The Caribbean Sea is part of the Atlantic Ocean and it lies in the tropics of the Western hemisphere. On the west and southwest, the Caribbean Sea is bounded by Mexico and Central America; the Greater Antilles to the north and the Lesser Antilles to the east.
The entire area of the Caribbean Sea, the many islands that comprise the West Indies and the adjacent coasts, are collectively known as the Caribbean. The Caribbean Sea is one of the largest salt water seas with an area of about 1,063,000 square miles. The sea's deepest point is the famous Cayman Trough, which is located between the Cayman Islands and Jamaica. This trough is an astounding 25,220 feet below sea level. The Caribbean coastline is dotted with many gulfs and bays, including the Gulf of Venezuela and the Gulf of Honduras.
The name "Caribbean" is derived from the Caribs, one of the dominant Native American Indian tribes in the region at the time of European contact and invasion that occurred during the late 15th century. Christopher Columbus first sailed into Caribbean waters on a quest to find a sea route to Asia, thereby discovering the West Indies, or "the new world," in 1492. Columbus promptly assigned the islands the Spanish term of "Antilles." Even today, the "Sea of the Antilles" is a common alternative name for the Caribbean Sea in various European languages. During the first century of development after the Europeans conquered the region, the Spanish dominance was undisputed. Over the years, the massive amount of commerce in the region attracted pirates.
Today the pirates are gone and the area is home to 22 island territories and borders 12 continental countries. Due to the abundance of sunshine, year-round tropical temperatures moderated by the almost constant trade winds, the West Indies have become a major tourist attraction for global visitors.