With year-round good weather (with the exception of hurricane season in the late summer and early fall) and hundreds of islands to explore, the Caribbean offers something for almost everyone.

Most of the islands in the Caribbean are 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.

However, in recent years, the growing movement toward eco-tourism and backpacking has started to open up the Caribbean to more independent travel.

Map_of_islands of Caribbean_CCBY4

Photo by Cacahuate CC BY SA 4.0

Caribbean Countries and Territories

For a detailed list of all Caribbean islands, please visit our Islands of the Caribbean page.

For a high-level mental picture, see the above photo and notice the following five biggest islands in the Caribbean:

Everything else is tiny islands and are better suited for a Cruise trip.

Biggest Cities in Caribbean

Similar to the list of the biggest islands above, the top 10 biggest cities in the Caribbean are:

  • Havana, Cuba – gorgeous colonial architecture and capital city
  • Kingston, Jamaica – the capital city
  • Nassau, Bahamas – the capital city
  • Port-au-Prince, Haiti – the capital city
  • Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago – the capital city
  • San Juan, Purto Rico – the capital city
  • Santiago de Cuba, Cuba
  • Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic – the capital city
  • Willemstad, Curacao – the capital city
  • Oranjestad, Aruba – the capital city

beach_sun_sand_surf_Caribbean_PD

Photo: The Art of Travel Partners

Countries of the Caribbean

Many of them are dependencies of other countries while are some of them are sovereign countries.

  • Bahamas – an archipelago of islands and cays surrounded by coral reefs off the coasts of Florida
  • Bermuda – a small British territory known for the (Bermuda) shorts and the mysterious Bermuda triangle
  • Cayman Islands – known for offshore banking, and a great diving destination
  • Cuba – the largest Caribbean island-nation marked by decades of a socialist government
  • Jamaica – an island of tall mountains and the birthplace of reggae music
  • Haiti – founded by former slaves who won their freedom and independence from Napoleonic France
  • Dominican Republic – a fast-growing economy with some of the oldest colonial cities in the hemisphere.
  • Puerto Rico – a US territory with bustling nightlife, as well as great inland sceneries
  • Turks and Caicos – a British territory famous for fabulous beaches and offshore banking

Lesser Antilles

The islands in the Lesser Antilles are generally small islands. Many of them are dependencies of other countries while are some of them are sovereign countries. These are:

  • Anguilla
  • Antigua and Barbuda
  • British Virgin Islands
  • Guadeloupe
  • Montserrat
  • Saba
  • Saint-Barthélemy
  • Saint Martin
  • Saint Kitts and Nevis
  • Sint Eustatius
  • U.S. Virgin Islands
  • Barbados
  • Dominica
  • Martinique
  • Saint Lucia
  • Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
  • Grenada
  • Trinidad and Tobago

ABC Islands

The ABC Islands are very popular with American tourists and are the dependencies of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. These are:

  • Aruba
  • Curaçao
  • Bonaire

Further South-West

Further to the west and south, there are various less frequently visited islands that belong to countries in South and Central America but are often considered part of the Caribbean due to cultural reasons. Those islands belong to:

  • Belize
  • Honduras
  • French Guiana
  • Guyana
  • Suriname
  • Colombia

Things To Do In Caribbean

Sunset view in a Caribbean Island_PD

Photo: Life is really good / The Art of Travel Partners

The Caribbean islands are famous for the three S’s: Sun, Sea, and Sand. You will find plenty of all the S’s here.

There are all kinds of beaches from touristy ones with plane or shiploads of tourists to exclusive and expensive private islands, and of course, places popular with locals. Some famous beaches include the Seven Miles Beach in the Cayman Islands and the Arashi beach and Baby Beach in Aruba.

Traditionally beach-tourism to this part of the world has been about resorts, cruises, and package trips, but independent travel is certainly also possible.

While the indigenous heritage has all but disappeared, apart from the small remnant of the Carib people, who live in Dominica, the oldest colonial cities of the Americas can be found in the Caribbean.

Perhaps no surprise as this was where Columbus and other Europeans first set foot in the New World, and several islands are still dependencies of France, Netherlands or the UK.

Many of the world heritage sites in the Caribbean are colonial old towns, including ones in Havana, San Juan, Curaçao, and English Harbour.

Back then, the Caribbean islands also became a major destination for Africans that the colonizers forcibly brought in to work as slaves. Needless to say, slaves lived under inhumane conditions with hard work, violence, disease, and starvation making up their daily life.

Slavery is long gone, some former plantations have now been turned into memorials, for instance, the Slave Huts on Bonaire. Black and mixed people make up a majority of the population of the Caribbean today, and the local culture has African influences, including the voodoo religion of Haiti, the carnival and various styles of Caribbean music and dance.

Natural attractions (other than the aforementioned beaches) include rainforests, volcanoes and other geologically interesting features such as the Boiling Lake in Dominica. Other interesting mountains include the pitons in Saint Lucia (pictured on their national flag) as well as Pico Duarte in the Dominican Republic, which is the highest point in the Caribbean.

