What is the Difference Between the Greater Antilles and the Lesser Antilles?

The Greater Antillles and Lesser Antilles are both located in the Caribbean Sea.

Where are the Greater and Lesser Antilles?

The islands of the Caribbean sea are also known as the West Indies. Within the West Indies, the islands can be divided even further into two groups: the Bahamas and the Antilles.

The islands of the Antilles are then further divided into two sub-groups:

  • The Greater Antilles: located southeast of the United States, contain the islands of Cuba, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominical Republic), and the islands composing the Cayman Islands.
  • The Lesser Antilles: contains smaller archipelagos like the U.S. Virgin Islands, British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, Montserrat, Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique, Saint Lucia, Barbados, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, and Trinidad and Tobago and Aruba.

Within the Lesser Antilles, the islands can be divided even further into two groups: the Leeward Islands (away from the wind) and the Windward Islands (exposed to the wind).

Why the Distinction?

The islands of the Greater Antilles are larger in size than the Lesser Antilles, but the contrasts do not end there. The geographic location of the two groups is different, with the Greater Antilles located in the northern end of the Caribbean Sea south of the United States. The Lesser Antilles are located in the southern end of the Caribbean Sea, closer to South America. Furthermore, the Greater Antilles are made up of continental rock whereas the Lesser Antilles are mostly comprised of coral islands or volcanic rock. The land of the Greater Antilles is thought to be much older than the land found on the Lesser Antilles.

The Greater and Lesser Antilles also demonstrate different evolutionary patterns for the native flora and fauna. Sometimes, the majority of the islands of the Greater Antilles (namely Cuba, Dominican Republic, and Cuba) are considered part of Latin America culture, and not Caribbean culture, although many argue that this distinction is too much of a generalization to be valid.


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