What are Caribbean countries?
What are Caribbean countries?

The Caribbean is a region of the Americas that comprises the Caribbean Sea, its surrounding coasts, and its islands (some of which lie within the Caribbean Sea and some of which lie on the edge of the Caribbean Sea where it borders the North Atlantic Ocean). The region lies southeast of the Gulf of Mexico and of the North American mainland, east of Central America, and north of South America.

The region, situated largely on the Caribbean Plate, has more than 700 islands, islets, reefs and cays (see the list of Caribbean islands). Three island arcs delineate the eastern and northern edges of the Caribbean Sea: The Greater Antilles to the north, and the Lesser Antilles and Leeward Antilles to the south and east. Together with the nearby Lucayan Archipelago, these island arcs make up the West Indies. The Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands are sometimes considered to be a part of the Caribbean, even though they are neither within the Caribbean Sea nor on its border. However, the Bahamas is a full member state of the Caribbean Community and the Turks and Caicos Islands are an associate member. Belize, Guyana, and Suriname are also considered part of the Caribbean despite being mainland countries and they are full member states of the Caribbean Community and the Association of Caribbean States. Several regions of mainland South and Central America are also often seen as part of the Caribbean because of their political and cultural ties with the region. These include: Belize, the Caribbean region of Colombia, the Venezuelan Caribbean, Quintana Roo in Mexico (consisting of Cozumel and the Caribbean coast of the Yucatán Peninsula), and The Guianas (Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, Guayana Region in Venezuela, and Amapá in Brazil).

Definition

Photo: Belliley Travel
Photo: Belliley Travel

The word "Caribbean" has multiple uses. Its principal ones are geographical and political. The Caribbean can also be expanded to include territories with strong cultural and historical connections to Africa, slavery, European colonisation and the plantation system.

The United Nations geoscheme for the Americas presents the Caribbean as a distinct region within the Americas.

Physiographically, the Caribbean region is mainly a chain of islands surrounding the Caribbean Sea. To the north, the region is bordered by the Gulf of Mexico, the Straits of Florida and the Northern Atlantic Ocean, which lies to the east and northeast. To the south lies the coastline of the continent of South America.

Politically, the "Caribbean" may be centred by considering narrower and wider socio-economic groupings:

At its core is the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), whose full members include the Commonwealth of the Bahamas in the Atlantic, the Co-operative Republic of Guyana and the Republic of Suriname in South America, and Belize in Central America; its associate members include Bermuda and the Turks and Caicos Islands in the Atlantic Ocean.

Most expansive is the Association of Caribbean States (ACS), which includes almost every nation in the region surrounding the Caribbean and also El Salvador on the Pacific Ocean. According to the ACS, the total population of its member states is 227 million people.

What are the Caribbean Countries

Photo: Travel Weekly
Photo: Travel Weekly

The Caribbean countries are all islands, considering the fact that they are not part of any mainland. If you include every single country that is part of the Caribbean, you would discover that there are thirteen Caribbean countries in total. This number only includes independent territories classified as individual countries. There are over seven thousand different islands in the Caribbean, which is a calculation that takes into account all the places not considered countries on their own.

To make that massive number of islands sound far less overwhelming, you can think of the Caribbean in terms of its three distinct regions. The Greater Antilles, the Lucayan Archipelago, and the Lesser Antilles are a way of breaking down the insanely large number of islands into a more consumable concept.

1. Anguilla

A good place to start, pretty much everything you want from a paradise island! Set in the east of the Caribbean sea, this island is pretty small and has a few even smaller islets around it.

It’s warm and welcoming and is great for families and couples. It has a mix of high-end luxury and more casual affordable accommodation.

2. Antigua and Barbuda

Made up of two main islands, as its name would suggest, plus a handful of smaller islands too. These islands are green, known for their rainforests and reef-lined beaches – great for diving!

3. Aruba

This tiny little Caribbean island is actually Dutch (it’s an independent country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands), it was formally part of the Netherlands Antilles, but is now independently viewed as a country. It is a favourite with American tourists and honeymooners because of its idyllic setting.

