When most people envision a tropical beach vacation, the Caribbean springs to mind. With hundreds of islands scattered mostly across the far western portion of the North Atlantic – which is known as the Caribbean Sea – the region boasts an amazing year-round climate, countless miles of white sand beaches, gorgeous coral reefs, shimmering, crystal-clear water, incredible biodiversity and much more. It’s little wonder, then, that people flock here when they need to get away from it all.
The Caribbean is the place to go when you need a break from the fast, hectic pace of everyday life. In this part of the world, time slows to a crawl. The culture is laid back, accepting and incredibly friendly to visitors, so you are sure to feel welcome wherever you go. Of the hundreds of islands in the region, only a handful are regularly visited by tourists. Each sovereign state and territory has its own unique culture, and there are advantages to visiting each one. So, where should you go? How can you possibly narrow things down? A great first step is familiarizing yourself with the most popular destinations. Once you’ve found one that suits your fancy, dig a little more deeply to create the ultimate Caribbean vacation itinerary.
An Overview of the Caribbean
The region that makes up what is known as the Caribbean is sometimes also referred to as the Islands of the Caribbean, or the West Indies. A massive archipelago, the Caribbean can be subdivided into a few different regions: the Lucayan Archipelago, the Greater Antilles, the Lesser Antilles and the ABC Islands. There are 13 sovereign states and 17 dependent territories in the Caribbean, and English, Spanish, French, Dutch and Antilles creole are the predominant languages.
A string of islands, between Florida and Venezuela, encloses the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. The tightly clustered group at the southern end of this chain provides an easy sequence of stepping stones to the three largest islands – Puerto Rico, Hispaniola and Cuba.
From the second millennium BC humans make their way along this chain from south America. The first to do so are a group of hunter-gatherers known to archaeologists as the Ciboney.
In the early centuries of the Christian era more sophisticated tribes of neolithic farmers, the Arawak, move gradually north through the islands pushing the Ciboney ahead of them. From about1000 a third group, the Caribs, begin to exert the same pressure on the Arawak.
The Caribs, more primitive and ferocious than the Arawak, expand their territory by ruthless warfare. When they defeat their Arawak neighbours, it is their custom to marry the women and eat the men. The Arawak know these people ascanibas, their own version of the word Caribs.
The Spaniards, the next group to arrive in the islands, are alarmed and fascinated by the man-eating canibas. News of them spreads rapidly in Europe, resulting in a new word – cannibal.
When Columbus reaches the Bahamas and the Greater Antilles, in 1492, these northern islands are occupied by the Arawak with only a few pockets of Ciponey surviving. The smaller islands of the Lesser Antilles, in the south, are by now largely Carib.
There are at least 28 island nations and more than 7,000 individual islands in the Caribbean, which includes islands off the coasts of South and Central America as well as those in the Leeward and Windward Islands and the major islands of Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola (home to Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico
West Indies Of course
This is what almost any non-islander thinks the Caribbean is all about: Sun, sea and sand! The majority of foreigners come here to experience the natural beauty of the land and trees, and to inhale the pure, clean air while soaking in the sun. Eco-tourism is a big hit, as well. People visit sanctuaries like the Asa Wright Nature Centre in Trinidad, Little Tobago also known as Bird of Paradise Island, The Reef Resort in the Cayman Islands and Balenbouche Estate (pictured above) in St. Lucia for the viewing of rare animals in there natural habitat. Some tourists return year after year for all the other reasons mentioned in this list and many more.