Leeward Islands Travel Articles
Caribbean Cruise Getaway
Work and a busy schedule can leave you craving some fun and relaxation. A rejuvenating quick Caribbean cruise break not only gets you away from it all but returns you to your life inspired, refreshed and feeling ready to be more productive than ever.
East of Central America is the Caribbean Sea and the vast array of islands that make up the Caribbean region. Some of these are island nations such as Jamaica or a nation comprised of several islands such as the Bahamas.
The Caribbean is a great choice for a quick getaway as it not only offers an exotic holiday close to mainland USA but the number of islands in a relatively small area means a fun and varied Caribbean vacation is possible within a short time frame and without a lot of travel time between destinations. Ports of call are not far from each other so traveling between them will take a few hours at most. This means that you spend most of your Caribbean vacation at the destinations rather than at sea.
Another advantage to choosing a Caribbean cruise is the variety among the islands. From night life, authentic Caribbean cuisine, sports, places of historical interest and friendly, vibrant local communities the full range of relaxing and exciting holiday activities can be found in the shortest Caribbean tour. Cruises can range from six to fifteen days and the peak season for weather is June, July and the first half of August. This period has little strong wind. Winds are at their strongest from mid August until October.
Most inhabitants of the Caribbean islands speak English (with differing dialects) which is an additional advantage to US travelers. Different currencies are used throughout the Caribbean but many of these are linked to the US Dollar and often have a fixed exchange rate. This offers the advantage of avoiding exchange rates which leave you paying out more than you bargained for.
A Caribbean cruise presents the opportunity for many unique activities such as scuba diving and snorkeling for both beginners and experts. Impressive coral reefs and ghostly ship wrecks give the Caribbean its reputation as one of the best places to dive in the world. Various locations offer the chance to swim with stingray, dolphins and even sharks. If the idea of an underwater adventure appeals to you then you might consider a ride in a Scenic Underwater Bubble submarine which works a bit like an underwater moped and does not require familiarity with diving equipment and procedures.
Hiking in the Caribbean takes you through some of the most beautiful landscapes imaginable. Wildlife fanatics can head to nature reserves to try and glimpse creatures such as the green tail monkey or Caribbean fruit bat. It is possible to go on Jeep tours of plantations and tropical areas.
Golfers will be spoiled for choice with a range of challenging and unusual courses. Sailing enthusiasts can hire boats and either enjoy the waters or visit nearby islands. With the white sandy beaches and crystal clear water there may never have been a better place to indulge in some surf.
The Caribbean is a paradise for the active traveler as well as those who like to sit and appreciate the sunset as they enjoy a beach barbecue buffet and a rum cocktail. With so many options within easy reach on a Caribbean cruise there’s no reason not to have and do it all.
Caribbean Island Adventures
A hop, skip and jump away from the United States, the Caribbean is just the place you want to go for a getaway in the midst of calm seas and some fantastic adventure in a cultural hotspot.
A Caribbean cruise is much more than sun, sand and surf. And the proximity of islands allow you to sample the regional flavor and local adventures, that have earned many an island a sobriquet.
Carnivals, pageants, Calypso music, casinos, shopping and cricket, the Caribbean vacation experience has plenty for all. Walk around its many historic sites, and explore pirate and plantation legacies. Visit volcano sites and take treks through densely forested mountain areas amidst mangrove swamps. Sail by privately owned islands, and see firsthand the hideaways of the rich and famous. Sample tropical concoctions at plantations and a myriad of flavors in Caribbean cuisine.
For sporty adventures, sailing, paragliding and kayaking are activities for you. The steep walls of coral reefs, underground caves and calm waters, offer you some of the most exciting sites for diving and snorkeling.
Re-trace the course of Christopher Columbus, as he discovered them in late 15th century.
Leeward Lesser Antilles
The Lesser Antilles, a chain of 15 volcanic islands, sports active volcanoes and geo-thermal activity. Bordered by the Puerto Rican Trench to the north-west with depths of 9200 ft, these islands offers some of the most excellent diving sites, like those at Montserrat and Barbuda.
