What Is the Difference Between the Caribbean and the West Indies?

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.

The West Indies includes three primary island chains: the Bahamas, the Greater Antilles and the Lesser Antilles. The West Indies were so named in order to clarify their geographic positioning after it was discovered that Christopher Columbus had not, in fact, discovered a shorter trade route to India. Referring to the region as the Caribbean did not become common until after World War II.

For centuries after its discovery, the region was wracked by political unrest as countries fought to control the natural resources that could be usurped for trade purposes as a result of its tropical climate. The growth of the slave trade prompted several rebellions, the most successful of these taking place on the island of Hispaniola, which is now Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The region is recognized worldwide as a popular tourist destination, particularly with cruise ships, which can easily maneuver from island to island, allowing visitors to experience multiple destinations.