CTO Caribbean
Sir Frank Walcott Building, Culloden Farm Complex
Culloden Road, St Michael
Barbados, West Indies
Tel: (809) 427-5242
Fax: (809) 429-3065

Physical geography

The Caribbean is a 2,500 mile (4,000 km) crescent running between the Florida peninsula (USA) and the north coast of Venezuela. In total, the islands cover a surface of 90,000 square miles (234,000 square kilometres). The countries of the Caribbean are as different and varied as the world itself. Some were created long ago by violent volcanoes. Others are peaks of underwater mountains, or chips off the big continental block. Still others have been built up over the ages by coral, sand and limestone.

The Caribbean is made up of the following islands and countries: the Greater Antilles, comprising Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola (the Dominican Republic and Haiti), which together make up more than 90 per cent of the total island land-surface; the Lesser Antilles, which stretch from the eastern end of the Greater Antilles (Puerto Rico) southwards towards Venezuela, dividing into the Leeward and Windward Islands and made up of nearly 200 islands stretching from Anguilla to Trinidad and Tobago plus the islands of Isla de Margarita (Venezuela), Aruba, Curacao, and Bonaire further to the west; the Cayman Islands, south of Cuba; the Bahamas, together with the Turks and Caicos Islands to the northeast of Cuba; Cancun & Cozumel (Mexico) and Belize in Central America, which also come under the Caribbean; Guyana and Suriname on the north coast of South America, which are also Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) members.


The mean temperature is over 25 degrees centigrade all year round, varying just three degrees. From May/June to October/November it may rain. The mostly brief downpours are called 'liquid sunshine' as the sun quickly reappears.

Indeed, there is an unusually large amount of sunshine in the Caribbean. In Fort-de-France (Martinique) for example, the sun shines 2,757 hours a year (by comparison, Stuttgart in Germany has just 1,814 hours). The whole Caribbean has similar figures all year round, even in the so-called rainy season in the summer. In August, the rainiest month, the sun shines in Fort-de-France 8.3 hours a day on average. This proves, as meteorologists confirm, that rainfall should not be confused with bad weather.

Sunrises and sunsets remain constant across the Caribbean all year long; the sun rises about 6 am and sets about 6 pm.

The Caribbean island crescent divides the Caribbean Sea from the Atlantic Ocean. The water's average surface temperature is 29 degrees centigrade (25 degrees at lowest). All the islands lie in the path of the trade winds (the permanently blowing air currents). An effect of the trade winds is that the part of the Caribbean facing the winds (windward) has a much wetter climate than the part facing away from the wind (leeward). On flat islands, this has no real impact; on hilly islands the rainfall increases dramatically in high-lying areas.

Tropical cyclones and hurricanes are frequent, due partly to climatic change, between October and December.


The total population of the Caribbean is around 30 million.

Estimates of the demographic breakdown of the population overall are as follows: 40 per cent black; 40 per cent white; 18 per cent mixed race; the remaining two per cent are of Indian origin. On ex-French and British Antilles islands, blacks are a 90 per cent majority; in Spanish influenced areas (Cuba, Puerto Rico), whites dominate with 70 to 80 per cent.

The average population density is 333 inhabitants per square mile (125 per square kilometre). This ranges from the thinly-populated Turks and Caicos (64 per square mile, 24.7 per square kilometre) through Puerto Rico (1,019 per square mile, 393 per square kilometre) to Barbados (1,530 per square mile, 600 per square kilometre).

A brief history

The variety of peoples makes for the great magic of the Caribbean. Each face, whether African, European, Indian or Chinese, carries traces of history and reflects all those who followed Columbus and made their mark on the region. They were conquerors and discoverers; they brought their languages, religions and way of life.

Columbus discovered the island world on four journeys between 1492 and 1504. Mistakenly believing he had reached his destination, India, he called them - logically enough but wrongly - the West Indies. Over the following few centuries, the Spanish, drawn by the smell of gold, were the main conquerors.

Later, the English and French began to colonise the Lesser Antilles which the Spanish had largely ignored. Most of the native peoples, the Arawaks, Taino, Caribs, etc, survived the colonisation by barely a few decades.

Sugar and rum determined the fate of the Caribbean. With these two substances, the sugar barons sweetened and enriched their life. The big sugar boom came in the second half of the 18th century, and with it the extensive plantations with owners who treated them like kingdoms.

The Caribbean still delivers a quarter of the world's sugar production, but the states and islands can no longer be described as sugar countries, having turned to various other industries to support their economies.


Love and fear of life, uncertainty and ecstasy, nowhere do they lie closer to each other than in the countless churches and chapels. The devoted songs and rhythms are an ardent expression of belief and trust in God. The traditional religions of the Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists and Baptists are dominating, but are also at times visibly 'Caribbeanised'.

Languages spoken by nationals

The languages and tongues of the Caribbean sound like a melodious Tower of Babel. In the French Antilles and on Haiti, French is the official language, and 'patois' the local dialect (Creole on Haiti). In the Netherlands Antilles, Dutch is spoken, but the locals speak 'Papiamento'. Spanish is spoken in the Dominican Republic (dialect: Creole), Cuba, Venezuela, Mexico and Puerto Rico. English is widely spoken on many islands.


Depending on where you go in the Caribbean, the time difference is between six and four hours earlier than GMT.


