Visiting the Lesser Antilles Islands

••• Map of the Caribbean islands and bordering countries. © Kmusser via Wikimedia Commons

The Caribbean island grouping known as the Lesser Antilles consists of three smaller island groups—the Windward Islands, the Leeward Islands, and the Leeward Antilles—and includes all the small islands in the Caribbean south of Puerto Rico.

The Windward Islands include Martinique, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Grenada, while the Leeward Islands include the U.S. Virgin Islands, the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, St. Martin/Maarten, St. Barts, Saba, St. Eustatius, St. Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, Montserrat, Guadeloupe, and Dominica, and the Leeward Antilles—also known as the "ABC Islands"—off the coast of South America are Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao.

No matter which of these Caribbean islands you decide to visit, you're sure to encounter wonderful tropical weather, fantastic beaches, and plenty of things to do year-round. Read on to discover more about the Lesser Antilles and what sets them apart from more northern destinations.

Smaller Islands, Bigger Adventures

One of the many reasons these islands came to be known as the Antilles is because medieval maps often depicted a large continent, a semi-mythical land called Antilia, far across the western sea, which conveyed their understanding that more land existed across the sea to the west (long before Columbus "discovered" what he thought was India). As a result, scholars today still refer to the Caribbean Sea as the Sea of Antilia, and the islands which make up the lower (or outer) part of this region became known as the Lesser Antilles.

Because many of these islands that make up the Lesser Antilles are so small and isolated, relatively, from one another, individualized cultures developed on each island, which was largely influenced by European (and later North American) nations competing for ownership or sovereignty over these islands staring around the time Columbus sailed west from Spain and lasting through today.

The U.S. Virgin Islands, for instance, offers an entirely different cultural experience than the nearby British Virgin Islands or the French island of Guadeloupe, so depending on where you go and which country currently or formerly occupies the island you're visiting, you'll have a uniquely different time.

Popular Destinations in the Lesser Antilles

Among the most popular destinations in these series of islands in the Caribbean are the Virgin Islands, Guadeloupe, Antigua and Barbuda, and Aruba, each of which offers a variety of all-inclusive resorts and vacation packages, perfect for that island getaway vacation any time of year—though you should watch out for hurricane season, which affects the northern Lesser Antilles islands more frequently than it does the southern islands of Grenada, St. Vincent, and Barbados.

In Aruba, be sure to check out some of the sunken reefs and caves along its jagged shoreline, and if you're in the U.S. Virgin Islands, you won't want to miss snorkeling with some of the aquatic life of the area or taking a shopping trip through Saint Thomas.

As always, no matter which island you find yourself on during January and February, you won't want to miss the island's unique Carnivale celebration, which is a big blow-out party celebrating the somber and reserved Lent holiday that comes shortly thereafter.