Anyone who thinks of the Caribbean will undoubtedly first think of pirates, white sandy beaches and rum, but the islands have a long, interesting history and a rich culture that some feel is unparalleled. The region is named for the Carib people who were present in the Lesser Antilles when Christopher Columbus came across the archipelago in 1492. Columbus actually thought he had reached the west of India, which is where the islands get their other name – the West Indies. The islands are made up of the Greater Antilles and Lesser Antilles island groups. The Greater Antilles are Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, The Cayman Islands and Puerto Rico all of which have a reputation the world over for their laid back attitude and oft times hedonistic approach to eating, drinking and smoking – Havana in Cuba and Kingston in Jamaica are particularly famous for the latter.
The Caribbean people are one of the most interesting things about the region – made up of a mix of different ethnic groups and nationalities. The majority of the Caribbean’s population is made up of Afro-Caribbean, but there are many mixed race and among the Afro-Caribbean there is great diversity owing to the ruling states of the time. The French, English, Spanish, Italian and Dutch languages are all represented in the Caribbean and the accents, mannerisms and attitudes of the islands’ people have been affected by these influences.
The climate and geography of the Caribbean varies from island to island – some are relatively flat, with lush foliage, and others feature volcanic features, gargantuan mountain ranges and scrub land. Islands such as Barbados, The Bahamas, Antigua and The Cayman Islands fall into the former category and this has made them especially popular with sun seeking tourists and the fantastic tropical climate and warm trade winds add to their allure. The West Indies enjoy year-round sunshine with dry and wet seasons and the occasional storm.
One of the most famous features of the Caribbean is undoubtedly its crystal clear, dazzlingly greenish-blue waters. These seas are home to schools of migratory, brightly-colored fish, giant sea turtles and kaleidoscopic coral reef formations making scuba diving a must for all visitors to the archipelago. The beautiful coasts and waters make the region fantastic for cruises as does the number of different destinations that can be reached quickly and easily by cruise liner. Other draws include the stunning tropical “cloud forests” which flourish on a number of the islands and the vast number of endangered species found here.