Definition/Scope: The West Indies is a large group of islands that separate the Caribbean Sea from the Atlantic Ocean. They comprise three main island groups: Bahamas (north), Greater Antilles (central), Lesser Antilles (southeast). The Bahamas consist of over 3,000 individual islands and reefs. The Greater Antilles include the island countries of Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti and the Dominican Republic (Hispaniola), and Puerto Rico. The Lesser Antilles are the much smaller islands to the southeast, and they are divided into two (2) groups, the Leeward Islands and Windward Islands. Indians were the first inhabitants, and then, in 1492, Christopher Columbus became the first European to arrive at the islands. It’s believed by historians that he first stepped foot in the Bahamas. Columbus called these islands the Indies because he thought he had finally reached Asia (and the East Indies). Spain, when Columbus’ mistake was discovered, renamed them the West Indies, to distinguish them from the Spice Islands in the Pacific Ocean, (the East Indies) which we now call Indonesia. Today the West Indies, better known as the Caribbean, is comprised of many island countries, dependencies and territories, and (as a group) remain one of the premier tourist destinations on the planet.
Used For:Caribbean Islands
Broader Terms:Atlantic Ocean
Related Terms:Caribbean Community and Common Market