The islands of the Caribbean Sea or West Indies are an extensive archipelago in the far west of the Atlantic Ocean, mostly strung between North and South America. They've long been known as a resort vacation destination for honeymooners and retirees, but a small movement toward eco-tourism and backpacking has started to open up the Caribbean to more independent travel. With year-round good weather (with the occasional but sometimes serious exception of hurricane season in the late summer and early fall), promotional air fares from Europe and North America, and hundreds of islands to explore, the Caribbean offers something for almost everyone.
The Caribbean islands were first inhabited by the Arawak Indians, then were invaded by a more aggressive tribe, the Caribs. Unfortunately, neither could appreciate their victory forever, although the Arawaks may have had a quiet reign of nearly two millenia. Then the Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, French, Danish, and British arrived, after which the Carib population steeply declined due to various factors. The islands have known many historic battles and more than a few pirate stories.
Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, Puerto Rico and the Cayman Islands, often grouped as Greater Antilles, are by far the largest countries in the area and the most visited by travellers. In the north is the Lucayan Archipelago, which includes The Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands. The Caribbean also includes the Lesser Antilles, a group of much smaller islands to the east. Further to the west and south, there are various less frequently visited islands that belong to Central and South American countries.
Nations and territories of the Caribbean
|| Bahamas |
a cluster of islands north of the Greater Antilles and southeast of Florida
|| Cayman Islands |
a small island close to Cuba that functions as an offshore financial centre
The Lesser Antilles can be further divided into three groups:
|| Anguilla |
Just a 20 minutes ride away by boat from Saint Martin, Anguilla is a member of the British Commonwealth of nations, Anguilla is not very touristy (yet), but has incredible white sand beaches.
|| Dominica |
Caters for the eco and budget minded travelers.
Other islands and territories
These countries are not part of the Greater or Lesser Antilles but are variously close to it, and are commonly associated with the Caribbean (e.g. members of CARICOM, the Caribbean Community).
- Bermuda — some distance to the north of the Caribbean, but commonly associated with the region
- Nueva Esparta — is one of the 23 states of Venezuela, granted free-port status in 1973 and located in the Caribbean Sea, just a short distance off the northeastern coast of Venezuela.
- From Europe to:
- Aruba, (AUA)- from London (LGW), Manchester (MAN) by Thomson Airways,
- Antigua and Barbuda (ANU) from London (LGW),Manchester (MAN) by British Airways, BMI, Virgin Atlantic and from Frankfurt (FRA) by Condor
- Barbados, Bridgetown (BGI) from London, Manchester by Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, Caribbean Airlines and from Frankfurt by Condor
- Cuba from London (LGW) by Virgin Atlantic, Air Jamaica, from Madrid (MAD) by Iberia, from Paris (CDG) by Air France and from all three by Cubana
- Grenada, Maurice Bishop International (GND) from UK by Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, Excel from Germany Condor
- Saint Lucia, Hewanorra (UVF) from London (LGW) by Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, Caribbean Airlines and from Manchester (MAN) by Virgin Atlantic
- Martinique Fort-de-France (FDF) from Paris by Air France, Air Caribes
- Tobago (TAB), from London (LGW) by British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and from Frankfurt (FRA) by Condor
- Trinidad, Port-of-Spain (POS) from London by Caribbean Airlines
- Turks & Caicos Islands (PLS), from London (LHR) through Nassau, The Bahamas
- Curacao(CUR)- from The Netherlands, KLM
- From United States to:
- Curaçao (CUR), Bonaire (BON) from Miami (MIA) - by Insel Air 
- Curacao, (CUR) - by American Airlines 
- Aruba, (AUA) - by Delta Airlines, AirTran, American Airlines, Jetblue Airways, US Airways, United Airlines, Spirit Airlines, Continental Airlines and SLM
- Air Caraibes : from Paris to Guadeloupe, Martinique
- Air France : from Paris to Guadeloupe, Martinique
- Air Jamaica: London to Jamaica and Cuba
- American Airlines : from Miami to; Antigua, Aruba, Barbados, Curaçao Dominican Republic, Grand Cayman, Grenada, Jamaica, Kingston, Montego Bay, Puerto Rico, Santo Domingo, St. Croix, St. Kitts, St. Lucia, St. Maarten, St. Thomas and Trinidad
- British Airways : from London (LGW) to Antigua, Barbados, Cayman Islands, Grenada, Saint Lucia, Tobago and from Manchaster to Saint Lucia.
- Caribbean Airlines : from London to Barbados, Saint Lucia, London - Antigua, Belfast - Tobago (see BWIA Route map )
- Cayman Airways: from the Cayman Islands to multiple gateways in the US
- Condor/Thomas Cook : from Frankfurt (FRA), see Condor Route map 
- Cubana : To Cuba from Madrid, Paris, London
- Iberia : from Madrid to Havana, San Juan de Puerto Rico and Santo Domingo.
- Insel Air  Direct flights from Miami and Inter-Island travel. Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, Haiti, Las Piedras, Miami, Puerto Rico, Santo Domingo, St. Maarten, Suriname, and Valencia.
- JetBlue  to Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Saint Maarten, Puerto Rico, Aruba, Saint Lucia and Barbados mostly to New York and Boston and some also to Washington DC, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale.
- Virgin Atlantic : from London to Antigua, Barbados, Grenada, Havana, Jamaica, St Lucia, Tobago and from Manchester to Barbados and St Lucia
- WestJet : from Lester B. Pearson Toronto International Airport to Princess Juliana Airport.
Numerous companies offer cruises, charters, and boat tours in the Caribbean.
- Express des Iles  offers transport between Dominica, Guadaloupe, Martinique, St. Lucia and others for about €67 one-way and €100 round-trip. Bear in mind that at some islands, if you are not legal resident, proof of onward travel may be required, if you fail to provide it, you may get your entry refused by the immigration officer.