Just traveling around the Caribbean can be exciting too, whether you do it by boat, plane or road. On Saba, you can land and take off on the world’s shortest commercially used runway.

Popular Destinations

Some of the unique and cool places to check out on your Caribbean adventures:

  • Citadelle Henri Christophe and Palais Sans Souci in Northern Haiti
  • La Fortaleza and San Juan National Historic Site in San Juan, Puerto Rico
  • Morne Trois Pitons National Park in Dominica featuring the Boiling Lake, the world’s second largest geyser
  • Gran Parque Natural Topes de Collantes in Central Cuba
  • Jardines del Rey, a chain of islands of the northern coast of Central Cuba
  • Reserva de la Biosfera Sierra del Rosario in Western Cuba
  • Viñales, a beautiful valley in Western Cuba

We’ll keep adding to the above list as we continue to explore the Caribbean paradise. If you have a suggestion, please leave it in the comments below. 

Caribbean Culture

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 — called 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. Jamaica is famously the wellspring of the Rasta religion.

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.

Local Cuisine

Whether you are on a cruise excursion or you are staying at a resort in one of these beautiful Caribbean islands, you must try:

  • Anguilla – rice, peas, and local fish of the day
  • Antigua and Barbuda – fungee and pepperpot
  • Bahamas – Guava duff, Conch Salad, Peas n’ Rice, and Conch Fritters
  • Barbados – cou-cou and flying fish
  • Belize – rice and beans, stew chicken with potato salad; white rice, stew beans and fry fish with cole slaw
  • British Virgin Islands – fish and fungee
  • Cayman Islands – turtle stew, turtle steak, grouper
  • Colombian Caribbean Islands – rice with coconut milk, arroz con pollo, sancocho, Arab cuisine (due to the large Arab population)
  • Cuba – platillo Moros y Cristianos, ropa vieja, lechon, maduros, ajiaco
  • Dominica – wild chicken, rice and peas, dumplings, saltfish, dashin, bakes, coconut confiture, curry goat, cassava farine, oxtail
  • Dominican Republic – arroz con pollo with stewed red kidney beans, pan-fried or braised beef, salad/ ensalada de coditos, empanadas, mangú, sancocho
  • Grenada – oil down, Roti and rice & chicken
  • Guyana – pepperpot, cook up rice, roti and curry, methem, pholourie
  • Haiti – griot (fried pork) served with du riz a pois or diri ak pwa (rice and beans)
  • Jamaica – ackee and saltfish, callaloo, jerk chicken, curry chicken
  • Montserrat – goat, rice
  • Puerto Rico – yellow rice with green pigeon peas, saltfish stew, roasted pork shoulder, chicken fricassée, mofongo, tripe soup, alcapurria, coconut custard, rice pudding, guava turnovers, Mallorca bread
  • Saint Kitts and Nevis – goat water, coconut dumplings, spicy plantain, saltfish, breadfruit
  • Saint Lucia – callaloo, dal roti, dried and salted cod, green bananas, rice and beans
  • Saint Vincent and the Grenadines – roasted breadfruit and fried jackfish
  • Suriname – brown beans and rice, roti and curry, peanut soup, battered fried plantain with peanut sauce, nasi goreng, moksie alesi, bara, pom
  • Trinidad and Tobago – callaloo, doubles, aloo pie, phulourie, bake and shark, curry with roti or dal-bhaat (rice with pulse), curry crab and dumpling
  • United States Virgin Islands – stewed goat, oxtail or beef, seafood, callaloo, fungee

Language

English, Spanish, Dutch and French respectively are spoken on various islands, depending largely on its former colonial power.

However, the majority of the population might not speak the metropole-version of said language but rather a creole, which often incorporates a lot of words from other languages (usually African and/or Native American) and can sometimes differ so much in grammar and spelling as to be unintelligible to even native speakers of the European language the Creole is based on.

The well-educated upper class and those who work in the tourism industry will usually be able to speak a version of the national language closer to what European visitors are used to, and they will often be able to hold a conversation in one or several other European languages as well. However, the likeliness decreases the further you get away from big cities and major tourist hot spots.

As most of the Caribbean has a long history of both slavery and racial discrimination, and Creoles arose with that background and still sometimes have a stigma attached to them, you should be extremely cautious not to say anything negative about the Creole languages, their speakers, or their intellectual background.

Believe it or not, political tracts and works of literature have been written in various Caribbean creole languages for decades now, and to give just one example, the Jamaican Patois of Bob Marley is just as capable of expressing complex topics as are any American or British pop songwriters.

Best Time To Visit

In general the climate of the Caribbean is tropical with little change in temperature over the course of the year, however, rainfall does vary by season and there is also a pronounced hurricane-season with a handful of major tropical storms passing through the region each year.

Sports

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.

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January 25, 2019 6:32 pm Published by

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