If you're planning a trip to the Caribbean, it helps to know where you are going. Sure, the weather in much of the Caribbean is pretty similar, but there are some regional differences you should be aware of. Unlike most of the tropical Caribbean with its palm trees and lush foliage, for example, Aruba and Curacao are desert islands; on the other hand, their southerly position also keeps them outside of the hurricane zone. Barbados also puts you outside of hurricane territory, and in fact, hasn't seen a hurricane in about 20 years. As you can see from the map, the Bahamas and Bermuda aren't actually in the Caribbean -- but parts of the coast of Colombia and Venezuela are.
Also, flight times (and airfares) can vary widely depending on how far south you are heading, which is an important point to ponder as you budget your time and money.
If you're cruising, it's helpful to know what is meant by the Eastern Caribbean versus the Western Caribbean. Other terms you'll hear used when describing locations in the Caribbean include the Greater Antilles, the Lesser Antilles, the Windward Islands, and the Leeward Islands.
Map of the Caribbean
The World Atlas also has a useful Caribbean map, and of course, Google Maps and Google Earth are excellent resources for travelers, too. And here's a topographic map of the Caribbean and it's islands. Want to test your knowledge? Try this Caribbean geography quiz!
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Herman Molls' 1732 Map of the Caribbean
The Caribbean has been well-traveled for 300 years, and this historic map by Herman Molls is surprisingly complete and accurate. Geographicus, a seller of fine antique maps, explains:
"This is Herman Molls small but significant c. 1732 map of the West Indies. Moll's map covers all of the West Indies, eastern Mexico, all of Central America, the Gulf of Mexico, North America as far as the Chesapeake Bay, and the northern portion of South America, commonly called the Spanish Main. Typical of Moll's style, this map offers a wealth of information including ocean currents and some very interesting commentary.
"Additionally Moll, most likely through his acquaintance with pirates William Dampier and Woodes Rogers, offers a wealth of information on the traffic of silver bearing Spanish treasure fleets en route from the Mexican port of Veracruz, through the islands, to Spanish ports in Europe. Following the dotted line, Moll identifies the Spanish treasure fleet's entrada into the Caribbean via the passage between Grenada and Trinidad. The fleet then sailed westwards, skirting the Spanish Main until they reached Cartagena, where they rested and reprovisioned before heading northwards, rounding western Cuba and stopping in Havana.
"Using the strong Gulf Stream current -- shown here -- ships would sail northwards from Havana while being steadily forced to the southeast thus alighting at the deep-water port of Veracruz. On the return, laden with silver from the mines of San Luis Potosi, the Spanish fleet took advantage of eastward blowing trade winds, which helped to overcome the strong current on the sail to Havana. From Havana, they would travel northwards via the narrow passage between Florida and the Bahamas before cutting eastward and out to sea at St. Augustine. It was here, in this crucial passage between the English dominated Bahamas and Spanish Florida, where the most nefarious pirates and British privateers lay in wait for their profitable prey."
With such a long history and such an important role in international trade, it's no surprise that the Caribbean islands have long been a point of interest for world travelers and map-makers alike. On your next Caribbean trip, consider researching your island destination and learn more about its part in the early days of ocean and sea travel, and what unique part it has had to play in the developing of the island culture, community, economy, and tourism industry. You just might be surprised!