Antigua, (pop: 65,000) with about 108 square miles, is the largest of the Leewards, and also the most popular and the most developed. Its dependencies are nearby Barbuda and Redonda. The island is low-lying and composed of volcanic rock, coral and limestone. Boggy Peak, its highest elevation, rises to 1,330 ft. There is nothing spectacular about its landscape, although its rolling hills and flowering trees are picturesque. Its coastline however, curving into coves and graceful harbours with 365 soft white sand beaches fringed with palm trees, is among the most attractive in the West Indies.
The Bahamas is a coral archipelago consisting of some 700 low-lying islands, and over 2,000 cays (pronounced "keys"). The highest hills, on Cat Island, are less than 400 ft and most islands have a maximum height of 100 ft. The total area of the islands is about 5,400 square miles, roughly the same as Jamaica.
The whole archipelago extends for about 600 miles southeast from the Mantanilla shoal off the coast of Florida to 50 miles north of Haiti. Some of the smaller cays are privately owned but most of them are uninhabited. The main tourist areas are Paradise Island and Cable Beach, on New Providence, and Freeport, on Grand Bahama, where huge resorts attract mass tourism. Most cruise ships come in to Nassau, the capital, on New Providence, and its main shopping street can be packed when several ships are in port. The other islands, known as the "Family Islands", or "Out Islands", are largely unspoilt and include Bimini, the Berry Islands, Abaco, Eleuthera (these two are particularly attractive), the Exumas, Andros, Cat Island, Long Island, San Salvador, Rum Cay, Inagua, Acklins and Crooked Island. The water around these islands and the smaller cays changes from deep blue to pale turquoise according to depth and underwater features, producing spectacularly beautiful colour schemes when seen from the air and a huge playground for all manner of watersports: sailing, fishing, diving, snorkelling and anything else you can think of.
The islands are made up of limestone over 5,000 m deep, most of it Oolite, laid down for more than 150 million years on a gradually sinking sea bed. New material accumulated constantly and the seas of the Bahamas Platform remained remarkedly shallow, often only a few metres deep. From the air, the different shades of turquoise, ultramarine and blue in these shallow waters are spectacular. On land, the soil is thin and infertile except for a few pockets of fertile soil. In many places, bare limestone rock is exposed at the surface while much land is swampy, impenetrable and uninhabitable. There are many large cave systems, including the impressive blue holes, formed when sea levels were lower and since flooded. There are no rivers or streams on any of the islands, but there is some freshwater, found close to the surface but resting on underlying saltwater. If wells are drilled too deep, they produce brackish or saltwater. Andros has a surplus of freshwater, which is barged to Nassau. Most people drink bottled water. Desalination plants are being built.
About 15 island areas have been developed. They have a total population of about 287,000; about two thirds live in New Providence and 16% in Grand Bahama. The weather can be pleasant in the winter season although cold fronts from the North American continent can bring strong north winds, heavy rain and surprisingly low temperatures. The summer months are hot, humid and often windless, with frequent thunderstorms. In August 1992 Hurricane Andrew hit the Bahamas, making over 1,200 homeless, killing four people and causing damage of over US$250mn. North Eleuthera was badly damaged. In October 1996 Hurricane Lili destroyed houses and crops and cut power lines in Exuma, Long Island and other islands after passing over Cuba. In June 1997 unprecedented rainfall and a spring tide caused flooding in New Providence while a tornado struck Hope Town, damaging boats and power supplies. In 1999 Hurricane Floyd hit Abaco, Cat Island and Eleuthera before heading for Grand Bahama and Florida. Wind speeds of 100 mph were recorded on Nassau, where coastal areas were flooded and power cut off, but on Eleuthera winds reached 155 mph and about 25% of houses were damaged. Businesses soon got back to normal, however, and there is little evidence of storm damage now.
The Dominican Republic, occupies the eastern two-thirds of Hispaniola, has some spectacularly beautiful scenery. The country is mountainous and has the highest peak in the Caribbean, Pico Duarte (3,175 m). It has many more forests than its neighbour, Haiti, and is green and fertile. Within a system of widespread food production are large sugar and fruit plantations and cattle ranches. The Republic has built up its tourist trade, and has much to offer in the way of natural beauty, old colonial architecture, attractive beaches, adventure sports, modern resorts and native friendliness. Public transport is good and it is easy and rewarding to explore by bus or hired car. Its population is mostly a mixture of black, white and mulatto, and is Spanish-speaking.
