10 facts about the Caribbean

Think you know about the Caribbean Islands? Think again! Here are 10 extraordinary facts about this exotic part of the world. 

By Saga team

Published 3 May 2024

Reviewed 3 May 2024

British telephone box on beach in Antigua

The Caribbean is famous for many things – friendly locals, lively music, colourful carnivals, and dreamy holidays made up of sunbathing on tropical shores and snorkelling in reefs teeming with marine life.

But all that information is old hat to most. If you love a good fact (and who doesn’t?) then get ready to have your mind blown by some extraordinarily good data on the Caribbean...

Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport SAB has the shortest commercial runway of the world in Saba, Caribbean Netherlands. Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport, Saba

The Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport (SAB) is on the former Netherlands Antilles island of Saba, and it features the shortest commercial runway in the world. At just 400 metres long, Jamaican runner Usain Bolt could run the length of it in under 50 seconds!

Ancient colonial church. Jamaica

There are more churches per square kilometre in Jamaica than any other nation in the world, with over 1,600 in 10,991 km². Although famously associated with Rastafarianism, Jamaica is actually 64% Christian, with Rastas making up less than 10% of the population.

There are only really two seasons in this tropical region: dry and rainy (or wet). The Caribbean dry season, or 'high season', runs from mid-December through to mid-April, and the wet season ('low season') from mid-April through to mid-December. The wet or low season is also stormy, with the official hurricane season being 1 June to 30 November, although they can sometimes occur earlier.

At the end of the 15th century, scholars estimate that there were three million Taino people on Haiti, then known as Hispaniola. Due to crop failures, starvation, Spanish suppression of rebellions, smallpox, and inter-marriage with Spanish invaders, the native people were tragically all but gone by 1530. In recent years genetic studies have been looking for Taino DNA in modern populations, finding that about 61% of present-day Puerto Ricans have distant maternal ancestry. The Caribbean Indigenous Legacies Project seeks to preserve the Taino culture.

High Aerial view of the Caribbean island of French and Dutch St.Maarten and St martin. St Maarten, the smallest inhabited island on earth

At just 87 square-kilometres, the island of St. Maarten/St. Martin is the smallest inhabited island on earth. Shared by two nations, the northern half is officially the French-run Collectivité de Saint-Martin. The southern half, Sint Maarten, is one of four countries forming the Kingdom of the Netherlands. This tiny island can be found 190 miles east of Puerto Rico.

Welsh farmer’s son Henry Morgan forged a real rags-to-riches tale in the Caribbean. His status changed from Caribbean pirate in 1668 to governor of Jamaica by 1682. But his story is no Disney yarn. Once an indentured servant – or “shanghaied European slave” – Morgan became a brutal pillager who mercilessly attacked cities in Cuba and Panama.

Habana Old City in CubaCuba is bigger than all other Caribbean Islands

Cuba is larger than all the other Caribbean Islands combined. 75% of the Caribbean population lives on Cuba, the Dominican Republic, or Haiti.

Aerial view of Boiling Lake in the Morne Trois Pitons National Park on the island of DominicaThe Boiling Lake, Dominica

Journey 2,600 feet above sea level in the Morne Trois Pitons National Park on the island of Dominica, and you’ll find a seething cauldron of volcanic activity – the Boiling Lake. Actually a flooded fumarole, the body of water is hard to reach as it involves crossing fertile, muddy forests with boiling mud and features an occasional blast of sulphuric gas that has been known to kill adventurous hikers in the past. The dangerous route takes you to the aptly named Valley of Desolation, a gaseous valley that wouldn't look out of place in Mordor.

In southwest Trinidad, the Pitch Lake is the biggest natural deposit of asphalt on the planet. It’s believed to be 75 metres deep, with a surface area of approximately 100 acres, and contains an estimated 10 million tons of asphalt. In 1595, Sir Walter Raleigh used the Pitch Lake to re-seal his ship and said it was “most excellent good and melteth not with the sun as the pitch of Norway”. High praise indeed.

An old nautical rule of thumb for navigating to the West Indies from England was “Head south until the butter melts, then turn right!” So, it turns out butter isn’t just terrific for toast, it’s also an ancient form of GPS.

Inspired by our Caribbean facts round-up? Get to know the region on your own terms and see what else you’ll discover – take a look at our range of Caribbean holidays.

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