix of cultures to
interest you, as well as beaches, water sports and lovely
relaxation in tropical island paradises.
Why Visit the Caribbean
The Caribbean region gives
you a wide choice of destinations, generally offering you good
value experiences with great climates and wonderful outdoors and
beach type settings.
An Introduction to the
The area commonly known as the "Caribbean" is located between the continents of North and South America, and east of Mexico.
The Caribbean islands loop up in a quarter circle from off the
coast of Venezuela (starting with Trinidad & Tobago, then
Grenada, and so on) and ending up not far from southern Florida
(with the Bahamas and Cuba).
The name "Caribbean" is derived from the name of the first and most prevalent Indian tribe when the islands were first discovered, the Caribs.
Another common term for the region is the "West Indies" which is derived from Columbus's mistake in believing he had reached the area known as the "Indies" that actually was Southeast Asia. After discovery of Columbus's mistake, Southeast Asia was then referred to as the "East Indies" and the new area of the world as the "West Indies."
In case you wondered,
Columbus first touched land on what he named San Salvador, now
part of the Bahamas group of islands.
The Caribbean has its own sea, aptly named the Caribbean Sea, but also known by many
Sea of Antilles, especially those in Europe. This is derived from the Spanish word for a newly discovered group of islands.
Not really in the Caribbean
Some people consider
Bermuda's location as being in the Caribbean.
This is only very marginally so.
Bermuda is 800 - 900 miles north to north east from the
Caribbean islands, and is in the Atlantic, some 650 miles from
the closest point on the US coastline.
Bermuda is also a wonderful
place to visit, but because of its distance from the Caribbean,
it is not easy to combine time in Bermuda with time in the
Caribbean, and so few people do this.
The geography varies from island to island, however, the
islands are either generally flat and non volcanic or mountainous and volcanic.
Some of the better known flat non volcanic islands include Barbados, Aruba and the Cayman Islands. Some well known mountainous volcanic islands include Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Cuba and Hispaniola.
The features then vary with the makeup of the island. For example, the mountainous islands are known for their wonderful waterfalls and rain forests. Some even have beautiful caves lined with stalagmites and stalactites.
All of the islands in the Caribbean, excluding the Bahamas, are in the tropical range. Because of this, the region has very warm and humid weather
with the Northeast trade winds bringing moisture from the Atlantic Ocean.
The temperatures hardly change
from month to month, although it is mildly cooler in the winter months (the same winter as North America) and of course cooler at higher altitudes. The temperatures are at their lowest just before sunrise and at their highest in the mid to late afternoon.
The islands with the greatest variance in temperature are in the northern part, such as the Bahamas, Cuba and
The weather the Caribbean is typically known for is the stormy hurricane season. The hurricane season runs from
about June until about November with the peak being around September.
These hurricanes typically form around Western Africa and move across the ocean building up strength and
then hit the Eastern Caribbean and Southern United States. The frequency and intensity of the hurricanes vary from year to year. There have been as
few as two and as many as twelve per season.
Some hurricanes can dump a large amount of rain with violent and destructive winds, while others drop very little precipitation
and have more tolerable winds. However, the scary part is that hurricanes are extremely unpredictable and can pick up speed or change direction without any warning.
Perhaps partially in
recognition of this issue, the peak times for travelling to the Caribbean are not during hurricane season.
Every island in the Caribbean is worth travelling to at one point in a lifetime. Each island has something different to offer its tourists
- whether it is extraordinary waterfalls or a sandy beach with bright blue Caribbean water, each island will leave anyone captivated.
The following describes some of the more popular islands in the terms of tourism.
Puerto Rico has much to offer to tourists. In fact, it's known as the Island of Enchantment. Whether you're after a big dose of entertainment and culture, beautiful scenery, night life or sandy beaches, you will be satisfied. For entertainment and culture, it is recommended to visit the biggest city, San Juan. San Juan is famous for its "Old" section. Built in the 1500's, these cobblestone streets were once roamed by the famous Ponce de Leon. In the modern city, there are numerous designer boutiques filled with original works by Puerto Rican designers. As far as night life goes, San Juan is regarded to have the best night scene in the Caribbean. There are wonderful beaches, but a beach on a small island off of the main Puerto Rican island, called Isla Verde, has won awards. It is called Balneario de Carolina and is a must see. For beautiful scenery, one must visit El Yunque, the only rain forest in the US National Forest system.
Barbados, because of its past, has a very British feel. Cricket is the sport of choice and you can find most residents having a cup of tea in the afternoon. Most tourists take a
holiday to Barbados for the exquisite resorts, beaches and cuisine. There are also spectacular professional golf courses for the avid golfer. The most popular beach is Sandy Beach, located on the south part of the island next to Sandy Beach Island Resort. There are plenty of white sand and calm waves. A beautiful lagoon can even be found making it the prime location for families and young children. The resorts vary with individual tastes. Prices vary as do resorts, from simple and plain to luxurious and extravagant.
Aruba is a crown jewel of the Caribbean. In fact, when "Caribbean" is mentioned, one thinks automatically of bright turquoise water and white soft sand. This is the epitome of
Aruba. Filled with an easy going group of residents, this Dutch influenced island is also famous for its casinos and night life. Palm Beach is the centre of tourist activity and is probably the most beautiful beach on the island. It is perfect for swimming and water sports. There are numerous resorts along this long stretch of beach as well as numerous casinos. The night life is extravagant and one can even find a bus that will pick you up and drop you off from parties to avoid drunk driving. The bus, named Kukoo Kunuku, is brightly painted with fun designs. Aruba also features beautiful scenery, including a wonderful natural bridge, and ruins from the ancient years.
A Caribbean Holiday
There is a reason why
holidays to the Caribbean are so popular with tourists. The islands mentioned just briefly touch on what is available for tourists in this region. The variety, beauty and fun that the Caribbean has to offer are simply amazing and must be seen to be believed.
Most people choose to either
fly to a specific Caribbean destination, or alternatively, to
take a cruise that travels between a number of the different
Most cruises cover one
sub-region only of the Caribbean, which is commonly divided into
three - either the east, the west, or the south.
If you're flying to enjoy a
stay at a single island, you can of course choose any of the
islands in the Caribbean.
The predominant tourist
activities in the Caribbean tend to revolve around the typical
'sea, sun, sand and surf' type activities.
If you venture inland off
the beaches, you'll experience more of the uniqueness of each
island, with a chance to enjoy some of the inland features -
beautiful bush and forest, sometimes volcanic mountains and
waterfalls, and the varying history and culture of each island
people and the towns/cities they live in.
Enthusiastic night life, and
fascinating cuisine round out the attractions on offer.
English is widely spoken in many of the
islands in the Caribbean, especially in the areas that are more focused on
Depending on each island's
colonial past, you will find other European languages spoken as
well (primarily Spanish and French).
For More Information
More general and background information about the Caribbean can be
obtained from the
Caribbean Tourism Organization.
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27 Apr 2008, last update
26 Jun 2019