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Travel to the Caribbean

Sun-drenched beaches, warm air, and swaying palm trees typify the West Indian islands of the Caribbean. On these islands, as varied as the countries: Spain, France, Great Britain, The Netherlands, Portugal, responsible for their early development, relaxation is the byword. Industrialization and urbanization have taken place on many of them, but with little sacrifice to the leisurely atmosphere and carefree life for which the West Indies are famous.

The West Indies are peaks of a partially submerged mountain chain, the Caribbean Andes, that once connected North and South America. They now form a 2,500 mile arc from Cuba, 50 miles off the tip of Florida, to Trinidad within sight of Venezuela. This arc forms a dividing line between the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.

Prior to the arrival in the New World of Christopher Columbus, the unexplored land between the Canary Islands and India was called Antilia. Columbus found not one mainland, but a series of islands, so Antilia was changed to the plural Antilles. The term “West Indies,” which is synonymous with Antilles, resulted from Columbus’ belief that he had reached India; he called the people he found on the island “Indians” for the same reason.

Two major island groupings, the Greater Antilles and the Lesser Antilles, are found in the Caribbean below the Bahamas. Within these two groupings are the islands of Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic), Puerto Rico, the U. S. Virgin Islands, the British Virgin Islands, the British West Indies, the Netherlands Antilles, the French West Indies, Trinidad, and Tobago.

There is much contrast in climate between the islands, often on the same island. Caribbean climates are always comfortable, warm but not oppressive. A few days or weeks in late summer or early autumn can be hot and humid, but the heat is tempered by northeast trade winds. The nights are always cool.

Rains are usually heavy, but brief, and vary from an average of around 50 inches in the low islands, such as Antigua, eastern Guadeloupe, Barbados, and Marie-Galante, to 100 inches and more, annually, on the mountainous islands such as Dominica. There is, in some areas, a brief wet season around April, but as a general rule the heavier rains fall between July and October.

Hurricanes, named for the Indian god, Huracan, meaning the “Despoiler, Lord of the Circular Tempest,” threaten the middle or northern Antilles from August to October, but less often now than in past years. They can be spotted days in advance and preparations made against them, with time to spare.

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