At Barbuda, go rock climbing and take trails, sail or go paragliding. Explore its 17 miles of pink-shell beaches and the Codrington Lagoon, nesting site of the endangered Frigate birds. And you cannot miss Nelson's Dockyard National Park at Antigua, a restored naval dockyard set amidst a mangrove park and home to the African cattle egrets.
U.S. Virgin Islands
The highlights of St Thomas are shore excursions to the Magens Bay, Fort Christian and the famous Blackbeard's Castle. The Buck Island Reef National Monument is a less known but a sheer haven for even amateur snorkeling and scuba diving. The spectacular coral reefs and endangered turtles are unforgettable marine encounters that you can experience as a family.
St. Croix Salt River Bay National Historic Park has endangered animal species you will not see elsewhere. Part of the park, the underwater canyon, is a huge draw for divers.
British Virgin Islands
You will know the moment you enter British territory of the 600 British Virgin Islands. The reason? It is as though nature has hit overdrive. Most islands, even those that are mere specks on the map, are magnificent. All this is much at odds with their quaint names, like Dead Chest, Necker and Moskito! These islands are also associated with colorful pirate stories of the British Pirate Blackbeard and other famous legends, just asking to be explored.
Sage Mountain National Park at Tortola offers two trails that take you up the 1700 feet high mountain. While trekking the Devil's Bay at Virgin Gorda is a popular activity, Anegada has some fantastic trails to the saltwater ponds in mangrove forests, where you come across some exotic bird species. Norman Island, the inspiration for the R.L. Stevenson's "Treasure Island" will excite you with its many coves, reef and caves along The Bright. Tobago islands are protected areas with a 'no anchor policy'. But the cliffs plunging a 160 feet deep into the sea offer some great diving opportunities.
The Windward Islands, are so named as they are on the windier and wetter side of the Lesser Antilles.
St. Lucia has two famous sites. The two Pitons, natural volcanic formations, and the Pigeon Island National Park, home to the red-necked pigeon. St Vincent’s drive-in volcano to the Soufriere sulphur springs site, 4000 ft above sea level, is a one-of-its-kind stinky experience!
"The Island of Spices", Grenada, takes you on a memorable trail through a lake, mangrove swamps, and a bird sanctuary to sight tropical parrots at its Levera National Park. Grand Etang Park with the Grand Etang Lake, is however more popular amongst naturalists, for the rare orchids, giant gommiers and mahoganies with some exciting fauna.
Tobago Cays, Trinidad and Barbados, are popular stopovers offering plenty of activities. The long colonial history has earned Barbados the name "Little England”. Dominica’s dense forested mountains, rare flora and fauna, and a World Heritage Site, is a boiling lake of grayish-blue water, make it truly the "Nature Isle of the Caribbean”.
French West Indies
Explore the amazing gray-black beaches of Martinique, delight in its old-world charm and splendid Creole and French cuisine. Surf at Tartane and trek through forested mountains to view Mont Pelee. And do not miss sampling Guadeloupe's rich musical heritage.
Leeward Islands Overview
The Leeward Islands earned their name because they lie in the lee of the wind: the prevailing trade winds are blowing towards them from the east north east. They are situated near the meeting point of the Caribbean sea and the Atlantic Ocean. Although they are closely clustered they have had diverging histories of occupation and colonization, and some are still a part of the overseas territories of European nations.
From north to south the main islands are Anguilla, St Martin, Barbuda, St Kitts & Nevis, Antigua and Montserrat, together with smaller islands including St Barthelemy and Saba. Many Caribbean cruises combine multiple stops at these islands on one itinerary. They should not be confused with the Society Islands of French Polynesia, which are also sometimes referred to as Leeward Islands.
Leeward Islands Ancient History
Early settlers on the islands were Amerindian tribes who migrated in successive waves either southwards from what is now Florida or northwards from present-day Venezuela, as long ago as 3000 BC according to archaeological evidence. The original stone age tribes were replaced by the agricultural societies of the Saladoids and Arawaks, who were in their turn ousted by the warlike Caribs. The Caribs were the remaining indigenous inhabitants when Spanish explorers arrived in the 15th century.