The Dominicans are a mixture of African black and white, with a strong European strain. Although Dominicans often call themselves Indians, the Taínos were in fact wiped out within a few generations of the arrival of the Spanish. These English terms should, however, be qualified: 'blanco' (white) refers to anybody who is white, light-skinned mulatto, or substantially white with either or both Indian (appearance) or African admixture; 'indio claro' (tan) is anyone who is white/black mixed; 'indio oscuro' (dark Indian) is anyone who is not 100% black (ie with some white admixture); 'negro' is 100% African. Negro is not a derogatory term. There is a certain aspiration towards the Indian; this can be seen not only in the use of the original name for the island, Quisqueya (and Quisqueyanos), but in place names (San Pedro de Macorís, from the Macorix tribe, the other Indian inhabitants being the Taino and the Ciguayo) and in given family names (Guainorex, Anacaona, etc). Unlike in Haiti, the Dominicans' culture and language are hispanic and their religion Roman Catholic. Economically, the country is much more developed, despite a stormy political past and unsavoury periods of dictatorship, particularly under Generalísimo Trujillo (1930-61). Nevertheless, in a material sense the country prospered during the Trujillo era and the standard of living is much higher than it is in Haiti. Many people seek a better life elsewhere, however, and Dominicans make up the largest group of Hispanics in New York, while those left behind rely on their relatives' remittances of dollars to make ends meet.
Jamaica lies some 90 miles south of Cuba and a little over 100 miles west of Haiti. With an area of 4,244 square miles, it is the third largest island in the Greater Antilles. It is 146 miles from east to west and 51 miles from north to south at its widest, bounded by the Caribbean. Jamaica has been called the Island of Springs, and its Arawak name, Xaymaca, meant land of wood and water. The luxuriance of the vegetation is indeed striking. Like other West Indian islands, it is an outcrop of a submerged mountain range. It is crossed by a spectacular range of mountains reaching 7,402 ft at the Blue Mountain Peak in the east and descending towards the west, with a series of spurs and forested gullies running north and south. Tropical beaches surround the island, the best being on the north and west coasts, though there are some good bathing places on the south coast too. The island is a fascinating blend of cultures from colonial Britain, African slavery and immigrants from China, India and the Middle East. Reggae and Rastafariansim have become synonymous with Jamaica; Bob Marley and Peter Tosh among the greats to have been born here. The place lives and breathes rhythym, music is everywhere.
Over 90% of Jamaicans are of West African descent, the English settlers having followed the Spaniards in bringing in slaves from West Africa. Because of this, Ashanti words still figure very largely in the local dialect, which is known as Jamaica Talk. There are also Chinese, East Indians and Christian Arabs as well as those of British descent and other European minorities. The population is approximately 2.5 million. There is considerable poverty on the island, which has created social problems and some tension. Jamaicans are naturally friendly, easy going and international in their outlook (more people of Jamaican origin live outside Jamaica than inside). There is a 'Meet the People' programme which enables visitors to meet Jamaicans on a one-to-one basis.
St Lucia (pronounced 'Loosha') is the second largest of the Windwards, lying between St Vincent and Martinique with an area of 238 square miles. The scenery is of outstanding beauty, and in the
neighborhood of the Pitons, it has an element of grandeur. The highest peak is Morne Gimie, 3,118 ft, but the most spectacular are Gros Piton, 2,619 ft, and Petit Piton, 2,461 ft, which are old volcanic forest-clad plugs rising sheer out of the sea near the town of Soufrière on the west coast. A few miles away is one of the world's most accessible volcanoes. Here you can see soufrières: vents in the volcano which exude hydrogen sulphide, steam and other gases and deposit sulphur and other compounds in pools of boiling water. The mountains are intersected by numerous short rivers which in places debouch into broad, fertile and well-cultivated valleys.The island has become a popular tourist destination, with sporting facilities, splendid beaches, clear, warm sea and sunshine. The films Dr Doolittle, Water and Superman II were shot here.
U.S. Virgin Islands
The US Virgin Islands, in which the legacies of Danish ownership are very apparent, contain three main islands: St Thomas, St John and St Croix. There are 68 islands in all, that lie about 40 miles east of Puerto Rico, although most of them are uninhabited. They have long been developed as holiday centres for US citizens and because of that are distinct from the British Virgin Islands, which have only recently started to develop their tourist potential. The population, mainly black, has always been English-speaking, despite the long period of Danish control. Some Spanish is in use, particularly on St Croix. The West Indian dialect is mostly English, with inflections from Dutch, Danish, French, Spanish, African languages and Créole.