While many islands use their own currency and French islands use the French franc, virtually everyone accepts the US dollar. Major credit cards can also be used throughout the Caribbean.

Official holidays (all offices and shops closed)

These vary from place to place in the Caribbean, and visitors should check such details with the individual tourist information offices of the specific country or island they intend to visit.

What one should not fail to see

If you tire of lazing around in the sun, walking on the beach, hiking in the mountains or diving among the reefs, the Caribbean's rich history can make for plenty of great sight-seeing opportunities. In places like Cancun and Cozumel, Mexico, you can visit ancient Mayan ruins. Antigua's well preserved Admiral Nelson's Dockyard is a must for history lovers. Walking tours, on your own or with a guide, through the old colonial zones of Santo Domingo in Dominicana and Old San Juan in Puerto Rico are a great way to spend the day. Brimstone Hill in St Kitts is a well-maintained fortress and popular tourist destination. You can also tour charming fishing villages in Anguilla, study the 18th-century architecture of Curacao or Barbados, and view old plantation homes and sugar mills in the US Virgin Islands. Of course, that's all in addition to the extravaganza of natural beauty you'll see no matter where you are in the Caribbean.

Most favourable seasons for sojourns and touring

All seasons are favourable for sojourns and touring in the Caribbean, although tropical cyclones and hurricanes are particularly frequent in the region between October and December.

How to dress

Cool, comfortable and casual is the rule throughout the Caribbean. Only a few of the finer restaurants and casinos require men to wear jackets and ties. So, pack your shorts, slacks, short-sleeve shirts and blouses. Bring along a sweater or two for the evening, and don't forget your swimsuit, sunglasses, sun hat and sunscreen.

Main holiday resorts

The following are the member countries of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation:

  • Anguilla
  • Antigua and Barbuda
  • Aruba
  • Bahamas
  • Barbados
  • Belize
  • Bonare
  • British Virgin Islands
  • Cayman Islands
  • Curacao
  • Cuba
  • Dominica
  • Dominican Republic
  • Grenada
  • Guadeloupe / St Martin / St Barts
  • Guyana
  • Haiti
  • Jamaica
  • Martinique
  • Mexico
  • Montserrat
  • Puerto Rico
  • Saba
  • St Eustatius
  • St Kitts and Nevis
  • St Lucia
  • St Vincent and The Grenadines
  • Suriname
  • Trinidad and Tobago
  • Turks and Caicos
  • US Virgin Islands
  • Venezuela

Main holiday sports

Chartering a yacht, hiring a speed-boat or a catamaran, water-skiing, swimming, snorkelling, para-sailing, deep-sea fishing - there is nothing missing. Every Caribbean destination is a large sports centre with differing specialities.

Windsurfers are benefiting from a real market boom thanks to a series of international competitions. Information about good schools and operators can best be obtained in hotels.

Hotels and holiday complexes normally have a range of non-water activities as well: tennis, volleyball, cycling, riding, rambling and, of course, golf. Few islands are without a gold course; standards range from normal to exclusive. Some courses were created by top names: the Teeth of the Dog (Dominicana) by Pete Dye; the Carambola (St Croix, US Virgin Islands) and the Dorado and Cenoman (Puerto Rico), both by Robert Trent Jones; the Palmas del Mar (Puerto Rico) by Gary Player; the Tryall (Jamaica) is home to the Johnny Walker World Championship.

What to eat and drink

Caribbean restaurants offer all international cuisines. However, there many local specialities, including fiery Creole cookery, spicy jerk chicken pork or fish, callaloo soup, fried plantains, rice and pigeon peas, exotic fruits and vegetables, fresh seafood of all kinds from marlins to lobsters and swordfish to crayfish, and, of course, the rum-kissed drinks.

What to buy

Try as you might, you can't bottle the Caribbean sun, sand or surf to take home. However, you will find a rich and diverse array of locally produced handcrafted items well worth buying. Colourful open-air markets can be found just about anywhere in the Caribbean. Shops, boutiques and craft studios abound. Look for baskets and mats made from stripped corn husks and sisal rope, fine-quality handmade jewellery, tablecloths and bedspreads woven into spidery lace designs, distinctly Afro-Caribbean artwork featuring village and religious scenes painted with brilliant colours, or one-of-a-kind wood-carvings. Straw hats, pottery, embroidered clothing and crochet work are worth a look as well. Of course, the Caribbean's many duty-free ports and shops also offer plenty of great bargains for shoppers.

Frontier formalities

These vary from place to place in the Caribbean. Travellers should establish specific details from the specific tourism authorities of the countries and islands they intend to visit.

Representatives abroad

Offices of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO)

CTO Caribbean Sir Frank Walcott Building, Culloden Farm Complex, Culloden Road, St Michael, Barbados, West Indies Tel: (809) 427-5242 Fax: (809) 429-3065

CTO New York 20 East 46th Street, New York NY 10017 USA Tel: (212) 682-0435 Fax: (212) 697-4258

CTO Canada Taurus House, 512 Duplex Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4R 2E3 Tel: (416) 484-8724 Fax: (416) 485-8256

CTO Europe Vigilant House, 120 Wilton Road, Victoria, London SW1V 1JZ, England Tel: (0044) 171-233-8382 Fax: (0044) 171-873-8551