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West Indies Countries 2023

The West Indies is an unofficial grouping of island countries and territories in the Atlantic Ocean, running from the southern coast of the United States in North America to the northern coast of South America, in the region generally known as the Caribbean. Despite their name, the West Indies are unrelated to India. Rather, the name was coined by Europeans to distinguish the islands of this region from India and the "East Indies" of southeast Asia—a westward route to which Columbus believed he had discovered when he became the first modern European to set foot in the Bahamas in 1492.

The West Indies includes three separate island chains, each of which are geologically distinct from one another: the Greater Antilles, the Lesser Antilles, and the Lucayan Archipelago, more commonly known as the Bahamas. Outside of this guideline, however, the roster is less clear. Because West Indies is an informal term, the precise list of countries and territories that make up the West Indies may differ according to the source.

The UK territory Bermuda is the most notable example of this deviation. Bermuda is excluded by some sources because it is geographically distant from other West Indian nations. However, it is included by other sources because its culture is closely aligned with that of the other West Indian nations. Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago are similarly excluded at times, though less often. By most accounts, the West Indies comprises 13 countries and approximately 20 dependent territories.

Countries of the West Indies:

Territories of the West Indies:

  • Anguilla - UK territory
  • Aruba - constituent of Netherlands
  • Bermuda (some sources) - UK territory
  • Bonaire - Netherlands territory
  • British Virgin Islands - UK territory
  • Cayman Islands - UK territory
  • Curacao - constituent of Netherlands
  • Federal Dependencies of Venezuela - Venezuela territory
  • Guadeloupe - France territory
  • Martinique - France territory
  • Montserrat - UK territory
  • Nueva Esparta - Venezuela territory
  • Puerto Rico - US territory
  • Saba - Netherlands territory
  • Saint Barthelemy - France territory
  • Saint Martin - France territory
  • Sint Eustatius - Netherlands territory
  • Sint Maarten - constituent of Netherlands
  • Turks and Caicos Islands - UK territory
  • US Virgin Islands - US territory

Tourism plays a major role in the economies of most islands in the West Indies, which are famous for their tropical beaches and blue ocean waters and frequently rank among the best countries to visit. This is particularly true during the winter months of November, December, January, and February, when the weather is cold in the more temperate regions of North America.

Tourism in the West Indies plummeted during the COVID-19 lockdowns of 2020, as it did across much of the world. In the Dominican Republic, for example, the number of international visitors dropped from more than 6.4 million in 2019 to barely 2.5 million in 2020. Several other West Indian countries suffered even more precipitous declines. However, the tourism industry has rebounded significantly since the abatement of the pandemic, and the Dominican Republic set its all-time record for monthly tourists in July 2022.

Differences between the West Indies and the Caribbean

Although the term West Indies is often used interchangeably with the term Caribbean, the two have different meanings. Caribbean is the broader of the two terms and may include not only the optional West Indian nations such as Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, and Bermuda, but also countries along the coast of mainland Central America and South America, such as Belize, Guyana, and Venezuela, which could arguably be Caribbean countries, but are not considered part of the West Indies.

Divisions of the West Indies

The Greater Antilles

The Greater Antilles is made up of the islands of Cuba, Jamaica, the Cayman Islands, Puerto Rico, and Hispaniola, which is divided into the countries of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Of these, four are sovereign states (independent countries) and two are dependent territories: Puerto Rico (US) and Cayman Islands (UK).

The Greater Antilles has a land area roughly nine times larger than that of the rest of the West Indies combined, as Cuba and Hispaniola are the largest and second-largest islands in both the West Indies and the larger Caribbean region by a significant margin. The population gap is similarly lopsided, with Greater Antilles having a population of roughly 40 million people, while the cumulative population of the rest of the West Indies totals less than five million.

According to data from the United Nations World Tourism Organization, the Dominican Republic is the most-visited island in the Caribbean, having welcomed more than 6.4 million tourists in 2019. Moreover, fellow Greater Antillean countries Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica ranked second through fifth in 2019 with nearly 4.3, 3.2, and 2.7 million annual visitors, respectively. Cuba, in fact, is the second-most-visited communist country in the world (behind China), with its capital city of Havana serving as a particularly popular destination.

The Lesser Antilles

Smaller in size and population but greater in number are the Lesser Antilles, which include three smaller groups—the Leeward Islands, the similarly named Leeward Antilles, and the Windward Islands—as well as the isolated islands Barbados, Trinidad, and Tobago.

As in the Greater Antilles, many island nations of the Lesser Antilles, such as Aruba, Curacao, and the Virgin Islands (which are geographically located in the Greater Antilles, but are considered part of the Lesser Antilles politically), are popular tourist destinations known for their warm weather, beaches, and natural beauty.

