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The Caribbean Sea surrounded by the North Atlantic Ocean, The Gulf of Mexico and the Straits of Florida seats the trail of Caribbean Islands below the Florida pan handle. These islands are a tropical heaven on the face of the earth. The Caribbean islands (or the West Indies) are a group of independent countries with their region consisting of more than 7,000 islands, islets, cays and reefs.

The name "Caribbean" comes from the ethnic group Carib. Caribs inhabited the Southern part of the islands, called the Lesser Antilles, and parts of South America. The name West Indies came into being as a result of Christopher Columbus's mistaking it for "Indies" in Asia. Ten English speaking islands were officially grouped as The West Indies Federation during British rule. The West Indies has a heavy recent history centred about colonization. Extended usage of the term Caribbean also connotes European colonization and political slavery with sensitive historical and cultural connections.

Geography

The types of terrain in the Caribbean Islands vary between islands of non-volcanic origin and volcanic origin. The Bahamas (Antigua), Barbados, Bonaire, St. Croix and the Cayman Islands are of non-volcanic origin and have a relatively flat terrain. The terrain is rugged in the islands of volcanic origin like Cuba, Dominica, Montserrat, Saba, Puerto Rico, Guadeloupe, St. Vincent, Haiti, St. Lucia, Grenada Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago. These islands are similar to towering mountain ranges and possess a hard and rough soil.

The climate, although tropical, is more rain oriented towards higher elevations. The northern islands are occasionally hit by Northwesters. And the warm and moist winds from the east nurture the rainforests and partially barren regions on the mountainous islands. Hurricanes are a major feature in the North-western regions of Barbados and Grenada and eastern region islands close to the North-west Barbados.

The weather on the Caribbean islands is generally pleasant and friendly throughout the year. The summer heat and humidity are tempered quite well by the 20 miles per hour trade winds and less often, rains. However, till the end of April and May, the Caribbean islands offer plenty of sun and clear skies. Rains and hurricanes make for an off-season till October. The hotels keep themselves closed for upgrading and renovating before the winter. By November or mid-December, the hurricane season gets over. The winter weather, post December, in the islands draws tourists in huge numbers from North America and Europe. Hotel prices double up during this period and stay high till the beginning of summer.   

History, population and culture

Recent Caribbean history of the last few hundred years is mainly about colonization. Some islands are still colonized by European governments and some are self-governed dependent territories. Historical ethnic grouping in the Caribbean was formed as a result of population immigration from different parts of Europe. Most of the colonization began in the middle of the second millenium, serving a long trend of racial mixture; and a blend of such cultures with the natives is a major attraction amongst the architecture, music and food of the Caribbean Islands.

The colonies:

    * British Caribbean - Jamaica, Montserrat, Grenada, Antigua, Barbados, British Virgin Islands, St. Croix, Trinidad and Tobago, St. Kitts and Nevis, Dominica and 7 other minor regions were primarily populated by British resources during and after the Renaissance period. They stayed a part of the British Empire until 1958. The ten islands formed The West Indies Federation united to the UK after that till 1962 after which the islands are all independent countries, referred to as the British West Indies (B.W.I.). Cricket being an integral part of the English, the B.W.I. produced legendary cricketers through the decades to come.

    * French Caribbean - Briefly occupied parts of the British Caribbean formed the union with the French Kingdom (later Republic). Currently tied with the French Republic are the regions which are called the overseas departments of the government of France. They are Guadeloupe and Martinique (including La Désirade, Marie-Galante and Les Saintes) and collectives of St. Barthelemy.

    * Danish Caribbean - Now known as the American Virgin Islands, the Danish Caribbean started expanding in 1672 from St. Thomas to St. John and the Danish also purchased St. Croix from the French in 1733. American strategic interests in the region during World War I saw the region sold for $25 million in 1917 over a treaty between the Danish and U.S. governments.

    * Spanish Caribbean - Spanish occupation in Puerto Rico, Cayman Islands, Jamaica, Trinidad and Bay Islands lasted through late 1600's and till the end of the 1700's. Cuba and Hispaniola are parts of the Dominican Republic.  

