The Caribbean

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What is the Caribbean?

When you think of the caribbean you automatically think of sun, sea and sand and while that is true, there is much more to the caribbean. The Caribbean stretches down in a long, curvaceous 2000 mile chain from The Bahamas in the north to Guyana in the South, and from Barbados in the east to Belize in the west. Comprising of more than 700 islands, tiny islets, small, medium and large volcanic and coral islands and countries all make up this totally tropical paradise.

Its diversity is a large part of the appeal – no two destinations are the same and every location is unique in its own way. It’s a region you can visit over and over again and always discover something new.

The Caribbean is steeped in history, rich in culture and glorious in its biodiversity.  People soon discover the reason why they the Caribbean is often called paradise. Anything you want to do, you can in the caribbean, from hiking to wildlife spotting and bird watching, to water activities, diving, golf or triathalon, you want it, the Caribbean has it in abundance.

History of the Caribbean

The Caribbean was previously most commonly known as the West Indies. When Christopher Columbus set out to reach Asia (the Indies) by sailing west, he thought that he’d found the East Indies when he stumbled upon some islands. These islands were called the ‘Indies’ and Columbus called their inhabitants ‘Indians’. When his mistake was discovered, the Indies were renamed the West Indies to differentiate them from the real East Indies.

What is the difference between the ‘West Indies’ and ‘The Caribbean’?

The West Indies includes the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos. The Caribbean does not. Both regions, however, include a series of islands defined by the Caribbean Sea and, for that reason, are often referred to interchangeably. Culturally, the two regions have a lot in common as well.

Island Groupings

The West Indies islands are divided into three different island groups: the Bahamas, the Greater Antilles and the Lesser Antilles.

The Greater Antilles include;

  • The Caribbean Island GroupsCuba,
  • Jamaica,
  • the island of Hispaniola (composed of Haiti on the west side and the Dominican Republic on the east side)
  • Puerto Rico.

The Lesser Antilles consists of all the other islands in the Caribbean that are not a part of the Bahamas, the Greater Antilles or an island belonging to a continental nation. The Lesser Antilles are further divided into the Windward and Leeward Islands.

Leeward IslandsThe Leeward Islands consist of

  • The Virgin Islands,
  • Anguilla,
  • Antigua and Barbuda,
  • Dominica
  • Guadeloupe
  • Monserrat
  • Saba (Netherlands Antilles)
  • Barthélemy,
  • Eustatius (Netherlands Antilles),
  • Kitts and Nevis,
  • Martin

Windward IslandsThe Windward Islands ( the Southern portion of the Lesser Antilles) consist of;

  • Barbados
  • Grenada
  • Martinique,
  • Lucia,
  • Vincent and the Grenadines,
  • Trinidad and Tobago.

Indigenous Tribes

Before the arrival of the Europeans in the 15th century, there were many indigenous tribes who inhabited these countries. It is therefore a valid question to ask how can it be claimed Christopher Columbus “discovered” the caribbean when there had been people living on these lands for thousands of years beforehand? Some of the indigenous tribes include.

  • Arawak
  • Ciboney
  • Galibi
  • Garifuna
  • Igneri
  • Kalinago
  • Lucayan
  • Taino

Culture of the Caribbean

A history built on courage and fortitude has created a Caribbean community of peoples who welcome and respect visitors from all over the world.  Each of the Caribbean islands has a unique and distinct cultural identity that was molded by early European colonialists, the African slave trade, as well as indigenous Indian tribes. Its rich culture, set against a backdrop of crystal clear waters and never ending sunshine is what gives the Caribbean its lasting influence on travelers who visit the islands.

Food is a very important aspect of many Caribbean traditions, where locally sourced spices and ingredients are used to season the food. Whether that is meat, seafood or staple food such as rice and beans, there is a wide variety of food even for the most pickiest of eaters.

Caribbean music genres are diverse. Some of the music to originate in the Caribbean include bouyon, cadence-lypso, calypso, compas, jing ping, punta, reggae, reggaeton, soca, and zouk, and lots lots more. Caribbean dance and music complement each other well. This is the case when new dance styles emerge. In fact, dance styles are frequently named after the music that inspired them.
Music can be heard wherever people congregate in the Caribbean. Distinctive musical styles can be found on each island, but each musical style is designed for dancing.

The Caribbean has some of the most unique festivals and events in the world as well and if you want to get a real taste of the Caribbean, having fun while learning about the native country attending one of these festivals is a must! Some of these festivals include;

  • Tumba Festival in Curaçao (Mid-January)
  • Carnival–Port of Spain, Trinidad and Santiago, Dominican Republic (Late February)
  • St. Patrick’s Day in Montserrat (Mid-March)
  • St. Lucia Jazz Festival in St. Lucia (Early May)
  • Crop Over Festival in Barbados (July)
  • Aruba Hi Winds in Aruba (July)
  • Reggae Sumfest in Montego Bay, Jamaica (Mid-July)
  • Festival de Merengue in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (Late July)
  • Fiesta de Santiago de Apóstol in Loiza Aldea, Puerto Rico (Late July)
  • Junkanoo in the Bahamas (Late December)

Caribbean Quick Facts

  • Caribbean Population: 36,314,000 (2010 est.)
  • Ethnic groups: Afro-Caribbean, Indo-Caribbean, Native Americans (Arawak, Caribs, Tainos), European, Asian Demonym West Indian and Caribbean
  • Major Languages: Spanish, English, Dutch, Haitian Creole and Papiamento
  • Biodiversity: The Caribbean is home to 6,550 native plants, 41 native mammals, 163 native birds, 469 native reptiles, 170 native amphibians and 65 native freshwater fish.
  • Music of the Caribbean: Some of the more popular styles of music are reggae, calypso, reggaeton, salsa, (East Indian inspired) chutney & pan music. Pan music, also known as steel pan music is made from steel tins or drums, that are fashioned to carry tunes and make lovely sounds.
  • About 2% of the Caribbean Islands are actually inhabited.

So that’s is the Caribbean in a very small snapshot, but we wouldnt do the Caribbean justice if we left it like that. We have taken a deeper look at this truly heavenly location, looking at each of the Caribbean islands (as well the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos as they share a similar culture) in more detail, finding out about their culture, history and of course food!!

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