The Lesser Antilles: The French West Indies

Special Guest Contributor:: Darrin Gleeman of New York City and Travel Expert

The Lesser Antilles (French West Indies) was largely controlled by the French at one point in history – hence the many French island names. Now many islands are run by different European nations while others are independent. They differ from the Greater Antilles in that they are mainly volcanic islands whereas the Greater Antilles islands are made up of continental rock.

Lesser Antilles Islands: Windward Islands, Leeward Islands, and Leeward Antilles

The Lesser Antilles islands are divided into three different subdivisions: Windward Islands (so named because the wind blows from the south to the north and thus hits these islands first), Leeward Islands, and Leeward Antilles. The Leeward Islands are furthest north of the Lesser Antilles; they begin with the Virgin Islands just east of Puerto Rico and arc south to Dominica. The Windward Islands continue the arc starting with Martinique and ending with Trinidad right above Venezuela in South America. The Leeward Antilles hugs the northern coast of Venezuela and end with Aruba as the most western island.

Lesser Antilles History

Most of the Lesser Antilles history that we know occurs after Christopher Columbus’s second visit to the West Indies. Until Columbus’s time, Indians (so named because Columbus originally thought he found India) lived on the islands. Arawak, Siboney, and Carib Indians (The Caribbean was named after this group of Indians) were equally distributed among the islands. Soon after Europe’s discovery of the islands, colonization began to occur.

Some islands changed power over twenty times during Caribbean wars. Europeans fought viciously against one other and against the indigenous Indians. It wasn’t until 1834, when the Emancipation Act ended slavery, that Europe no longer saw the area as a strong income producer because the sugar plantations could no longer be harvested with slave labor.

Lesser Antilles Travel

The Lesser Antilles traveler will find a number of different experiences depending on which West Indies island he or she decides to visit. For example, some islands such as St. Lucia are known for their exotic, untouched landscape and offer a “less touristy vacation alternative,” says Darrin Gleeman. This type of island vacation is generally most appreciated by honeymooners and families. Then others in the Lesser Antilles like Aruba are more populated by tourists, but still maintain that low-key, relaxed Caribbean allure – and of course the beautiful beaches. Any island in the Lesser Antilles is less likely to be filled with “spring-breakers” than in some of the larger islands in the Caribbean.

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