Sunny shores, beautiful sandy beaches, and glistening blue waters are traits that define Florida — and also many of the islands of the Caribbean. But is Florida part of the Caribbean?
Florida is not considered part of the Caribbean. Key West and much of South Florida are very similar to the Caribbean in many ways, but they do not touch the Caribbean Sea at all: the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico are the two bodies of water that border the Florida peninsula and the Florida Keys.
So, where did the Caribbean get its name? What parts of the Caribbean does the United States own? Does Florida have any Caribbean culture? As you continue reading, you will discover the answers to these questions and more.
What exactly is the Caribbean? There are two answers to that question. First, The Caribbean Sea is a large body of water that is positioned with the Atlantic Ocean on its eastern flank and the Gulf of Mexico to its northwest. Interestingly, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea are part of the same watershed area, but the Gulf of Mexico is not considered part of the Caribbean Sea – it is its own distinctive body of water.
Second, the Caribbean is a distinct geographical region of the Americas. Parts of the Caribbean, such as Hispaniola and Cuba, are very close to North America. Other areas of the Caribbean, such as the ABC islands of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao, are closer to South America. And the whole area covers similar latitudes as Central America. We often think of the Caribbean as a series of tropical islands, but the entire region is much bigger than that part of it.
To be fair, though, the beautiful tropical islands of the Caribbean are well-known for a reason. They are some of the most scenic and pleasant places in the world.
The islands of the Caribbean are broken down into the Greater Antilles and the Lesser Antilles. The Greater Antilles include the more massive northwestern Caribbean islands of Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola, and Puerto Rico. The Lesser Antilles consists of the smaller ring of islands like St. Kitts, Anguilla, St. Maarten, and St. Lucia that define the eastern rim of the Caribbean.
Many of the islands in the Caribbean are owned by other nations. The Dutch, for example, own the ABC islands and half of St. Maarten. The French own Martinique, St. Barts, Guadeloupe, and the other half of St. Maarten, which they spell St. Martin.
England once owned Jamaica, but the Jamaican people achieved independence from the United Kingdom in 1962 and now run their own government.
While Florida is very close to the Caribbean, it is not actually a part of the Caribbean. No part of Florida, not even the Keys, touches the Caribbean Sea or the Caribbean region. The entire Sunshine State is firmly planted in North America, no matter how tropical the beaches get!
However, just because Florida is not part of the Caribbean doesn’t mean it isn’t tropical. If you want warm weather, blue skies, and sunny beaches, Florida is an ideal destination for you.
Our beaches range from the old-Florida Atlantic charm of places like St. Augustine to the metropolitan buzz of South Beach, the energy and charm of Tampa Bay, and the unique ambiance of the Panhandle. Plus, we have cool stuff like airboats and theme parks that you won’t find in the Caribbean.
Florida also offers Caribbean-style activities. If you’re seeking luxurious accommodations, you’ll find dozens of high-end resorts and resort hotels catering to families of all kinds. In addition, Florida has excellent scuba diving, sailing, and fishing.
No disrespect to our friends in the Caribbean, but Florida has plenty of great amenities to offer, especially to travelers who don’t want to deal with the hassle or expense of international travel.
Phenomenal Florida Fun Fact: Despite achieving independence from the United Kingdom, Jamaica opted to keep the Queen as their sovereign. This fact means that the Queen of England still performs some administrative and legal functions for the people of Jamaica even though it is not part of the United Kingdom.
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What Part of Florida is Most like the Caribbean?
If you want all the scenery of a Caribbean vacation without leaving the United States behind, there are plenty of great places to check out in Florida. Here are three of our favorites:
- Bahia Honda State Park. This park offers picture-perfect blue waters, beautiful tropical foliage, warm weather, and unbelievable sunrises and sunsets. It is very popular so book ahead.
- Captiva Island. With its quirky vibes and superlative sandy beaches, Captiva (adjacent to Sanibel) is one of Florida’s hidden gems.
