West Indies: Antilles and Lucayan Archipelago

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West Indies: Antilles and Lucayan Archipelago

Sat, 02/23/2019 - 20:20
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The West Indies is a region of the North Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea that includes the island countries and surrounding waters of three major archipelagos: the Greater Antilles, the Lesser Antilles, and the Lucayan Archipelago.

West Indies

The West Indies is a region of the North Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean that includes the island countries and surrounding waters of three major archipelagos: the Antilles, which consists of the Greater Antilles and the Lesser Antilles, as well as the Lucayan Archipelago.

The region includes all the islands in or bordering the Caribbean Sea, the Bahamas, and the Turks and Caicos Islands in the Atlantic Ocean. Depending on the context, some references to the West Indies may include some nations of northern South America that share the history and culture of the West Indian islands.

Map of the Caribbean (West Indies)


The Antilles is an archipelago (group of islands) located in the Caribbean Sea and comprising all of the West Indies except the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands. They are divided into two major groups: the Greater Antilles and the Lesser Antilles.

The Caribbean Sea borders the Antilles to the south and west, the Gulf of Mexico to the northwest, and the Atlantic Ocean to the north and east.

The word Antilles originated before the European conquest of the New World. Europeans used Antillia as one of the mysterious lands featured on medieval charts, sometimes as an archipelago, sometimes as continuous land of greater or lesser extent, its location fluctuating in mid-ocean between the Canary Islands and Eurasia.

The Antillean islands are divided into two smaller groupings: the Greater Antilles and the Lesser Antilles.

Greater Antilles

The Greater Antilles is a grouping of the larger islands in the Caribbean Sea: Cuba, Hispaniola (containing Haiti and the Dominican Republic), Puerto Rico, Jamaica, and the Cayman Islands. The Greater Antilles constitute nearly 90% of the landmass of the entire West Indies and over 90% of its population.

The remainder of the land belongs to the Archipelago of the Lesser Antilles, which is a chain of islands to the east (running north-south and encompassing the eastern edge of the Caribbean Sea where it meets the Atlantic Ocean) and south (running east-west off the northern coast of South America).

Lesser Antilles

The Lesser Antilles is a group of islands in the Caribbean Sea. Most form a long, partly volcanic island arc between the Greater Antilles to the northwest and the continent of South America.

The islands form the eastern boundary of the Caribbean Sea with the Atlantic Ocean. The Lesser Antilles and the Greater Antilles compose the Antilles (or the Caribbean in its narrowest definition).

The islands of the Lesser Antilles are divided into three groups: the Windward Islands in the south, the Leeward Islands in the north, and the Leeward Antilles in the west.

  • The Windward Islands, also known as the Islands of Barlovento, are the southern, generally larger islands of the Lesser Antilles within the West Indies. They lie south of the Leeward Islands, approximately between latitudes 10° and 16° N and longitudes 60° and 62° W.

    They start from Dominica and reach southward to the north of Trinidad & Tobago and west of Barbados. Dominica was initially considered part of the Leeward Islands but was transferred from the British Leeward Islands to the British Windward Islands in 1940.

    The Windward Islands are so called because they were more windward to sailing ships arriving in the New World than the Leeward Islands, given that the prevailing trade winds blow east to west. 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.

  • The Leeward Islands are a group of islands situated where the northeastern Caribbean Sea meets the western Atlantic Ocean. Starting with the Virgin Islands east of Puerto Rico, they extend southeast to Guadeloupe and its dependencies. In English, the term "Leeward Islands" refers to the northern islands of the Lesser Antilles chain.

  • The Leeward Antilles are a chain of islands in the Caribbean – specifically, the southerly islands of the Lesser Antilles (and, in turn, the Antilles and the West Indies) along the southeastern fringe of the Caribbean Sea, just north of the Venezuelan coast of the South American mainland.

    The Leeward Antilles consist of the Dutch ABC islands just off the coast of Venezuela, plus a group of Venezuelan islands. Largely lacking in volcanic activity, the Leeward Antilles island arc occurred along the deformed southern edge of the Caribbean Plate and was formed by the plate's subduction under the South American Plate.

    The Leeward Antilles, while among the Lesser Antilles, are not to be confused with the Leeward Islands (also of the Lesser Antilles) to the northeast. Recent studies indicate that the Leeward Antilles are accreting to South America.

Lucayan Archipelago

The Lucayan Archipelago (named for the original native Lucayan people), also known as the Bahama Archipelago, is an island group comprising the Commonwealth of The Bahamas and the British Overseas Territory of the Turks and Caicos Islands.

The Archipelago is in the western North Atlantic Ocean, north of Cuba and the other Antilles, and east and southeast of Florida.