The Greater & Lesser Antilles, Windward & Leeward Islands – What is What? Caribbean regions explained


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Lesser Antilles, Windward islands, Greater Antilles, French West Indies– it can all be a little confusing to know what islands are in what region of the Caribbean. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Believe it or not, this article is actually one of the most visited pages on our Caribbean blog.
I’m going to show you maps and give you bullet-point lists of islands so you can easily figure out the difference between the Great Antilles and Lesser Antilles, where the Leeward and Windward Islands are at, and I’ll show you some regions based on countries like the French West Indies and the Netherland Antilles.
Let’s start off with a large overview map of the Caribbean that shows you where everything is. Then we’ll break down each region of the Caribbean.
Which islands are in the Greater Antilles and Lesser Antilles?
The West Indies are composed of the islands of the Caribbean Sea and can be divided into the Greater Antilles and the Lesser Antilles. The above map from Sailing Totem is a great visual way to break down the difference between the two Caribbean regions.
The Greater Antilles are the four largest islands in the northwestern portion of the Caribbean Sea and include. It’s simple, just look at them on a map. It’s pretty easy when you think about it. The Greater Antilles are the big islands, and the Lesser Antilles are the smaller group of island that make up the chain of islands in the eastern Caribbean.
The Greater Antilles islands include
  • Cuba
  • Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic)
  • Jamaica
  • Puerto Rico
The Lesser Antilles, the small islands, and are divided up into a couple geographical areas as well. In the south, you have the Windward Islands and in the north you have the Leeward Islands. We dive into those area a little more below. The Lesser Antilles chain starts in the Virgin Islands and wraps the eastern Caribbean all the way down to Trinidad and Tobago. They tend to also include the small islands north of South America as well. Those being Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, Los Roques, and a few other small Venezuelan islands.
The Lesser Antilles islands include
  • The Virgin Islands
  • Anguilla
  • St. Martin (Guadeloupe (north part) and Netherlands Antilles (south part))
  • Saba (Netherlands Antilles)
  • St. Eustatius (Netherlands Antilles)
  • St. Barts
  • Antigua
  • Barbuda
  • St. Kitts
  • Nevis
  • Montserrat
  • Guadeloupe
  • Dominica
  • Martinique
  • Saint Lucia
  • Barbados
  • St. Vincent and the Grenadines
  • Grenada
  • Trinidad & Tobago
Which islands are in the Windward Islands and Leeward Islands?
The Windward Islands and the Leeward Islands make up the Lesser Antilles of the Caribbean.
The Windward Islands southern group and the Leeward Islands are the northern group. The Windward Islands got their name because they’re exposed to the wind (“windward”) of the northeast trade winds (northeasterlies).
The Windward Islands include
  • Martinique
  • Barbados
  • St. Lucia
  • St. Vincent and the Grenadines
  • Grenada
The Leeward Islands are the northwestern islands of the Lesser Antilles. They’re called the Leeward Islands because they’re away from the wind (“lee”).
The Leeward Islands include
  • Virgin Islands
  • Dominica
  • Guadeloupe
  • Montserrat
  • Antigua
  • Barbuda
  • St. Kitts
  • Nevis
  • Anguilla

The Netherlands Antilles

Technically, there is no such thing as the Netherland Antilles any longer. Though the name is still widely used for its five once-constituent Caribbean islands of…
  • Bonaire
  • Curaçao
  • Sint Maarten
  • Saba
  • Sint Eustatius
  • Aruba
In 2010 the group of islands became independent from the Netherlands. Aruba seceded 24 years before that. Those they are their own territories now, all six islands still have some political ties to the Netherlands.
The French West Indies or French Caribbean
France has collection of Caribbean islands that add a unique flavor to the region. Each island has its own personality which attracts people from all over the world. Whether you want to rub elbows with the rich and famous on St. Barths, sip some of the finest rums on Martinique, or dine on world-class cuisine in St. Martin–there’s is not shortage of French inspiration.
Here are the islands that make up the French West Indies. There are two different groups, independent nations that still have strong French influence, and French Republic which are still a possession of France. Also French Guiana is often grouped into the French Caribbean.
  • French Republic:
    • Guadeloupe
    • Martinique
    • Saint-Barthélemy (referred to as St. Barts or St. Barths)
    • Saint Martin
    • French Guiana
  • Independent nation(s):
    • Haiti
    • Dominica*
    • Saint Lucia*
(*) = These islands gained independence from Great Britain and English is their official language, but French-based Creole languages are widely spoken by the island population due to a period of French colonization.
That concludes our geographical journey around the Caribbean. I hope you found what you were looking for. If you have any questions, please reach out to us on Instagram at @CaribbeanCastaways and we’d be happy to help answer any questions.
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