From Antigua and Barbuda to Trinidad and Tobago, there are 13 independent countries in the Caribbean (plus overseas territories and dependencies), here’s everything you need to know.

My first taste of the Caribbean Sea was in Roatan, an island off the coast of Honduras that’s surrounded by lush coral reefs and home to an incredible diversity of marine life. Roatan is also home to a Caribbean culture like none you’ll find on the mainland.

Many of the local communities are Garifuna, descendants of Amerindian and African exiles who were marooned here by Britain’s Royal Navy in the late 18th century from St Vincent, another Caribbean island. They speak English, Spanish and Garifuna, and yet, despite being in the Caribbean Sea, Roatan isn’t technically part of the ‘Caribbean region’. The island is part of Honduras, a Central American nation with a long Caribbean coastline.

Confused? So was I, and while countless sovereign nations – including Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras – all have coastlines along the Caribbean Sea, the Caribbean region is much more defined than this, referring largely to the independent island nations rather than mainland countries. So I asked myself, how many countries are in the Caribbean?

Based on regional and geopolitical definitions, there are 13 independent countries, but this figure doesn’t take into account overseas territories (the colonial legacy is strong in the Caribbean) and other dependencies. If you want to know how many countries are in the Caribbean, then keep reading, as I explain everything you need to know.

Countries in the Caribbean

The Caribbean region is made up of a group of islands, islets, and cays, as well as countries and territories located in and around the Caribbean Sea. The number of countries in the Caribbean can vary depending on how you define the region.

Excluding mainland countries, and solely counting independent countries rather than dependencies, there are 13 sovereign nations in the Caribbean:

  1. Antigua and Barbuda
  2. The Bahamas
  3. Barbados
  4. Cuba
  5. Dominica
  6. Dominican Republic
  7. Grenada
  8. Haiti
  9. Jamaica
  10. Saint Kitts and Nevis
  11. Saint Lucia
  12. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
  13. Trinidad and Tobago

Geopolitically, the Caribbean refers to a region consisting of the Caribbean Sea and the islands and mainland territories surrounding it. This region is characterised by its historical significance as a strategic crossroads of trade, colonisation, and cultural exchange between Europe, Africa, and the Americas. Geopolitically, it encompasses both sovereign states and dependent territories, each with varying degrees of autonomy and governance structures.

Geographically, the Caribbean region extends from the southeastern coast of the United States to the northern coast of South America, and from the eastern coast of Mexico to the western coast of Venezuela. It includes thousands of islands, islets, and cays, as well as larger landmasses such as Cuba, Hispaniola (shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic), Jamaica and Puerto Rico. The region is known for its warm tropical climate, stunning beaches, lush vegetation, and diverse ecosystems, including coral reefs and rainforests.

Antigua and Barbuda. Photo by Rick Jamison on Unsplash.

Read more: How Many Countries Are in North America? Everything You Need to Know.

Dependent Territories in the Caribbean

These competing definitions and overlap with continental regions (including North America and Central America) ensure there are plenty of different lists when it comes to countries in the Caribbean. In addition to the 13 independent Caribbean island nations, there are several overseas territories and dependencies in the Caribbean region.

These are territories that are under the sovereignty of other countries but are located in the Caribbean region. These are non sovereign nations that come under the jurisdiction of the USA or European countries like the United Kingdom or France.

There are 21 dependent territories in the Caribbean:

  1. Puerto Rico (United States)
  2. U.S. Virgin Islands (United States)
  3. British Virgin Islands (United Kingdom)
  4. Cayman Islands (United Kingdom)
  5. Turks and Caicos Islands (United Kingdom)
  6. Anguilla (United Kingdom)
  7. Montserrat (United Kingdom)
  8. Bermuda (United Kingdom)
  9. Guadeloupe (France)
  10. Martinique (France)
  11. Saint Martin/Sint Maarten (France/Netherlands)
  12. Bonaire (Netherlands)
  13. Sint Eustatius (Netherlands)
  14. Saba (Netherlands)
  15. Aruba (Netherlands)
  16. Curacao (Netherlands)
  17. Saint Barthelemy (France)
  18. Saint Pierre and Miquelon (France)
  19. Caribbean Netherlands (Netherlands)
  20. Navassa Island (United States)
  21. French Guiana (France)
San Juan, Puerto Rico. Photo by Wei Zeng on Unsplash.

Read more: How Many Countries Are in Central America? Everything You Need to Know.

