The Lesser Antilles are an archipelago in the southeastern Caribbean, forming a boundary between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.
These islands were the first part of the New World to be settled and colonised by Europeans. While some islands are independent nations (and among the world's smallest by land area and population), others are associated with European or American countries, usually through choice in referendum and some are completely integrated with their mainland as integral parts.
Leeward Islands edit
- Not to be confused with Leeward Antilles in the southern Caribbean.
- Working north to south:
- 1 U.S. Virgin Islands, an organized territory of the United States. Saint Thomas is the main island and city.
- 2 British Virgin Islands, a dependency of the United Kingdom, separated by only a mile of channel from the USVI.
- 3 Anguilla, a dependency of the United Kingdom.
- 4 Saint Martin northern half is French. The south is Dutch, who call it Sint Maarten, capital Philipsburg.
- 5 Saint-Barthélemy, an overseas department of France, capital Gustavia.
- 6 Saba, a municipality of the Netherlands.
- 7 Sint Eustatius, a municipality of the Netherlands.
- 8 Saint Kitts and Nevis are a sovereign nation.
- 9 Antigua and Barbuda, a sovereign nation, capital Saint John's.
- 10 Montserrat, a dependency of the United Kingdom.
- 11 Guadeloupe, an overseas department of France, capital Basse-Terre.
Windward Islands edit
These are all sovereign nations except Martinique, a department of France.
- 12 Barbados, capital Bridgetown, is east of the archipelago and not part of the Windward Islands proper.
- 13 Dominica has its capital at Roseau.
- 14 Martinique, a French department with its capital at Fort-de-France.
- 15 Saint Lucia has its capital at Castries.
- 16 Saint Vincent and the Grenadines have their capital at Kingstown.
- 17 Grenada has its capital at St Georges.
- 18 Trinidad and Tobago, capital Port-of-Spain, is southeast of the archipelago, and not part of the Windward Islands proper.
"Windward" means upwind and "leeward" means downwind, crucial for a sailing vessel, but what is up- or downwind depends entirely on your reference point. Europeans reached this chain of islands sailing downwind across the Atlantic under the "trade winds", the prevailing easterlies. That helped them get here before too many of their African slave cargo had perished or become too ill to be saleable. The main traders in the 17th and 18th century were British, plying from the Gold Coast and Gulf of Guinea, so they would first encounter Dominica then make a turn. Guadeloupe and points north and east thus lay downwind, leeward, while to Dominica and points south were cross- or upwind, thus windward. These terms became the names of colonial jurisdictions and remain embedded in English usage. Other nations had different trading routes and reference points for what was up- or downwind, likewise reflected in their colonial place names and language. Spanish Barlovento / Sotavento, Dutch Bovenwindse Eilanden and French Îles du Vent don't match the terms used on this page.
Get in edit
Entry requirements: see individual island jurisdictions for the rules. For most destinations, western passport holders simply arrive and are granted a stay of 30 to 90 days for leisure or business, but may not take up employment. The US territory of US Virgin Islands as of 2022 is a "free zone" where an ESTA is not required, but you often have to transit through an airport such as Miami, which does require one.
By plane is the usual way to arrive. All the principal islands have airports capable of handling long-distance flights, while the smaller ones have inter-island flights. Flight patterns reflect traditional colonial trading links, only without the bicorn hats in First Class, tricorns in Club Class and shackles in Economy. Many leisure visitors are on package tours, on either tour operator or flag-carrier airlines, and this is a good choice even for independent-minded travellers as flight + hotel deals are far cheaper than separate bookings. Whether you can get a direct flight depends on passenger volume rather than airport facilities. For instance Martinique draws a French mass market and has non-stop flights from Paris, while Guadeloupe involves a change.
By boat: there are no long-distances ferries, though short-haul ferries link neighbouring islands. Cruise liners visit islands with major sights, bussing their passengers from the dock to the attractions.
Get around edit
All but the smallest green dots on the map have inter-island fights. These are timed for essential business by residents, so they generally have two flights a day from their capital. But these may not be timed to connect with long-distance flights, necessitating an overnight stopover.
Ferries only ply short routes, such as between the US and British Virgin Islands, or between Grenada and Carriacou which is occasionally enlivened by sailing over an active undersea volcano. Barbados for example has no ferry service, but fortunately you can wade out to its islets.
Buses and minibuses radiate from each capital, so anything on a radial route is straightforward. Other connections are poor, and bear in mind that resort hotels are some way out from their capitals, with buses attuned to staff not tourists. You might hire a car but may do better to negotiate a taxi for a few hours tour. The driver knows the potholes, police traps and the unsigned turnoff to Crater Lake Forest Reserve, where the sign blew down in a hurricane 20 years ago and has yet to be replaced.
These islands are frankly hostile to cycling or walking for all but the shortest distances. Most roads are narrow and twisty with no sidewalk and are thronged with impatient traffic.
- Scuba diving and snorkelling are on the reefs of each island's sheltered west coast. Most islands have dive shacks, offering training and equipment hire. A few snorkelling spots are close enough to reach from shore, but usually there's a short boat ride to the coral reefs and wrecks a mile out.
- Surfing and wind-surfing need more wind and waves, so these areas tend to be on the southern coasts. North and east coasts are exposed to the Atlantic and may be hazardous.
- Cricket: the West Indies play as a combined international team. The major islands take turns to host these "Test matches" and also play against each other in the drier months. They also have national soccer teams.
- Get married: you're best to involve a specialist overseas wedding company, that knows exactly what documentation and period of island residence is required, and can arrange the whole show. These requirements are not onerous, and the islands are vying to attract "wedding tourism". But they're not quickie-divorce centres, so if you have to dissolve an existing marriage to be free to re-marry, you should do so before arrival and have the documents to prove it.