The Portuguese were the earliest to arrive. They abandoned towards Brazil very soon by the 1600's. The Swedish and the Dutch hold present occupation in French St. Barthelemy and minor parts of Guadeloupe; and in Aruba and minor parts of St. Croix, Tobago and Bay Islands.

Whilst colonization is said to erode local cultures, Caribbean colonizers are believed to have done a great job preserving the local plantations and buildings, especially from battles. Preservation of the local essence can be felt in native music and food which not only has its roots in imperial occupation, but also in the improvisations that slaves brought about to blend in the Caribbean as popular food and music. Reggae, Zouk and many similar styles in popular music have its roots in the local West Indian culture. Rebel music of the West Indies, which has been popular throughout the world since the mid 1900's, holds anti-establishment sentiments mainly considering colonization and government interference in matters of choice as means of violent usurping of power.

Caribbean tourist destinations:

The major attractions for a tourist in the Caribbean Islands are the beaches, food, nightlife, historical monuments and shopping. Beautiful scenery to colourful hospitality, it's all there.

    * Beaches - The Caribbean Islands have beaches to be proud of. World renowned beaches across the region push all other attractions in the Caribbean to second spot. Antigua and St. Martin have white sand and sets the beaches for brilliant photography. Jamaica is known for its low prices and the perfect sand and remains the most visited region in a whole season. The Cayman Islands have a 7 mile long beach known for never stopping a party. Martinique and Anse Mitan have black sand and is popular amongst many. Snorkelling and diving are very famous attractions in Shoal Bay, Anguilla. Crane Beach and Accra Beach are amongst hundreds of beautiful beaches in Barbados. However, it is the Gold Coast which remains as the most favourite Barbados destination.

    * Coral World - Located on St. Thomas' southern coast, Coral World Ocean Park is the underwater observatory to visit in the Caribbean. It is built for tourists to be able to get inches close to sea life including sharks and many interesting creatures. The coral reef is one of the worlds largest with more than 20 portholes. Coral world also offers parasailing, snorkelling and scuba diving. The sea life visible here gives every tourist an exhilarating experience. Iguanas also pay frequent visits around Coral World.

    * Guadirikiri caves and Cockpit Country - The major attractions in Aruba are the Guadirikiri caves. Located outside Arikok National Park, the caves offer a range of ancient cave paintings, created by a group of the Caribs called the Arwaks. The caves stretch up to hundred feet and are not exactly free of fruit bats and cockroaches making it a less of an attraction for the not so adventurous. A legendary story of love is also a part of this attraction - a tribal king had confined his daughter and her lover in one of the caves which has come to be known as the 'Tunnel of Love'. Caribbean pirates are believed to have used these as hiding spots as well. Similar to that, the cockpit country in Jamaica near Montego Bay is another set with mysterious caves, remote cliffs, cascading waterfalls and a history of Arwak hiding.

    * Alto Vista Chapel - This is the first church built and established in the Caribbean by Spanish missionaries in 1750. It stands in isolated view in the north-west corner of Antigua and is tiny compared to a conventional church

Caribbean Night life:

Caribbean night life is renowned the world over. Gambling, dancing in the night clubs and local music and drinks can prove to be the truest experience of the local culture. Carnivals during weekends are a thing to be seen in Trinidad. Aruba is the place for the young and has a huge list of night clubs to choose from. Jamaica is the place for the real hard party goers with raucous Reggae running through every blood vein till the sun comes back. Cuba is the place to be if you are looking for the naughtiest parties and the Great Bay and Sonesta Maho Beach in St. Martin are the places if you are looking for the Vegas experience in the Caribbean. Puerto Rico has also recently added up on the list. Apart from the thriving nightlife of the region there is also fine tourists also engage in fine dining and shopping while in the Caribbean.

The Caribbean with a host of attractions draws tourists by the droves from the world over.

Original Authors: Shampa
Edit Update Authors: M.A.Harris
Updated On: 12/11/2009
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