Where is the Caribbean?
Where is the Caribbean?

The Caribbean is of the American regions bordered by the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean. It is well known for its economic diversities and growth opportunities. It boasts of cultural vibrancy and stunning scenery. As one of the world’s top tourist destinations, the Caribbean is popular for its sustainable use of ocean resources, tagged “blue economy,” which offers great economic growth potential, as well as the development of the region’s agricultural services, creative sectors, and logistics.

The Caribbean region can be found on the south-east of the Gulf of Mexico and the North American mainland, east of Central America, and north and south of America. Occupying major part of Caribbean Plate, the region accommodates over 700 islands, islets, reefs, and cays. These islands form the island arcs that describe the eastern and northern edges of the Caribbean Sea. The Caribbean Sea is a body of water adjoining the Atlantic Ocean, located in the southeast of the Gulf of Mexico.

The sea covers an area of approximately 2,754,000 km2 (1,063,000 square miles). The Cayman Trench between Cuba and Jamaica has a depth of 7500m below the surface, although the average depth is 2200m.The Wider Caribbean completes the area of The Caribbean Sea, including its numerous islands.

Considering its physical-chemical conditions, The Caribbean Sea has an expansive area of coral reef and seagrass pasture; according to Spalding et al. 2001. 14% of the world's coral reefs are derived here.

The average temperature is 27°C in the tropical waters of the Caribbean Sea and it varies no more than 3°C. The Salinity is at its highest from January to May and quite low from June to December. Due to discharges from the Orinoco and Amazon River watersheds, Salinity drops in the southeastern end of the Caribbean Sea towards fall in the northern hemisphere.

Geography and geology

Map showing the location of the Caribbean countries (colored) in the Caribbean Sea. Photo: WorldAtlas
Map showing the location of the Caribbean countries (colored) in the Caribbean Sea. Photo: WorldAtlas

The geography and climate in the Caribbean region varies: Some islands in the region have relatively flat terrain of non-volcanic origin. These islands include Aruba (possessing only minor volcanic features), Curaçao, Barbados, Bonaire, the Cayman Islands, Saint Croix, the Bahamas, and Antigua. Others possess rugged towering mountain-ranges like the islands of Saint Martin, Cuba, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Dominica, Montserrat, Saba, Sint Eustatius, Saint Kitts, Saint Lucia, Saint Thomas, Saint John, Tortola, Grenada, Saint Vincent, Guadeloupe, Martinique and Trinidad and Tobago.

Definitions of the terms Greater Antilles and Lesser Antilles often vary. The Virgin Islands as part of the Puerto Rican bank are sometimes included with the Greater Antilles. The term Lesser Antilles is often used to define an island arc that includes Grenada but excludes Trinidad and Tobago and the Leeward Antilles.

The waters of the Caribbean Sea host large, migratory schools of fish, turtles, and coral reef formations. The Puerto Rico Trench, located on the fringe of the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea just to the north of the island of Puerto Rico, is the deepest point in all of the Atlantic Ocean.

The region sits in the line of several major shipping routes with the Panama Canal connecting the western Caribbean Sea with the Pacific Ocean.

The Island Groups Of The Caribbean

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

The Caribbean islands consists of three distinct groups of islands. The first group is the Greater Antilles of the northern Caribbean, in which the largest islands are found, including Cuba, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, and Hispaniola, which is the island shared by the countries of the Dominican Republic and Haiti. The second island grouping is the Lesser Antilles, located in the southeastern part of the Caribbean. This group of islands includes the northern Leeward Islands and the southern Windward Islands. The third group of islands is the Lucayan Archipelago, where the independent country of the Bahamas and the British dependency of the Turks and Caicos Islands are located. Actually, the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos islands are technically in the Atlantic Ocean rather than the Caribbean Sea, though they are socially and politically linked to the Caribbean, and so are considered part of the Caribbean region.

The population of the Caribbean is nearly 44 million people. The most populous countries of the region include Haiti, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic, all of which have populations of 10 million or more. The least populous are the French Dependency of St. Bart’s and the British dependency of Montserrat, which both have populations of less than 10 thousand people.

The Caribbean’s Geographical Connection To North America

The islands of the Caribbean are generally considered to be part of North America. Indeed, the vast majority of Caribbean islands lie on the North American continental shelf. There are, however, some exceptions. The islands of Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, and Trinidad and Tobago lie on the continental shelf of South America. Interestingly, though, some islands that are under the sovereignty of South American countries lie on North America’s continental shelf. These include Venezuela’s Isla Aves and Columbia’s San Andreas and Providencia. In some cases, countries bordering the Caribbean Sea, such as those of Central America and the northern countries of South America that have Caribbean coastlines, are considered part of the community of Caribbean countries, though they are geographically separate from the Caribbean.

