The West Indies, more commonly referred to as the Caribbean, consists of three major island groups: the Bahamas, the Greater Antilles and the Lesser Antilles. The Greater Antilles include some of the most well-known individual islands, including Cuba and Puerto Rico.Continue Reading
The Greater Antilles also include Jamaica and Hispaniola, the two-nation island of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The Lesser Antilles are home to vastly diverse islands, including the Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, Montserrat, Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Barbados, and Grenada.
Further to the southwest, the West Indies also consist of those islands located off the coast of Venezuela on the South American Shelf, including Aruba, Curaçao, Bonaire, Trinidad and Tobago. The Bahamas themselves contain over 3,000 individual islands and reefs.
Historically, the islands of the West Indies were first named by Columbus, the Genoan explorer who initially believed he had discovered a sea route to Asia. In the following centuries, the islands were typically listed in accordance with their colonial affiliation, most prominently with England, France, Spain, Holland, Denmark or, later on, the United States. For example, Guadeloupe and Martinique were long considered part of the French West Indies. Since the vast majority of these former European colonies have become independent countries, "Caribbean" has become the frequently preferred nomenclature.Learn more about Caribbean