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The Geography of the Caribbean region

Updated on January 9, 2012
View from San Fernando Hill, Trinidad
View from San Fernando Hill, Trinidad

Like its inhabitants and culture, the physical geography and of the Caribbean is rather diverse.

Unlike continents, the formation of the Caribbean islands is not the result of plate-tectonic activity. Instead, it’s the result of volcanic activity.

This helps to account for several landforms, but there are also other influences – climatic and otherwise – that influence the physical geography of the Caribbean.


The Caribbean region

The Caribbean consists of a number of identifiable sub-regions: the Lucayan archipelago, Greater Antilles, Lesser Antilles and the Leeward Antilles (islands along the Venezuelan coast, including the Dutch Antilles).

Geo-politically, the region includes Suriname, French Guiana, Guyana (South America) and Belize (Central America).

Although the region does not have geographical features like tors, inselbergs or glaciers, the landscapes are sufficient to satisfy the avid eco-tourist or geography enthusiast.

Northern Range, Trinidad
Northern Range, Trinidad | Source

Volcanoes

Unsurprisingly, the Caribbean has a few active volcanoes. A popular name for volcanoes is Soufriere.

Several of the better-known volcanoes go by that name, including the notorious Mt. Soufriere of Montserrat.

Another popular volcano is Grenada’s Kick-‘em-Jenny. St. Vincent, St. Lucia (Soufriere Hills) and Dominica also have prominent volcanoes that also serve as tourist attractions.

Even Trinidad has little mud volcanoes that are active.

Mountains, Mountain Ranges and Hills

The mountains of the Caribbean may seem like mere hills in larger countries. However, there are many mountain ranges in the Greater Antilles, and in some smaller territories like Trinidad and Tobago and Dominica. Hills are more prevalent than mountains in smaller territories.

Trinidad earned its name from Columbus’ sighting of three hills on the southern side of the island in 1492. The ranges in Caribbean countries have rainforests and a wonderful variety of flora and fauna.

The largest mountain ranges in the English-speaking Caribbean include the Northern Range (Trinidad) and Blue Mountains (Jamaica). Morne Diabotins (or Devil Mountain in Dominica) and Mount Gimie (St. Lucia) are also noteworthy landforms.

The Caribbean region, with members of the Caribbean Community highlighted in yellow.
The Caribbean region, with members of the Caribbean Community highlighted in yellow. | Source

Waterfalls

Guyana, the Caribbean country on the South American mainland, has the largest (not tallest) single-drop waterfall worldwide. Kaieteur Falls is a powerful waterfall because of the combination of height and the volume of water.

Waterfalls are a main attraction in several island territories as well – particularly those with mountainous regions. Many of these waterfalls reside in the hills/ mountain ranges, so accessing them may require hiking activity.

Rainforests

Rainforests are common features in South America, but can also be found as far as Dominica and Jamaica. Rainforests add to the increased diversity of flora and fauna in the Caribbean and are a great tourist attraction in these parts, with the lush green appearance making them great for eco-tourists and hikers alike.

Swamps

Some islands are so mountainous or hilly that they have no low-lying plains. For regions with these, swamps are common, and also play host to some exotic creatures like the Scarlet Ibis, Toucans and the manatee.

In Trinidad, there are two major swamps – Nariva and Caroni. The Nariva swamp is home to the caiman – a smaller relative of the crocodile.

Desert in the Dutch Antilles, created by the semi-arid climate there.
Desert in the Dutch Antilles, created by the semi-arid climate there.

Beaches and coral reefs

Caribbean beaches have more than pristine white sand and views of clear waters to offer. There are also several coral reefs on the islands.

Coral reefs are important to the marine ecosystem in these territories and also provide another tourist attraction for many countries.

Tobago’s Buccoo reef is a shallow reef that gives visitors the opportunity to get a close-up view and walk among the corals.

Sand bars

Sand bars are also an interesting feature of some Caribbean beaches. For example, the long sandbar at Pigeon Point, Tobago creates the effect of a large pool with the waves breaking a couple hundred metres from the shoreline.

Notable features

One would not associate the Caribbean with desert conditions, but the Dutch Antilles and Margarita have a few on account of their semi-arid climate. Miniature islands, caves, bays and inlets are some other features that can be experienced on a trip to the West Indies.

Comments

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  • EGBourne profile image

    Edwin G Bourne 

    5 years ago from Atlanta, GA

    As a person of Bajan descent I spent my childhood and adolescence visiting Barbados where I learned about my culture and the historical landmarks and facts about the island. I remembered when I ventured the rainforest, flower cave, and underground cave that existed. I also went to the museum where I learned about the islands history. I feel that people especially of African descent should spend time visiting the museums and the historical landmarks, because a piece of their African history exists and they will never learn about it through the history books in schools.

  • samtenabray profile image

    samtenabray 

    6 years ago from uk

    Very Interesting hub, and very well written!

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