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.
The Lesser Antilles can be further divided into three groups:
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).
Numerous companies offer cruises, charters, and boat tours in the Caribbean.
All of the Americas (with 16.3 killed per 100,000 population) suffer from homicide rates far above those in most of Asia (3.0), Europe (3.0) and Oceania (2.9) but some countries in the Caribbean feature in the highest murder rates in the world.
Most visitors are aware of the high rates of gun crime in the United States Virgin Islands (with 52.6) or Jamaica (39.3), but you might be unaware that even sleepy little Saint Kitts and Nevis (33.6) had a murder rate seven times greater than the scary old mainland USA in 2010!
The well policed Bahamas rang up a rate of (29.8), Trinidad and Tobago (28.3), Puerto Rico (26.5), Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (with a state Latin motto of “Pax et Justitia” or “Peace and Justice” had 25.6), Dominican Republic (22.1), Saint Lucia (21.6) and Dominica (21.1).
To put this in perspective, rates in more placid countries like Japan, Singapore, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Germany, Spain and New Zealand average well under a single person intentionally killed per 100,000 of their population each year.
Those of a nervous disposition when confronted by these kind of statistics may want to start researching a holiday in Martinique (2.7) or Cuba (4.2) since it’s rather uncomfortable to wear stab or bullet proof vests in these warm and humid climates of course, not to mention it make you look a bit of a prat…
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