- The Florida Keys. The Keys are a must-see part of Florida that is very reminiscent of the Caribbean. Islamorada and Key Largo have beautiful beaches, crystal-blue waters, and a pleasantly relaxed atmosphere. Further south, Key West is a well-known destination for travelers who want to cut loose and enjoy some truly Caribbean energy.
Do Any Areas of Florida Have Caribbean Culture?
When we think of Caribbean culture, we often think of tropical food, fruity drinks, sandy beaches, and a relaxed pace of life. To find this culture in Florida, you’ll need to journey to the Florida Keys. The Keys have a distinctively different vibe from other coastal towns in Florida, and the general approach to life in the Keys is far more relaxed and laid-back than it is on the mainland.
If by Caribbean culture you mean Caribbean-style restaurants, food, and drink, you’ll find it almost anywhere in Florida. Most decently-sized Florida cities will have an assortment of Caribbean establishments.
Cuban and Jamaican cuisines are very popular across the state. In addition, many residents of South Florida have family from the Caribbean or are themselves immigrants, so there are pockets of authentic Caribbean Culture scattered throughout South Florida.
Which Caribbean Country is Closest to Florida?
Florida’s closest Caribbean neighbor is The Bahamas. The Bahamas is a massive nation that consists of dozens of major islands plus thousands of smaller islands and cays.
Major islands of the Bahamas include Grand Bahama, Abaco, New Providence, Eleuthera, Great Exuma, and others. Bimini, the closest island to the United States, sits just 48 nautical miles off the coast of Florida! You can fly there in a small plane or even take your personal boat to Bimini, as long as you’re willing to do a little paperwork.
What Caribbean Islands Belong to the United States?
The US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico are the islands in the Caribbean that belong to the United States of America. The Virgin Islands consist of the islands of St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix, plus dozens of smaller cays and islands.
The USVI are located about forty miles east of Puerto Rico, on the northeastern end of the Greater Antilles. The United States bought these islands from Denmark in 1917 in the Treaty of the Danish West Indies.
People from the US Virgin Islands are US Citizens, but the islands are considered unincorporated territories. This designation means that the people living in the US Virgin Islands are US citizens, but they are not allowed to vote in elections and have only limited legal protections. They also pay federal taxes despite not having any representatives in Washington, an interesting case of modern-day taxation without representation.
Puerto Rico is a larger island, located about 1,000 miles southeast of Miami and about forty miles east of Punta Cana. Puerto Rico has a rich and deep history that dates all the way back to Spanish explorers of the late 15th century, and it also has terrific beach towns like Vieques. In addition, the capital city of San Juan is stunning and vibrant and a great place to stop on a cruise.
About 3.2 million people call Puerto Rico home, and while they also do not have a senator or a representative, they do have a Resident Commissioner in the House of Representatives – although that person cannot vote on anything in the House. In addition, there are many, many Puerto Rican people living in Florida; this beautiful island enjoys close ties with the Sunshine State.
Regardless of their taxation and representation situation, the USVI and Puerto Rico are places that every American should visit. You do not need a passport to fly to either destination, and there are many fabulous cruises departing from Florida that stop at destinations in both territories.
Why is the Caribbean Called the Caribbean?
The Caribbean is named after the native people who once occupied this region’s various islands and cays. These indigenous people were known as the Carib, and the sea around which their culture was built became known as the Caribbean. This name dates back to at least the 16th century when Spanish explorers first encountered the natives in the region.
Florida: America’s Caribbean
While Florida is not technically part of the Caribbean, it has many similar characteristics. In addition, many parts of the Sunshine State, especially the Keys and some of the smaller island towns, bear striking resemblances to the Caribbean.
So if you want to enjoy the amenities of a Caribbean vacation without having to go through the hassle of getting a passport or flying internationally, come on down to Florida. America’s Caribbean awaits you!