What islands are in the Caribbean? And which island is best for planning your perfect vacation?
There are at least 700 islands, reefs and cays in the Caribbean, and every one of them promises adventure for travelers. Some offer all the comforts of home, while others are harder to reach and provide rewards for explorers.
To help you understand where everything is to plan your vacation, let’s take a look at the geography of the Caribbean.
Lesser Antilles and Leeward Islands
When you start researching the Caribbean, you’ll encounter two terms: “Lesser Antilles” and “Leeward Islands.” These are major island chains in the region, and home to some of the most famous vacation destinations in the world.
But what exactly are they?
The Leeward Islands face the open Atlantic Ocean to the east, in the outer, southeast corner of the Caribbean.
The islands get their name from the time when sailing ships were the only form of transportation across the Atlantic Ocean between Europe and its Caribbean colonies. The Leeward Islands include Anguilla, St. Martin, Guadeloupe and other islands.
The Leeward Islands’ counterparts are the Windward Islands to their southeast, including St. Lucia, Barbados and Trinidad.
In terms of where each island chain gets its name, in sailing terminology, “windward” means towards the source of the wind, while “leeward” is the opposite direction.
In the Caribbean, the prevailing winds, known as the trade winds, blow out of the southeast. Therefore, an island to the northwest, such as Puerto Rico, would typically be leeward of an island to the southeast, such as Antigua. As well, Antigua would typically be windward of Puerto Rico, but leeward of Guadeloupe and Martinique.
While most people can easily name individual islands and nations that make up the Greater Antilles — Jamaica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba — the Lesser Antilles can be harder to identify.
The Lesser Antilles, a chain of volcanic islands stretching along the southeastern edge of the Caribbean, also includes the Leeward and Windward Islands. So, the Lesser Antilles includes popular vacation destinations such as the Barbados, Antigua and the US Virgin Islands.
What About Turks and Caicos?
The islands of the Turks and Caicos aren’t technically located in the Caribbean at all. Instead, we’re in the Atlantic Ocean, and are part of the Bahama Archipelago, to the north of Cuba and to the east of Florida.
The Turks and Caicos shares many characteristics with the Bahamas, the country and island chain to the northwest of us. We share blue seas, white sand beaches, and a similar culture.
However, it’s Providenciales here in Turks and Caicos that is regularly recognized as one of the top travel destinations in the world. And it’s Grace Bay that is also regularly voted the world’s best beach.
All together, the islands of the the Greater Antilles, the Lesser Antilles and the Bahamas, including Turks and Caicos, make up the West Indies.
Popular Caribbean Island Destinations
The Caribbean and the West Indies are filled with tropical vacation destinations to suit every wallet and every taste. Generally speaking, your travel budget and accessibility — how long it will take you to reach your destination — are two of the biggest considerations when planning a Caribbean trip.
With those considerations in mind, here are several Caribbean destinations popular with people all over the world.
One of the Leeward Islands in the southeastern Caribbean, St. Martin is one island shared by two countries, France and the Netherlands. St. Martin is famous for its airport adjacent the beach, where jumbo jets fly low right over holidaymakers.
St. Martin is a beloved airport destination because of its direct flights from Europe and the United States, and its mix of French, Dutch and Caribbean culture. Unfortunately, the 2017 hurricane season left both the island and the airport significantly damaged.
While many travelers visit its neighbor, the Dominican Republic, Haiti is a mostly overlooked Caribbean destination. Although Haiti is quite poor, it has developed into a cruise ship destination with all-inclusive resorts. The history and culture of the country offers many opportunities for more adventurous tourists.
While Haiti is quite beautiful, because of its location it also tends to experience more than its fair share of hurricanes from September to November. Travel between the airport and resorts can be challenging, so visitors should exercise caution.
This isolated island hidden away in a remote corner of the Caribbean is a romantic paradise for lovers. Forested mountains tower above pristine beaches, and ultra-exclusive resorts hide among the trees.
St. Lucia is one of the more spectacular destinations in the Caribbean, but, even with direct flights from the United States it can be hard to reach — plan on booking an entire day just on travel. The tree-top resorts are also generally aimed at luxury travelers with big budgets.
Turks and Caicos.. The Perfect Caribbean Destination?
Turks and Caicos, still largely undiscovered by mass tourism, is not only off the beaten track, but is also easy to reach from the mainland. It’s about an hour by air from Fort Lauderdale to Providenciales (PLS), with direct flights to Turks and Caicos from other major airports including Atlanta, Boston and New York.
And, what’s more, the beautiful award-winning beaches here on Providenciales have to be seen to be believed.
The average temperature ranges between 85 and 90 degrees (29-32 degrees Celsius) from June to October, and in an average year the Turks and Caicos has 350 days of sunshine.
The Sands at Grace Bay is located directly on beautiful Grace Bay, right on the beach. With our pool and spacious suites, we’re a family favorite. We’re just a short 15 minute drive from the airport, so you’ll spend more of your time enjoying your vacation.
Every 4th Night Free
Between now and Dec 19, 2018, stay 3 nights at the Sands Resort and get the 4th night free. Learn more.