Subdivisions of Countries and Territories in the Lesser Antilles:

AnguillaLeeward IslandsMontserratLeeward Islands
Antigua and BarbudaLeeward IslandsNueva EspartaLeeward Antilles
ArubaLeeward AntillesSabaLeeward Islands
BarbadosIsolatedSaint BarthelemyLeeward Islands
BonaireLeeward AntillesSaint Kitts and NevisLeeward Islands
British Virgin IslandsGreater AntillesSaint LuciaWindward Islands
CuracaoLeeward AntillesSaint MartinLeeward Islands
DominicaWindward IslandsSaint Vincent and the GrenadinesWindward Islands
Federal Dependencies of VenezuelaLeeward AntillesSint EustatiusLeeward Islands
GrenadaWindward IslandsSint MaartenLeeward Islands
GuadeloupeLeeward IslandsTrinidad and TobagoIsolated
MartiniqueWindward IslandsUS Virgin IslandsGreater Antilles

The Lucayan Archipelago and more: Turks and Caicos, the Bahamas, and Bermuda

The northernmost countries of the West Indies lie above Cuba and Hispaniola, where the Caribbean Sea gives way to the Atlantic Ocean. Just southeast of the US state of Florida, a chain of more than 3,000 islands, cays, and islets (most of which are small and uninhabited) make up the Lucayan Archipelago, which is split into Turks and Caicos Islands (an autonomous UK territory) and the Bahamas (a sovereign state).

The Bahamas consistently ranks as one of the top tourist destinations in the West Indies, and attracted nearly 2 million international visitors in 2019 (UNWTO data). The Turks and Caicos Islands ranks in the top 10 as well, attracting nearly half a million tourists in 2019 despite having an area of just 948 km² compared to the Bahamas' roughly 10,000 km².

The UK territory Bermuda lies further north, at the same latitude as the state of North Carolina and well into the Atlantic Ocean, but is often considered part of the West Indies because of its similar/shared culture. As in most countries in the West Indies, Bermuda's tourism industry was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, with the number of international visitors in 2020 dropping to less than 20% of the 2019 total. However, the industry is in the process of bouncing back, and the last remaining COVID-related travel restrictions were removed in late 2022.

- Bermuda is left off of some lists of West Indian countries. On very rare occasion, the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Bahamas may be left off as well.
- Population numbers for dependent territories may be less current than those for sovereign states.
- The Virgin Islands are geographically part of the Greater Antilles, but are politically grouped with the Lesser Antilles.
- Tourism data courtesy of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). 2020 data is provisional and final totals could change slightly.

Download Table Data

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West Indies Classification
UNWTO 2019
UNWTO 2020
Puerto RicoTerritory (US)Greater Antilles4,931,0003,882,000
Cayman IslandsTerritory (UK)Greater Antilles2,334,000660,000
BermudaTerritory (UK)Bermuda Archipelago805,00051,400
Turks and Caicos IslandsTerritory (UK)Lucayan Archipelago1,599,000370,400
British Virgin IslandsTerritory (UK)Lesser Antilles - Greater Antilles895,00083,000
AnguillaTerritory (UK)Lesser Antilles - Leeward Islands166,00041,000
MontserratTerritory (UK)Lesser Antilles - Leeward Islands19,3007,700
GuadeloupeTerritory (France)Lesser Antilles - Leeward Islands
MartiniqueTerritory (France)Lesser Antilles - Windward Islands919,000523,600
Saint MartinTerritory (France)Lesser Antilles - Leeward Islands
Saint BarthelemyTerritory (France)Lesser Antilles - Leeward Islands
HaitiCountryGreater Antilles938,000322,000
Dominican RepublicCountryGreater Antilles7,550,0002,748,000
CubaCountryGreater Antilles4,276,0001,086,000
JamaicaCountryGreater Antilles4,233,0001,329,700
Trinidad and TobagoCountryLesser Antilles - Isolated480,000141,000
BahamasCountryLucayan Archipelago7,250,0001,794,500
BarbadosCountryLesser Antilles - Isolated966,000546,000
Saint LuciaCountryLesser Antilles - Windward Islands1,220,000432,500
GrenadaCountryLesser Antilles - Windward Islands526,000217,000
Saint Vincent and the GrenadinesCountryLesser Antilles - Windward Islands404,000155,000
Antigua and BarbudaCountryLesser Antilles - Leeward Islands1,035,000276,000
DominicaCountryLesser Antilles - Windward Islands322,000140,000
Saint Kitts and NevisCountryLesser Antilles - Leeward Islands1,107,000301,400
CuracaoConstituent of NetherlandsLesser Antilles - Leeward Antilles1,293,000436,000
ArubaConstituent of NetherlandsLesser Antilles - Leeward Antilles1,951,000
Sint MaartenConstituent of NetherlandsLesser Antilles - Leeward Islands1,952,000542,000
showing: 27 rows

How many West Indies countries are there?

The West Indies consists of three independent island countries and 18 dependent countries.

Frequently Asked Questions