Lesser Antilles vs Greater Antilles / Windward Islands vs Leeward Islands - Confused Yet?
Lesser - Greater - Leeward - Windward ... Wait was that up or down or was that east or west ... hmm I am not sure where we are going yet so stop the boat...!
It's common to hear the Caribbean described in terms of different locations defined by an islands location in The Caribbean Sea. Lesser vs. Greater Antilles and Windward vs. Leeward. Let's clairfy what all of these terms mean. Then, the next time you are traveling in the Caribbean, reading a book or website and come across these terms you will know where and how these terms reference on a map.
Where are The Greater Antilles?
The Greater Antilles are an island group in the Caribbean Sea. They are located southeast of the United States and include 4 major islands: Cuba, Hispaniola (Haiti and Dominican Republic), Jamaica and Puerto Rico. They can be contrasted with the Lesser Antilles.
Where are The Lesser Antilles?
The Lesser Antilles are part of the Antilles, which together with the Greater Antilles form the West Indies. They are a long chain of islands, wrapped around the eastern end of the Caribbean Sea on the boundary with the Atlantic Ocean. The Lesser Antilles are (generally from north to south): the U.S. Virgin Islands, British Virgin Islands, Anguilla (Br.), Saint Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, Montserrat (Br.), Guadeloupe (Fr.), Dominica, Martinique (Fr.), Saint Lucia, Barbados, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, Trinidad and Tobago, the islands off the coast of Venezuela, the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba (Neth.).
The islands of Bonaire and Curaçao, Sint Eustatius, Saba and the southern part of Saint Martin, form the Netherlands Antilles, with the first two located off the Venezuelan coast and the latter three located in the northeastern corner of the Caribbean.
The Lesser Antilles can be divided into the Windward in the north and the Leeward Islands in the south. However, the Netherlands Antilles are divided into the groups in the northeast and the southwest, with different naming conventions, see Netherlands Antilles.
Sub-sections of the Lesser Antilles:
The terms "leeward" and "windward" are used in reference to islands in an archipelago and to the different sides of a single island. In the latter case, the windward side is that side of an island subject to the prevailing wind. The leeward side is protected by the elevation of the island from the prevailing wind, and is typically drier and less windy. Thus, leeward and windward are not only important in terms of location in the island chain but also important weather and climate terms.
The prevailing winds in the Caribbean blow from south to north. In the case of an archipelago - or a group of islands, "windward islands" are the islands facing the oncoming wind. In the case of the Caribbean the "southern" islands get hit with the wind first...
The Windward Islands:
Windward Islands are the southern islands of the Lesser Antilles. They are called such because they are more windward than the Leeward Islands, given that the prevailing winds in the area blow to the north.
The name was also used to refer to a British colony in these islands, existing between 1833 and 1960 and consisting of the islands of Grenada, St Lucia, Saint Vincent, the Grenadines, Barbados (to 1885, when it became a separate colony), Tobago (to 1889 when it was joined to Trinidad), and Dominica (from 1940, when it was transferred from the Leeward Islands colony to the Windward Islands.)
The colony was known as the Federal Colony of the Windward Islands from 1871 to 1956, and the Territory of the Windward Islands from 1956 to 1960.
The Windward Islands Include:
- Saint Lucia
- Saint Vincent
- The Grenadines
The Leeward Islands:
The Leeward Islands are the northern islands of the Lesser Antilles. They are called "leeward" because the prevailing winds in the area blow from south to north. Thus, the Leeward Islands are downwind, on the backside, or leeward from the Windward Islands, the group of islands that first meet the trade winds coming from the south.
The Leeward Islands also refers to a British colony in these islands, consisting of Antigua, Barbuda, the British Virgin Islands, Montserrat, Saint Kitts, Nevis, Anguilla and (to 1940) Dominica, from 1671 to 1816 and again from 1833 to 1960. The colony was known as the Federal Colony of the Leeward Islands from 1871 to 1956 and the Territory of the Leeward Islands from 1956 to 1960.
The Leeward Islands Include:
- The Virgin Islands
- Saint Martin (Guadeloupe (north part) and Netherlands Antilles (south part))
- Saba (Netherlands Antilles)
- Sint Eustatius (Netherlands Antilles)
- Saint Barthélemy
- Saint Kitts
The effects of the wind...
In most of the Caribbean it is possible to see, on the windward coasts, the influences of the trade winds: the beaches are high with sand, the palms trees are leaning inland away from the wind and you can literally feel the effects of the "Caribbean Breeze" on your body. The only safe harbors on the windward coasts of islands are usually inland, such as San Juan in Puerto Rico and Havana in Cuba. The leeward sides of islands, the side away from the wind, usually offer calm waters and natural harbors such as: Port Royal in Jamaica, Santo Domingo in The Dominican Republic, Castries in Saint Lucia, Fort-de-France in Martinique, and Port-of-Spain in Trinidad.
All clear now...!