Greater Antilles

Greater Antilles
Grandes Antilles ()
Antillas Mayores ()
—  Region of the Caribbean  —
Greater Antilles
Grandes Antilles ()
Antillas Mayores ()
Location within the Caribbean.
Coordinates: [
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Region Caribbean
Island States
 - Total  dunams (207,435 km2 / 80,069 sq mi)
Population (2009)
 - Total 35,066,790
 - Urban density
 - Rural density
 - Metro density
 -  Density
 -  Density
Demonym Greater Antillean
Time zone AST (UTC−5)
 - Summer (DST) ADT (UTC−4)

The Greater Antilles are one of three island groups in the Caribbean. Comprising Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola (containing the nations of Haiti and the Dominican Republic) , and Puerto Rico, the Greater Antilles constitute almost 90% of the land mass of the entire West Indies.[1]

Greater Antilles in context

The islands of the Caribbean Sea, collectively known as the West Indies, are sorted by size and location into the Bahamas (or Lucayan archipelago, which includes the Turks and Caicos Islands), the Lesser Antilles, and the Greater Antilles. The "Greater Antilles" refers to Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic), and Puerto Rico. The smaller islands in the vicinity of these four major islands are sometimes also treated as part of the group. This includes the smaller islands that surround the main islands, but are still part of the main island country (for instance, the Republic of Cuba consists of the island of Cuba, the Isle of Youth, and several smaller islands around them.) The Cayman Islands are also often included in the Greater Antilles because of their geographical proximity to Cuba. The Greater Antilles are made up of continental rock, part of North America, as distinct from that of the Lesser Antilles, which are mostly young volcanic or coral islands.

The Yucatan Channel separates the Greater Antilles from Mexico, and the Florida Straits separate them from the United States. To the South of the Greater Antilles, and completely surrounding Jamaica, is the Caribbean Sea.

Located on the islands of the Greater Antilles are three original members of the United Nations: the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Cuba. Jamaica was formerly a possession of the United Kingdom, winning its independence on August 6, 1962, and joining the United Nations that same year. Puerto Rico is still a voluntary Commonwealth of the United States (by repeated votes by its people), which means that it is neither a state, nor an independent country, but is a U.S. territory.

The Greater Antilles were of strategic significance during the years when sea power defined a country's might, and they served as the battlegrounds for several important powers, particularly Spain, France, and Great Britain. Later, the Greater Antilles became important to the United States of America, with its large fleets of merchant ships and its Navy. First exploited for their resources, the Greater Antilles were later utilized as the principal landing points for ships traveling between Europe and the New World. With the advent of long-range steamships and commercial airlines, the strategic importance of these islands has diminished over time.

The Greater Antilles remain strategically important to the United States and the United Kingdom, each of which maintain naval and air bases there. Cuba, formerly a key ally of the Soviet Union, demonstrated the regional importance of the Greater Antilles in the Cuban Missile Crisis. Currently, the United States leases a naval base and naval air station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, making yearly payments by check that the current Cuban government does not cash.[2]

Extending along the northern edge of the Greater Antilles is the southern edge of the "Bermuda Triangle". The southern leg of this triangle extends from southeastern Florida, not far from Cuba, to San Juan, Puerto Rico. The other two legs of this triangle extend north to Bermuda.


Country with flag Area
(1 July 2005 est.)
Population density
(per km²)
Cuba 102.4 Havana
Dominican Republic 183.7 Santo Domingo
Haiti 292.7 Port-au-Prince
Jamaica 248.6 Kingston
Cayman Islands 139.5 George Town
Puerto Rico (USA) 430.2 San Juan
Total 169.05


Rogonzinski, Jan. A Brief History of the Caribbean. New York: Facts on File, 1992.