Off the coast of Venezuela – this island is known as having “blonde” coloured sand rather than the white which many of the islands are known for.

4. The Bahamas

Possibly one of the most well-known Caribbean islands among Brits, this “paradise island” is actually an archipelago of islands made from coral. It was on these islands that Christopher Columbus first landed in 1492 when he was exploring – and in that case the islands haven’t changed! Great for tourists looking to both explore and experience a relaxing paradise in on trip.

5. Barbados

Another of the better-known Caribbean islands, Barbados has it all; beaches and resorts for all budgets. Diving and water sports, along with the kind of night-life that can only be experienced in the Caribbean – fun yet chilled, and often fuelled by rum!

6. British Virgin Islands

As the name suggests, these islands (four main islands plus many other smaller islands) are part of British overseas territory ,but we can assure you the beaches are nothing like those in the UK!

These islands are especially loved by sailors – due to the steady trade winds and hundreds of little islands to hop between.

7. Cayman Islands

Another British territory, consisting of three islands – the largest is Grand Cayman and loved for its beaches and incredible diving. The second largest is Brac and is known for great deep sea fishing, while Little Cayman, the smallest, is home to a very diverse mix of wildlife. However, there really is nothing British about these islands, warm waters lap white sandy beaches, where manta rays, whales and dolphins are frequently seen.

8. Cuba

Some people don’t realise that Cuba is a Caribbean island – it is possibly thought of more for its culture and as being South American, with its vibrant Hispanic/Latino capital, Havana, top on the list for visitors.

But it has the paradise beaches you expect of the Caribbean too – so it’s a really great island to visit for those who like a mix of both!

9. Dominica

Not to be confused with the Dominican Republic, this island is mountainous (well volcanic actually) and has many geothermal spas. There are plenty of places where visitors can relax in hot spas – and even visit the bubbling lake. The island is also covered by rainforest and edged by sandy beaches – this is the kind of place that we imagine you might find Robinson Crusoe living in a tropical tree house!

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

10. Dominican Republic

A Caribbean nation, the Dominican Republic shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti. It is known for its pristine beaches and top-class, all-inclusive resorts, which is why UK holiday makers love it so much.

The island is also known for its quality golf courses – drawing golfers from all over Europe.

11. Grenada

Known as the spice isle – Grenada consists of one main island and six smaller ones. This island is rich and fertile, growing plentiful fruits and spices – you can actually smell the nutmeg when you arrive.

It is a pretty island that is reminiscent of parts of Italy, with Georgian buildings overlooking the picturesque harbour.

12. Guadeloupe

This French territory sits in the south Caribbean, and from above its two main islands look like a butterfly. So much so it is known as le papillon (butterfly in French)!

This island retains its French identity quite strongly – locals say the following of the five islands, “decidedly French yet undeniably Caribbean”.

Another example of a varied landscape – these islands change from tropical rainforests into white sandy beaches in a blink of an eye.

13. Haiti

Sharing the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, Haiti has the eastern half, with the Dominican Republic to the West.

Many will have only have heard of this Caribbean country since the earthquake in 2010, from which it is still recovering in many ways. Luckily for holidaymakers, many of the islands striking 19th Century buildings survived.

Travel restrictions imposed at the time are now lifted, and we wonder if this beautiful little Caribbean island will rise again from the rubble. We certainly think it deserves to – with its wonderfully rich culture and stunning beaches!

14. Jamaica

With its capital Kingston home to music legend Bob Marley, the reggae lifestyle is perhaps what first springs to mind for many holidaymakers, but this island has so much more about it than just that.

It has incredible beaches and all inclusive hotel resorts, but there is even more to the island that these too – hidden away in the rainforests are beautiful waterfalls and secluded lakes for swimming – Jamaica is a beautiful place, that can sometimes get a bad rap.

15. Martinique

Another French territory, this rugged island has an interesting blend of French and West Indian culture. Known as the isle of flowers because of its rich, lush, tropical vegetation, bright in colours. However, they are not the only things which are colourful – its coastlines are dotted with brightly coloured houses too, which make this island very pretty indeed.

