The Geography of the Caribbean region
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.