The islands of the Caribbean comprise one of the world’s premier vacation destinations, a naturally beautiful landscape of sunny blue skies, powdery white-sand beaches and year-round warm weather.
The region features more than 7,000 islands, islets, reefs and cays, and consists of the Greater Antilles, bounding the Caribbean Sea on the north, and the Lesser Antilles and Leeward Antilles on the south and east. The region also includes the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos islands, in the Atlantic Ocean north of Cuba. Bermuda, situated in the Atlantic, north of the Caribbean Sea, and the Cayman Islands, in the Caribbean Sea south of Cuba, are also considered parts of the Caribbean.
The Greater Antilles include Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica and Puerto Rico, and are by far the largest countries in the area and generally the ones most visited by travelers. The largest cities include Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; Kingston, Jamaica; San Juan, Puerto Rico and Port of Spain, Trinidad. Antigua and Barbuda are located in the Eastern Caribbean’s Leeward Islands, while Aruba is the smallest of the Dutch Caribbean islands.
The Caribbean is organized into 27 territories including sovereign states, overseas departments, and dependencies that reflect Afro-Caribbean, native American, Arawak, Carib, Taino, Spanish, French, British, Portuguese, Dutch and Chinese cultural influences.
The Caribbean has long been a resort vacation destination for families, honeymooners and retirees. In recent years Caribbean travel has diversified to include historical, adventure, cuisine, eco-tourism and cultural exploration-oriented vacations.
For example San Juan, Puerto Rico is the oldest city under the United States dominion and features distinctive century-old architecture, including Spanish military forts dating from the 1540s to the 1800s. San Juan also offers an active harbor, magnificent beaches and a wide array of hotels, plazas, museums, and historic sites.
Jamaica is the Caribbean’s third-largest island with six main tourist regions – Montego Bay, Negril, Mandeville and The South Coast, Kingston, Port Antonio and Ocho Rios.
Ocho Rios is a top cruise ship port and also features lush bays and beaches including Runaway Bay, and Discovery Bay. Just inland lies Dunn’s River Falls – a long-popular attraction. Montego Bay is another vacation center featuring sailing, scuba diving, jet skiing, parasailing, sport fishing and glass-bottom boat excursions.
Meanwhile, Barbados offers sugary beaches, powerful surf, plus luxurious hotels, inns and villas. The island’s premier festival, Crop Over is traditionally celebrated the end of the sugar season, lasts for five weeks and features markets, carnival shows, calypso concerts and colorful parades. The Barbados Jazz Festival offers a week of live performances, each at a different island venue. Sunbury Plantation House dates back to 1660 and offers antiques ranging from carriages and farm implements.
Caribbean cuisine is enormously varied. Many Caribbean cooks and chefs train overseas before returning home to fuse outside ideas with traditional island cuisine, which features spicy stews and soups and créole recipes utilizing vegetables like yams, cassava and okra. The region’s wide varieties of fruit are used in refreshing island drinks. Caribbean rum is among the world’s finest, and the region also features many distinctive local beers.
The overall Caribbean climate is tropical, although rainfall varies with a destination’s elevation, size and water currents. Warm tradewinds from the east create rainforests and arid, semi-desert regions on mountainous islands. The Caribbean enjoys year-round sunshine, plus dry and wet seasons. Air transportation to the region is widely available from major U.S. gateways, and there are several inter and intra-island air transportation providers. The Caribbean is the cruise industry’s number one destination, and major cruise ports are scattered across the region.