Just when you think you knew the Caribbean…there’s something new to discover. How many of these interesting facts about the Caribbean did you already know?
Here are 10 strange but totally awesome facts that will make you want to pack your bags and head to the Caribbean faster than you can say “coconuts”!
1. Only about 2% of Caribbean islands are actually inhabited.
There are thousands of Caribbean islands– at least 7,000 to be exact. However, most are uninhabited. There are 28 Caribbean nations– 13 sovereign countries and 12 dependent territories. As of 2019, about 44 million people live in the Caribbean region.
2. 75% of the Caribbean population lives on just 2 islands.
Most of the population of the Caribbean lives in the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Haiti. Since Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the island of Hispaniola, that means that 75% of Caribbeans (about 30 million people) live on just 2 islands.
3. The first place Columbus set foot upon in the New World was a Caribbean island.
Contrary to popular thought, Columbus didn’t “discover” America. Plenty of people already lived there. In addition, he never actually went to North America. During his four voyages to the New World, he visited several Caribbean islands. The first was San Salvador, now part of the modern-day Bahamas. He also explored the coasts of Central and South America.
Furthermore, Columbus mistakenly called the Caribbean the “Indies”, thinking he had reached the East Indies. The region is sometimes referred to as the “West Indies” today.
4. The Caribbean is divided into 4 island groups.
The Caribbean islands are divided into four groups according to their general location. These four island groups are as follows: the Greater Antilles, Leeward Islands, Leeward Antilles and the Windward Islands. Here are the Caribbean countries that belong to each group:
- The Greater Antilles: Cayman Islands, Cuba, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico.
- The Leeward Islands: Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, British Virgin Islands, Guadeloupe, Montserrat, Saint Martin, Saba, Saint Eustatius, Saint Barthelemy, Saint Kitts & Nevis, and U.S. Virgin Islands.
- The Leeward Antilles (also known as the ABC islands): Aruba, Curacao, and Bonaire
- The Windward Islands: Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Martinique, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent & The Grenadines, and Trinidad & Tobago.
Want to visit several islands at once during your trip to the Caribbean? Read our guide to island hopping in the Caribbean here.
5. Some Caribbean countries are not islands.
For a country to be considered “Caribbean”, it must have a coast on the Caribbean Sea or be associated with the Caribbean region through its cultural or political history. Because of this, Belize, Suriname, and Guyana are technically located in South America, but consider themselves Caribbean countries.
In addition, Venezuela is a member of CARICOM, a Caribbean community established in 1972 to promote cooperation between Caribbean countries. Guyana, Venezuela, and Belize are also current members of the Caribbean Tourism Organization.
6. The most widely spoken language in the Caribbean isn’t English.
According to a 2001 census, 62% of Caribbean inhabitants speak Spanish as their first language. Only about 15% speak English. However, you’ll probably hear at least basic English in areas that are popular with tourists. This is because English is the unofficial “language of tourism”. In addition, the overwhelming majority of visitors that the Caribbean receives each year are from the United States.
7. The Caribbean is home to active volcanoes.
One of the most overlooked facts about the Caribbean is that it is home to many active volcanoes. Although many people associate volcanic activity with Pacific islands, there are plenty of volcanoes in the Caribbean, both active and dormant. In fact, Soufriere Hills in Montserrat is one of the most active volcanoes in the entire world.
Most Caribbean volcanoes lie in the Lesser Antilles. There are five on Dominica, four in Grenada, and four in Saint Lucia. In total, there are 19 live volcanoes in the Caribbean. “Live” does not necessarily mean that they currently erupt with any frequency, but rather that they are likely to erupt again at some point.
8. The Caribbean boasts both pink and black sand beaches.
Pink and black sand? How is that even possible? Pink sand comes from tiny broken pieces of coral and shells, and calcium carbonate particles left by foraminifera. Foraminifera are microscopic red and pink shelled organisms that live in surrounding coral reefs. There are several incredible pink sand beaches in various Caribbean countries.
On the other hand, black sand is formed from volcanic activity. Although black sand is incredibly striking, it tends to get a bit hotter than light-colored sand. You can find black sand beaches on the Caribbean islands on which volcanoes are located.
9. There’s more to do in the Caribbean than swimming and snorkeling.
You probably didn’t realize that some Caribbean islands have mountainous regions and jungles. Some islands are so varied in their topography that you can be on the beach one minute, and in the jungle the next.
Because of this, things like hiking and ziplining are some often overlooked activities that you can enjoy during your Caribbean vacation. In addition, some Caribbean countries feature Mayan ruins deep in the jungle, just waiting to be explored.
Also– don’t miss the opportunity to see exotic wildlife on your trip! The flora and fauna of the Caribbean is incredibly varied, due to the large number of uninhabited islands and areas. In fact, the smallest lizard in the world lives in the Caribbean. Through ecotourism, you can explore the wonders of Caribbean nature safely and responsibly. Learn more about Caribbean ecotourism here.
10. A famous tomb with “moving coffins” is located in the Caribbean.
On the island of Barbados, you can pay a visit to Chase Vault, a tomb famous for its “haunted” coffins. It may not be the first thing you would think about visiting when traveling in the Caribbean, but it’s worth checking out if you’re ever in Barbados. The peculiar story and possible explanations as to why the coffins moved from their positions is worth reading, too!
Enjoyed these facts about the Caribbean? Check out 10 Interesting Facts About the Caribbean Sea!
Main image: Trunk Bay, St John (Source: Travel Channel)
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