Mainland nations with a Caribbean coastline

In addition, several mainland countries have a coastline along the Caribbean Sea. These independent nations include:

  1. Mexico
  2. Belize
  3. Guatemala
  4. Honduras
  5. Nicaragua
  6. Costa Rica
  7. Panama
  8. Colombia
  9. Venezuela

Suriname and Guyana (in South America) or also often included because of their cultural ties to the Caribbean region. So, if you take into account the total number of countries and dependencies with a Caribbean coastline, you’d arrive at a maximum total of 45 political entities in the Caribbean region.

Map of the wider Caribbean region. By Kmusser.

Read more: How Many Countries Are in South America? Everything You Need to Know.

Where is the Caribbean Sea?

The Caribbean Sea is a body of water located in the western part of the North Atlantic Ocean, bounded by the Caribbean islands and surrounding mainland territories. It stretches from the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico and the northern coast of Central America in the west to the northern coast of South America in the south, and from the Greater Antilles islands (Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico) in the north to the Lesser Antilles in the east.

The Caribbean Sea is renowned for its warm, clear waters, vibrant coral reefs, and numerous islands, making it a popular destination for tourism, sailing, and water sports. It serves as a vital artery for maritime trade, connecting the Atlantic Ocean to the Panama Canal and providing access to ports throughout the Caribbean region.

Geopolitically, the Caribbean Sea is bordered by several countries and territories, including Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, and the island nations of the Caribbean. It is also home to numerous dependent territories and overseas departments of European powers, such as Puerto Rico (United States), the British Virgin Islands, and Martinique (France).

Saint Lucia. Photo by Omar Eagle on Unsplash.

How many countries are in CARICOM?

CARICOM, which stands for the Caribbean Community, is an organisation of 15 member states and 5 associate members. It’s focused on promoting economic integration, cooperation, and development among countries in the Caribbean region, and is another measure of how many Caribbean countries there are. It was established by the Treaty of Chaguaramas, which was signed in 1973.

CARICOM plays a crucial role in fostering regional cooperation and solidarity among Caribbean nations, aiming to achieve sustainable development and enhance the well-being of the people of the Caribbean.

  1. Antigua and Barbuda
  2. The Bahamas
  3. Barbados
  4. Belize
  5. Dominica
  6. Grenada
  7. Guyana
  8. Haiti
  9. Jamaica
  10. Montserrat
  11. Saint Kitts and Nevis
  12. Saint Lucia
  13. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
  14. Suriname
  15. Trinidad and Tobago

Associate members of CARICOM:

  1. Anguilla
  2. Bermuda
  3. British Virgin Islands
  4. Cayman Islands
  5. Turks and Caicos Islands

These countries and territories work together within CARICOM to promote economic integration, social cooperation, and regional development in the Caribbean region. As you can see, the number of member nations includes countries that would typically be defined as being in Central or South America, rather than the Caribbean. This demonstrates the regional overlap that exists in this part of the world.

The Bahamas. Photo by Fernando Jorge on Unsplash.

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A brief history of the Caribbean

The history of the Caribbean is shaped by the interactions of indigenous peoples, European colonisers, African slaves and other ethnic groups. The effects of colonialism on the region are profound, and Trinidadian author and historian, C.L.R. James, famously wrote that: “The history of the Caribbean is the history of the exploitation of labour, the history of the exploitation of natural resources, but above all, the history of the exploitation of human beings.”

Here’s an overview of key historical events and periods in the history of the Caribbean:

Pre-Columbian Era

Before the arrival of Europeans, the Caribbean was inhabited by indigenous peoples such as the Taíno, Arawak, and Carib. These societies had developed complex cultures and civilizations, engaging in agriculture, fishing and trade.

European Colonisation

In the late 15th and early 16th centuries, European powers, primarily Spain and later Portugal, began colonising the Caribbean islands. Christopher Columbus’s voyages in 1492 marked the beginning of European exploration and conquest in the region. Spain established the first permanent European settlement in the Americas on the island of Hispaniola (present-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic) in 1493.

Transatlantic Slave Trade

The colonisation of the Caribbean led to the establishment of plantation economies based on sugar, tobacco, and other cash crops. To meet the labour demands of these plantations, European colonisers forcibly enslaved millions of Africans and transported them across the Atlantic in the brutal transatlantic slave trade. This period of slavery and forced labour profoundly impacted the demographics, cultures, and societies of the Caribbean.

Piracy and Privateering

During the 17th and 18th centuries, the Caribbean became a hub of piracy and privateering as European powers vied for control of the region. Pirates such as Henry Morgan and Blackbeard operated in the Caribbean, plundering Spanish treasure ships and attacking coastal settlements.

Colonial Rivalries

Throughout the colonial period, European powers competed for control of the Caribbean islands. Spain, France, Britain, the Netherlands, and Denmark established colonies and fought numerous wars over territory and trade dominance in the region. The Treaty of Paris in 1763 and subsequent treaties reshaped colonial boundaries and power dynamics in the Caribbean.