Leeward Islands Culture
The citizens of the Leeward Islands are largely descended from the African slaves introduced in the 18th and early 19th centuries to work in the sugar cane plantations, and most islands have more than 90% of their population derived from this ethnic group. The remainder are descended from the original European plantation owners and the indentured servants who came in large numbers from India, as well as from China, Ireland and Scotland. St Martin adds to the mix with its descendants of Dutch and French colonists.
English is the predominant language, plus French and Dutch of course on St Martin. Both English-based and French-based Creole are also spoken. The East Caribbean dollar is the prevailing currency. St Martin is odd man out again, circulating the Netherlands Antilles guilder in the Dutch area and the Euro in the French region. The US dollar is widely accepted throughout the islands.
Cricket is widely played and followed in the former British territories. Music, as in the rest of the Caribbean, is a big part of life, and calypso, soca, steelpan, reggae, salsa and jazz all have their adherents. Major celebrations include the St Kitts Christmas and New Year carnival and annual music festival, and Anguilla’s Emancipation Day and Culturama festival on August 1st.
Caribbean cruises as well as land-based tourism is an important part of the economy for all of the islands. Many of them also rely on their status as a tax haven to promote offshore financial services as a source of government revenue.
Leeward Islands Cuisine
With such an ethnic melting-pot to draw on, it is not surprising that the cuisine of the Leeward Islands is rich and varied. It is influenced by native Caribbean heritage as well as African, French, Dutch, British and Asian influences. There is an emphasis on local seafood, including prawns, crab, lobster, mahi mahi, marlin and many other kinds of fish. Salt cod is popular in Anguilla. Many islanders enjoy goat meat, a legacy of the animals left behind by early seafarers in the hope of finding fresh meat to harvest on their return. St Kitts & Nevis in particular has good rich soil for growing fresh produce.
Leeward Islands Geography
The Leeward Isalnds are a part of the northern section of the Lesser Antilles islands of the Caribbean. Anguilla (18 15N, 63 10 W) is the most northerly of the cluster, and Montserrat (16 45 N, 62 12 W) the most southerly, and they dot the surface of the ocean in an arc shape, reflecting their geological origin at the meeting point of the North American and Caribbean tectonic plates. Some now separate islands appeared as a single landmass during the last Ice Age, when the sea level was lower.
Anguilla is a flat coral and limestone island about 16 miles (26 km) long and 3 miles (5 km) wide. Total area is roughly 35 square miles (91 sq km). Its population is approximately 14,000, concentrated in the island’s capital, The Valley. There is little farming as a result of the poor soil. The economy is based on tourism, and offshore banking and financial services.
Taken together, the Dutch and French areas of St Martin total about 33 square miles (87 sq km), with a population estimated to be in the region of 80,000. Philipsburg is the Dutch region capital, while Marigot is the major settlemt in the French area. Pic Paradis is the highest peak at 1380 ft (420 m). There are no rivers, and the island was valued by early colonial powers for the sake of its salt ponds.
Antigua is 14 miles (23 km) long and 11 miles (18 km) wide, with a total area of 108 square miles (280 sq km). Its highest point is Boggy Peak, 1319 ft (402m). Barbuda, by contrast, is a flat coral island of 68 square miles (176 sq km). The combined population of Antigua and Barbuda is approximately 68,000, and the nation’s capital is St. John’s.
The islands of St Kitts & Nevis have a combined area of approximately 100 square miles (260 sq km) and a population of around 50,000. The capital, Basseterre, is on the island of St Kitts, which has three ranges of volcanic peaks: the Mount Misery Range, the Verchilds Rage and the Olivees Range. Its highest peak is the dormant volcano Mount Liamuiga, 3,790 ft (1,156 m). The sea channel between St Kitts and Nevis is about two miles (3 km) wide.
Montserrat is about 10 miles (16 km) long and 7 miles (11 km) wide. Like St Kitts, its interior is mountainous and volcanic.
