The Lesser Antilles, also known as the Caribbees, are part of the Antilles, which together with the Bahamas and Greater Antilles form the West Indies. The islands are a long partly volcanic island arc, most of which wrap around the eastern end of the Caribbean Sea on the western boundary with the Atlantic Ocean, and some of which lie on the southern fringe of the sea just north of South America. The Lesser Antilles more or less coincide with the outer edge of the Caribbean Plate, and many of the islands were formed by subduction, as one or more other plates slipped under the Caribbean Plate.
The two main groups of the Lesser Antilles are the Windward Islands
in the south and the Leeward Islands
in the north. The Windward Islands are called such because they were more windward to sailing ships arriving in the New World than the Leeward Islands, given that the prevailing trade winds blow northeast to southwest. The trans-Atlantic currents and winds that provided the fastest route across the ocean brought these ships to the rough dividing line between the Windward and Leeward Islands. Another group of the Lesser Antilles, is the Leeward Antilles
which are found just north of Venezuela
. The Netherlands Antilles
are divided into two groups, one in the southwest (Leeward Antilles) off the coast of Venezuela
and one in northeast (Leeward Islands), although it uses different naming conventions locally, with the southwest grouping being known as the Leeward Islands and northeast group being known as the Windward Islands.
The main Lesser Antilles are (from north to south to west):
Leeward Antilles – islands north of the Venezuelan coast (from west to east):
- Rogonzinski, Jan. A Brief History of the Caribbean. New York: Facts on File, 1992.