Greater Antilles

Coordinates: 21°59′N 79°02′W / 21.983°N 79.033°W / 21.983; -79.033

The Greater Antilles (Spanish: Grandes Antillas; French: Grandes Antilles Haitian Creole: Gwo Zantiy Jamaican Patois: Grieta hAntiliiz) is a grouping of the larger islands in the Caribbean Sea, including Cuba, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, and the Cayman Islands. Six island states share the region of the Greater Antilles in total, with Haiti and the Dominican Republic sharing the island of Hispaniola. Geologically, the Virgin Islands are also part of the Greater Antilles, though politically they are considered part of the Lesser Antilles. At an area of 207,411 square kilometres (80,082 sq mi), not counting the Virgin Islands, the Greater Antilles constitute nearly 90% of the land mass of the entire West Indies,[1] as well as over 90% of its population. The remainder of the land belongs to the archipelago of the Lesser Antilles, which is a chain of islands to the east, running north–south and encompassing the eastern edge of the Caribbean Sea where it meets the Atlantic Ocean, as well as to the south, running east–west off the northern coast of South America. The Lucayan Archipelago is not considered to be a part of the Antilles archipelagos but rather of the North Atlantic.

Greater Antilles
Grandes Antilles (in French)
Antillas Mayores (in Spanish)
Location within the Caribbean
Location within the Caribbean
Island States
 • Total207,411 km2 (80,081 sq mi)
 • Total38,400,500
 • Density171.45/km2 (444.1/sq mi)
Demonym(s)Greater Antillean
Time zoneAST: UTC-4/ADT: UTC-3

While most of the Greater Antilles consists of independent countries, Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States, while the Cayman Islands are a British Overseas Territory. The largest island by area and population is Cuba, which extends to the western end of the island group. Puerto Rico lies on the eastern end, and the island of Hispaniola is located in the middle. Jamaica lies to the south of Cuba, while the Cayman Islands are located to the west. The state of Florida contains the closest point to the Greater Antilles within the U.S mainland, while the Florida Keys, although not within the Greater Antilles, is an island group north of Cuba.

The Greater Antilles is considered to be a part of Latin America. With a population of 38 million, it makes up 6% of Latin America's total population. Havana, the capital of Cuba is the largest city in the Greater Antilles at a population of 2 million. Other large cities include Santo Domingo, Port-au-Prince, and San Juan. The quality of life within the Greater Antilles is similar among Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica, whose Human Development Index categorizes them as "high human development". Cuba, the independent nation with the highest HDI, nevertheless follows Puerto Rico and the Cayman Islands, both of which are categorized as "very high". Haiti is an exception, having the lowest Human Development Index in the Greater Antilles and in all of the Americas at 0.498, which categorizes it as having "Low human development".[2]

Languages spoken in the Greater Antilles are mostly Colonial languages, along with some Creole influence. Haiti is the only country to have a Creole language, Haitian Creole, as one of its official languages, alongside French. Otherwise, Spanish and English are spoken in the remainder of the Greater Antilles.


The word Antilles originated in the period before the European conquest of the New World. Europeans used the term Antillia as one of the mysterious lands featured on medieval charts, sometimes as an archipelago, sometimes as continuous land of greater or lesser extent, its location fluctuating in mid-ocean between the Canary Islands and Eurasia. The first European contact with the Greater Antilles came from Christopher Columbus' first voyage to the Americas, as he sailed south from the Bahamas to explore the northeast coast of Cuba and the northern coast of Hispaniola. The Spanish began to create permanent settlements on Cuba and Hispaniola. The Atlantic slave trade brought many Africans towards the islands. France began to exert influence over the area of Haiti from 1625, dividing Hispaniola into two halves. Neighbouring Jamaica was invaded by the British, defeating the Spanish colonists.

The Haitian Revolution was the first and only successful anti-slavery and anti-colonial insurrection by self-liberated slaves, and it established the independent nation of Haiti, which became the first independent nation of the Greater Antilles, the Caribbean, and Latin America as a whole.[3] The next nation to achieve independence, the Dominican Republic, was also on Hispaniola, declaring independence from Spain in 1821. It was quickly absorbed by Haiti under the Unification of Hispaniola. The Dominican Republic regained independence in 1844, through the Dominican War of Independence. The rest of the Greater Antilles would remain under colonial rule for another hundred years. Along with the Philippines in Asia, Spain transferred possession of Cuba and Puerto Rico to the United States as a result of its loss at the Spanish-American War in 1898, coinciding with the Cuban War of Independence. This would be the final loss of Spain's territorial possessions in the Americas. U.S. military rule of the island lasted until 1902 when Cuba was finally granted formal independence.

The Cuban Revolution in 1959 established Cuba as the only Socialist state in the Greater Antilles.[4] The process of decolonisation took place in Jamaica, with the U.K granting it independence in August 1962, becoming the last currently independent state in the Greater Antilles to achieve independence.


The Greater Antilles comprises four major islands and numerous smaller ones. The island of Cuba is the largest island in the Greater Antilles, in Latin America, and in the Caribbean. It is followed by Hispaniola.

List of countries and dependenciesEdit

Name Area
Population density
(per km2)
Capital Official language
Cayman Islands (UK) 264 58,441 207.9 George Town English
Cuba 110,860 11,147,407 102.4 Havana Spanish
Dominican Republic 48,442 10,734,247 183.7 Santo Domingo Spanish
Haiti 27,750 10,646,714 292.7 Port-au-Prince Haitian Creole, French
Jamaica 10,991 2,990,561 248.6 Kingston English
Puerto Rico (US) 9,104 3,351,827 430.2 San Juan Spanish, English
Total 207,411 38,929,197 169.05


  1. ^ "Greater Antilles". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 28 May 2015.
  2. ^ "Human Development Report 2018 – "Human Development Indices and Indicators"" (PDF). HDRO (Human Development Report Office) United Nations Development Programme. pp. 22–25. Retrieved 14 September 2018.
  3. ^ "Haiti | History, Geography, & Culture". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 14 June 2019.
  4. ^ "Cuba Marks 50 Years Since 'Triumphant Revolution'". Retrieved 14 June 2019.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit

  Media related to Greater Antilles at Wikimedia Commons