The Caribbean (also known as the West Indies) consists of the Caribbean Sea, its islands, and the surrounding coasts. The area includes more than seven thousand islands, islets, reefs, and cays. Geopolitically, the West Indies is usually regarded as a sub-region of North America and is organized into 28 territories.

The name "Caribbean" is named after the Caribs, one of the dominant Amerindian groups in the region at the time of European contact during the late fifteenth century.

The term "West Indies" originates from Christopher Columbus's idea that he had landed in the Indies (then meaning all of southeast Asia, particularly India) when he had actually reached the Americas.

Island Groupings

The islands of the Caribbean are sorted into three main island groups: The Bahamas, the Greater Antilles and the Lesser Antilles.

The Greater Antilles consists of Cuba, Jamaica, the island of Hispaniola (composed of Haiti on the west side and the Dominican Republic on the east side) and Puerto Rico.

The Lesser Antilles consists of all the other islands in the Caribbean that are not a part of the Bahamas, the Greater Antilles or an island belonging to a continental nation.

The Lesser Antilles are further grouped into the Windward and Leeward Islands.

Geography and Climate

The geography and climate in the Caribbean region vary widely. Some islands in the region have relatively flat terrain of non-volcanic origin. Others have towering mountain ranges.

The climate of the region mainly ranges between sub-tropical to tropical. There are no sharply marked changes between winter and summer in the West Indies. Climate can vary widely, especially on larger islands, where high mountains have different weather patterns from the coast. The main difference between seasons is the amount of rainfall.

Hurricane season plays a large role in bringing rainfall to the Caribbean.

The Puerto Rico Trench is the deepest point in the entire Atlantic Ocean.


The Caribbean Islands have very diverse ecosystems, ranging from cloud forests to cactus scrublands. These ecosystems have been hurt by deforestation and human settlement. There are dozens of highly threatened species, including two species of solenodon (giant shrews) and the Cuban crocodile. The area is also noted for some of the tiny animals, such as the world’s smallest bird.

Source: Caribbean
New World Encyclopedia: Creative Commons CC-BY-SA 3.0

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