Abolition of Slavery and Emancipation

The abolitionist movements of the 18th and 19th centuries led to the gradual abolition of slavery in the Caribbean. Britain abolished the slave trade in 1807 and slavery itself in 1834, leading to the emancipation of enslaved people across its colonies. Other European powers followed suit, though emancipation was often accompanied by apprenticeship or other forms of coerced labour.

Independence and Post-Colonial Era

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, Caribbean nations began to gain independence from colonial rule. Haiti became the first independent nation in Latin America and the Caribbean in 1804 following a successful slave revolt. Other countries achieved independence through peaceful means or armed struggle, with Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, and many others gaining independence in the 20th century.

Modern Challenges and Opportunities

In the contemporary era, the Caribbean faces a range of challenges, including economic inequality, environmental degradation, natural disasters, and issues related to governance and development. However, the region also boasts vibrant cultures, diverse economies, and opportunities for regional cooperation and integration through organisations such as CARICOM (Caribbean Community).

Havana, Cuba. Photo by Spencer Everett on Unsplash.

Read more: How Many Countries Are in Europe? Everything You Need to Know.

What continent is the Caribbean on?

The Caribbean region is not located on a specific continent. Instead, it is a region consisting of islands, islets, and mainland territories surrounding the Caribbean Sea, which is an arm of the Atlantic Ocean. Geographically, the Caribbean Sea is situated between the continents of North America to the north and South America to the south.

While some of the countries in the Caribbean are located on the North American continent, such as The Bahamas, others are located on islands or parts of the mainland that are not considered part of a specific continent. Therefore, the Caribbean region itself is often considered a distinct geographical and cultural entity rather than being part of a particular continent.

Grenada. Photo by Hugh Whyte on Unsplash.

So, how many countries are in the Caribbean?

In conclusion, the question of how many countries are in the Caribbean reveals not only the diversity of political entities within the region but also the complex interplay of history, culture, and geography. From the independent nations that proudly assert their sovereignty to the territories and dependencies that maintain ties to former colonial powers, the Caribbean’s political landscape defies simplistic categorisation.

Taking into account independent nations in the Caribbean Sea, there are 13 sovereign Caribbean island countries. In addition to this, there are as many as 21 dependent territories and 11 other independent nations with cultural or geographical ties to the Caribbean.

FAQ: How many countries are in the Caribbean

Here’s an FAQ on the topic, ‘How many countries are in the Caribbean?’:

Q1. How many countries are there in the Caribbean?

There are 13 sovereign countries in the Caribbean Sea, depending on the specific definition used. This count only includes independent nations with full sovereignty.

Q2. What are the sovereign countries in the Caribbean?

The sovereign countries in the Caribbean include Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Haiti, Jamaica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago. Additionally, Suriname, located on the South American mainland, is often considered part of the Caribbean due to its historical and cultural ties.

Q3. Are there other territories in the Caribbean?

Yes, in addition to sovereign states, there are dependent territories and overseas departments of other countries in the Caribbean. These territories may have varying degrees of autonomy but are not fully sovereign states. Examples include Puerto Rico (a territory of the United States), the Cayman Islands (a British Overseas Territory), and Martinique (an overseas department of France).

Q4. How is the count of Caribbean countries determined?

The count of Caribbean countries can vary depending on the criteria used. Some definitions include only independent sovereign nations, while others may also include dependent territories and overseas departments. Geographical proximity, historical and cultural ties, and membership in regional organisations like CARICOM (Caribbean Community) may also influence the inclusion of countries in the Caribbean.

Q5. Is Suriname considered part of the Caribbean?

Suriname, although located on the South American mainland, is often included in discussions about the Caribbean due to its historical and cultural connections with the region. It was formerly a colony of the Netherlands and shares many similarities with Caribbean countries in terms of language, culture, and history, making it a natural part of the broader Caribbean community.

Q6. Are there regional organisations that include Caribbean countries?

Yes, CARICOM (Caribbean Community) is a regional organisation that includes many Caribbean countries. It aims to promote economic integration, cooperation, and development among its member states. Other regional organisations, such as the Association of Caribbean States (ACS), also include countries from the Caribbean region.

Q7. Why is there variation in the count of Caribbean countries?

Variation in the count of Caribbean countries can arise due to differing definitions, perspectives, and criteria used to determine inclusion. Some counts may focus strictly on independent sovereign states, while others may include dependent territories and overseas departments. Historical, cultural, and geopolitical factors may also influence the inclusion of certain territories in the Caribbean.