Leeward Islands Recent History
The last five centuries have been an era of colonial occupation, followed by independence in the late 20th century for some islands. Large-scale sugar cane plantations on the more fertile islands led to the importation of thousands of slaves from Africa, and indentured labor from Europe and Asia after the abolition of slavery in the early part of the 19th century.
The islands were occupied by a variety of colonial powers. Anguilla was settled by Britain in 1650 and remains under British rule. There was a very brief era of French occupation in 1666, and a short period of self-proclaimed independence in the 1960s.
St Martin’s history is more turbulent. Christopher Columbus is believed to have landed there on St Martin’s day in 1493. He named it ‘Isla de St Martin’ and claimed it for Spain, but the Spanish never occupied it. The island was divided between the Netherlands and France in the 1648 Treaty of Concordia, but for the following 150 years ownership was disputed by the French, the Dutch and the British. The Treaty of Concordia resumed in 1816, and the island remains divided into the Dutch area of Sint Maarten and the French area of Saint Martin. In the 40-year period from 1960 to 2000 the island was devastated by three hurricanes, Donna, Luis and Lenny.
Antigua and Barbuda were established as British colonies from 1632 and shared in the sugar cane and slavery history common to most of the Leeward Islands. Construction of a British naval dockyard began in 1725, and the most famous officer to serve there was Captain (later Admiral) Horatio Nelson. The restored dockyard remains, as part of Antigua’s national park. The nation of Antigua and Barbuda gained independence from Britain in 1981.
St Kitts & Nevis were claimed for Spain by Christopher Columbus in 1493, but settled by the French from 1538. The British and French together wiped out the indigenous inhabitants and divided the island between them in the 1620s. Tobacco farming was introduced, followed by sugar cane and the inevitable African slaves. British and French rule alternated until 1783, when it became British. Independence from Britain was gained in 1983.
Montserrat is a British overseas territory first colonized in 1632. Its sugar cane, rum and slavery based economy largely failed in the 19th century, and agriculture mostly returned to subsistence smallholdings. In 1989 Hurricane Hugo damaged 90% of the island's buildings and crippled tourism. Further blows were dealt by the 1995 and 1997 eruptions of the Soufriere Hills volcano, which buried Plymouth, the capital, and killed nineteen people. Half the population left the island, and there was a further eruption in 2003. However, tourism is gradually recovering, following the construction of a new capital and airport.
Leeward Islands Politics
Montserrat and Anguilla are separate British overseas territories. In Anguilla there were rebellions and a short-lived unilateral declaration of independence in the late 1960s, when the citizens objected to being included in the territory of St Kitts and Nevis.
French Saint Martin is an overseas collectivity of France, and Dutch Sint Maarten is one of four constituent countries of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
The nations of Antigua & Barbuda and St Kitts & Nevis (officially the Federation of St Christopher and Nevis) are independent states governed by parliamentary democracy. They are members of the British-led Commonwealth of Nations, and recognize the British reigning monarch as their head of state. St Kitts & Nevis have a tourism-related program which allows foreigners to apply for citizenship after making a substantial investment in local real estate. There is some internal tension stemming from a growing movement in Nevis towards secession from the union with St Kitts.
The Leeward Islands, a geographical grouping with an essentially shared history, have developed over time into six separate nations. They have a common interest in tourism, and in economic and cultural advancement for their ethnically diverse but essentially harmonious populations.
Leeward Islands Weather
The Leeward Islands enjoy a tropical climate, tempered by the northeasterly trade winds. There is little seasonal variation, although the second half of the year, the wet season, is rainier and slightly warmer. The best time to travel on a Caribbean cruise is the first half of the year. Temperatures usually range between 81°F and 95°F (27°C and 35°C). Annual rainfall averages about 40 to 50 inches (1016 to 1270 mm). Nearly every island had been severely damaged by hurricane activity in its recent history.
Leeward Islands Wildlife
Bats are the most common mammal encountered on the Leeward Islands. Introduced mammals include deer and the Indian mongoose. Lizards, tortoises, geckos and iguanas are the most common reptiles. Barbuda has a frigate bird sanctuary, including 5,000 frigate birds and 170 other species.