The Caribbean’s North American Political And Economic Connections

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

Not only is the Caribbean considered to be part of North America in terms of geography, but it is also part of North America from political and economic standpoints. For instance, some territory in the Caribbean, including Puerto Rico and some of the Virgin Islands, is under the sovereignty of the United States, which is an undisputable part of North America. In addition, the U.S. is one of the principle trading partners of the Caribbean countries for both imports and exports. The one exception to this trend is Cuba, which does not engage in regular commerce with the U.S. for political reasons.

The name Caribbean

The Caribbean originated from the Caribs in island Carib also known as Kalinago, a dominant ethnic group that can be found in the Lesser Antilles and parts adjoining South America during the Conquest by the Spanish people.

Key Notes:

The term "Caribbean" has a versatile application, basically geographical and political. The Caribbean can also be linked with slavery considering its history and culture, European colonization, and plantation practices. The United Nations geoscheme for the Americas recognized the Caribbean as a distinguished region within The Americas. The Caribbean region consists of a chain of islands surrounding the Caribbean Sea. Bordered by the Gulf of Mexico on the north, the Straits of Florida, and the Northern Atlantic Ocean, towards the east and northeast. South America lies on its southern coastline.

The Caribbean may be centered on socio-economic groupings found in the region. Examples of such are the Republic of Suriname in South America and Belize in Central America the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) which contains the Co-operative the Republic of Guyana. Bermuda and the Turks and Caicos Islands, in the Atlantic Ocean, are associate members of the Caribbean Community—as is the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, which is a full member of the Caribbean Community.

Association of Caribbean States (ACS) as Alternative to the Caribbean, The community consists of almost every nation in the surrounding regions that lie on The Caribbean, including El Salvador, on the Pacific Ocean. The ACS gave a census of 227 million people representing its member states.


The oldest evidence of humans in the Caribbean is in southern Trinidad at Banwari Trace, where remains have been found from seven thousand years ago. These pre-ceramic sites, which belong to the Archaic (pre-ceramic) age, have been termed Ortoiroid. The earliest archaeological evidence of human settlement in Hispaniola dates to about 3600 BC, but the reliability of these finds is questioned. Consistent dates of 3100 BC appear in Cuba. The earliest dates in the Lesser Antilles are from 2000 BC in Antigua. A lack of pre-ceramic sites in the Windward Islands and differences in technology suggest that these Archaic settlers may have Central American origins. Whether an Ortoiroid colonization of the islands took place is uncertain, but there is little evidence of one.

Between 400 BC and 200 BC the first ceramic-using agriculturalists, the Saladoid culture, entered Trinidad from South America. They expanded up the Orinoco River to Trinidad and then spread rapidly up the islands of the Caribbean. Some time after 250 AD another group, the Barancoid, entered Trinidad. The Barancoid society collapsed along the Orinoco around 650 AD and another group, the Arauquinoid, expanded into these areas and up the Caribbean chain. Around 1300 AD a new group, the Mayoid, entered Trinidad and remained the dominant culture until Spanish settlement.

At the time of the European discovery of most of the islands of the Caribbean, three major Amerindian indigenous peoples lived on the islands: the Taíno in the Greater Antilles, the Bahamas and the Leeward Islands, the Island Caribs in the Windward Islands, and the Guanahatabey in western Cuba. The Taínos are subdivided into Classic Taínos, who occupied Hispaniola and Puerto Rico, Western Taínos, who occupied Cuba, Jamaica, and the Bahamian archipelago, and the Eastern Taínos, who occupied the Leeward Islands. Trinidad was inhabited by both Carib speaking and Arawak-speaking groups.

Soon after Christopher Columbus came to the Caribbean, both Portuguese and Spanish explorers began claiming territories in Central and South America. These early colonies brought gold to Europe; most specifically England, the Netherlands, and France. These nations hoped to establish profitable colonies in the Caribbean. Colonial rivalries made the Caribbean a cockpit for European wars for centuries.

The Caribbean was known for pirates, especially between 1640 and 1680. The term "buccaneer" is often used to describe a pirate operating in this region. The Caribbean region was war-torn throughout much of its colonial history, but the wars were often based in Europe, with only minor battles fought in the Caribbean. Some wars, however, were born of political turmoil in the Caribbean itself.

Haiti was the first Caribbean nation to gain independence from European powers (see Haitian Revolution). Some Caribbean nations gained independence from European powers in the 19th century. Some smaller states are still dependencies of European powers today. Cuba remained a Spanish colony until the Spanish–American War. Between 1958 and 1962, most of the British-controlled Caribbean became the West Indies Federation before they separated into many separate nations.

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