Is the Caribbean in North America: woman swimming in crystal clear waters with stingrays

Paradise Explained: Is The Caribbean Part Of North America? (2024)

The Caribbean region is a dream vacation destination for probably millions of people, but is the Caribbean part of North America, South America, or Latin America?

And what is the difference?

Famous for its lush paradisiacal islands strewn with palms, white sandy beaches, and soft crystal clear waters, the Caribbean islands stretch lazily out from just south and east of Miami.

They continue in an elegant crescent southwards, ending just north of the coast of Venezuela in South America. So, covering so many geographical regions, what continent do the Caribbean islands really belong to?

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Is The Caribbean Part Of North America?

Is the Caribbean part of North America? Beaches like this what most people associate with the Caribbean
Beaches like these are what most people associate with the Caribbean

Yes, the Caribbean region IS a part of North America.

The Caribbean region, also called the West Indies, encompasses around 700 islands and archipelagos (not counting the little keys and islets) in the Caribbean Sea.

Several of the islands have coastlines towards the Atlantic Ocean to the North and the Caribbean Sea to the south. Some are even touching the Mexican Gulf to the west, like Cuba.

But technically, all these islands are part of North America.

What Countries Are Part Of The Caribbean?

Despite a large number of islands and keys in the Caribbean region, not all are sovereign nations; in fact, the number of sovereign island nations in the Caribbean is much much lower!

In the Caribbean, you find thirteen sovereign island nations, and the list looks like this:

  • Antigua and Barbuda
  • Bahamas
  • Barbados
  • Cuba
  • Dominicana
  • The Dominican Republic
  • Grenada
  • Haiti (sharing the island Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic)
  • Jamaica
  • St. Kitts and Nevis
  • St. Lucia
  • St. Vincent and the Grenadines
  • Trinidad and Tobago (almost on the continental shelf of South America

So, how are these islands, even the ones so far south, part of North America?

It has to do with the last point in the list, the continental shelves, and what the terrain looks like underwater!

Why Is The Caribbean Part Of North America?

Caribbean beaches with a piña colada readily at hand!
Caribbean beaches with a piña colada readily at hand

North America is divided into five physical regions, one of which is the Caribbean.

The other four are the Mountainous West, the Great Plains, the Canadian Shield, and the varied Eastern Region.

Under the Atlantic Ocean to the south and west, where the Caribbean island nations are located, the North American continental shelf stretches almost all the way to the coast of South America.

This area is called the Caribbean plate, a subsea plate that ends roughly around the British Virgin Islands.

From here, the South American plate meets the Caribbean plate, creating a gauge called the Puerto Rico Trench, which is almost 8400 meters (27.600 feet) deep – the deepest area of the Atlantic Ocean!

The geographical land border between what we term North and South America is on the Isthmus of Panama and follows the Darien Mountains Watershed.

This is the rainiest and most unfriendly jungle area on earth, where very few people venture! The Isthmus of Panama divides the region along the Colombia-Panama territorial border.

What Is An Isthmus?

An isthmus is a narrow strip of land that separates two bodies of water or two oceans and connects two larger land masses.

An example of an isthmus is the Isthmus of Panama, which separates the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans while connecting the North and South American continents.

Isthmuses have been considered important strategic hubs for centuries. This is because they are important to ports and canals for trade and shipping between oceans.

Why Is The Caribbean Not Part Of Latin America?

Why is the Caribbean not part of Latin America?

Because the area we refer to as Latin America is determined by colonial influences and language.

For this reason, Caribbean countries like Belize, Jamaica, Suriname, and Guyana are not included in Latin America.

These nations are geographically located in the Americas but are not part of Latin America because the countries that colonized them did not speak a Romance language: England and the Netherlands.

From a Latin perspective, there are 26 countries that fall under the Latin America umbrella.

These are spread over four geographically defined areas:

  • North America
  • Central America
  • The Caribbean
  • South America

FAQs Caribbean and North America

What Are The 33 Latin Countries?

According to the UN, these are the 33 countries defined as part of Latin America and the Caribbean (

Dominican Republic
El Salvador
Costa Rica
Trinidad and Tobago
Saint Lucia
St. Vincent & Grenadines
Antigua and Barbuda
Saint Kitts & Nevis

Check out the ultimate Bahamas cruise packing list if you want to explore the Caribbean by sea!

Wrap-Up Is The Caribbean Part Of North America

So, as you see, there are geological reasons why the Caribbean, which seems to stretch far south and east of North America, is, in fact, North America!

While the term Latin America has nothing to do with landmass but everything to do with human beings, language, and culture.

I hope that clears things up so that you know where you are going when you choose your next Caribbean (or South American) holiday.

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