This island is also great for active, outdoorsy visitors, as there is so much to do here – it’s a walkers paradise.

16. Montserrat

Another one of the British Territories, this volcanic island is different from the others – in the north it has black sandy beaches! Not what you’d expect from a Caribbean island huh?

Coral reefs and rocky caves also line the north of the island, making it picturesque above the water and rich in marine life below.

17. Netherlands Antilles

Formally a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Dutch influences can clearly be seen – especially in the architecture on the island of Curaçao.

There is some debate as to whether this group of island consists of three islands – or five, including Aruba and St Marten, which for this article we have covered separately.

One thing is for sure – all of the islands have the kind of beaches which make the Caribbean famous, including Curaçao, which has a staggering 38 miles of them, with 38 secluded coves!

18. Puerto Rico

Although a Caribbean island, Puerto Rico is also an unincorporated territory of the United States of America. If the endless beaches on this island could talk ,they would no doubt tell you stories of pirates and smugglers – the most famous was El Pirata Cofresí, who was born into a wealthy Puerto Rican family in the 18th Century, but turned from a fisherman to a pirate as it was more lucrative!

With pirates long gone, visitors to the island will now experience a beautiful medley of Spanish and American influences, and the kind of tropical beaches which are perfect for both sun worshipers and surfers.

19. Saint Barthelemy

Known more commonly as St Barts, this French-speaking island is high-end and packed full of luxury resorts and designer shops – but of course, like all of the islands, it comes with idyllic beaches!

Just eight square miles in size, asides from the designer yachts, luxury hotels and celebs, you will meet charming locals (descendant of the original French settlers) and a large population of iguanas!

20. Saint Kitts & Nevis

A dual island nation, these islands sit in between the Atlantic and Caribbean Sea. Once the land of sugar plantations they are now geared towards tourism. Offering picture-perfect inns and boutique hotels, set to a backdrop of stunning beaches and mountains that reach the clouds!

21. Saint Lucia

Another of the more well-known Caribbean islands – its tourist board touts this as the place to come for romance, rejuvenation and adventure.

It is yet another example of an outstanding island with beaches galore, palm-lined with stunning views of mountains, are its specialty – along with world-class accommodation and spas!

22. St Martin

This island is an interesting one, like Hispaniola it actually comprises of two separate countries. Split in half there is the northern French side (also called Saint Martin) and the southern Dutch side (called Sint Maarten).

Both sides have a busy beach culture – the island is a popular stop off of many Caribbean cruises because of the stunning beaches!

It also has a lively night-life and many designer shops, well-know among Brits for selling duty free alcohol and fine jewellery.

23. Saint Vincent

Formally called Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, this group of islands sit in the south of the Caribbean Sea. Its main island, St. Vincent, is perhaps best known for its luxury yacht-filled harbour, but what’s best about these islands is the fact that they are relatively unknown by tourists.

Visited mainly by residents of other Caribbean islands, a trip to St. Vincents will give you an experience of true island life. These peaceful, secluded islands are definitely great for honeymooners – with, yes you guessed it… beautiful beaches!

24. Trinidad & Tobago

Yet another dual nation island, these two nations both have very strong Creole influences, especially the cuisine – which has resulted from the Spanish and Portuguese settlers. Yet, this is where their similarities end.

Trinidad has rich mangroves and waterfalls, while Tobago is, perhaps, exactly how you’d picture a Caribbean island to be – packed with white sandy beaches.

What is most interesting about these two nations, is the fact that they remain pretty untouched by the tourism industry, so they are perfect for independent travellers who like to do things themselves.

25. Turks & Caicos Islands

Another British territory , yet unheard of by many, the forty-or-so coral islands are all yet further examples of paradise.

Favoured by celebrities this island has luxury hotels, bars and restaurants, perfect for those looking for a peaceful yet classy retreat. For tourists, the islands have legendary diving and world-class hospitality – one to check out for sure.

26. US Virgin Islands

Territory of the US – as the name suggested, these islands are picturesque and perhaps the perfect example of how we all think of Caribbean islands.

Life is relaxed and lived on the beach – with rum and West-Indian food in abundance.

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