Geography of the Windward and Leeward Islands

aerial shot of Cruz Bay, St.John in US Virgin Islands
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The Windward Islands, the Leeward Islands, and the Leeward Antilles are part of the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean Sea. These island groups include many of the most popular tourist destinations in the West Indies. This collection of islands is diverse in terrain and culture. Most are very small and the tiniest islands remain uninhabited.

Among the major islands in this area, a number of them are independent countries while in some instances two islands may be governed as a single country. Quite a few remain as territories of larger countries like the United States, United Kingdom, France and the Netherlands.

What Are the Windward Islands?

The Windward Islands include the southeastern islands of the Caribbean. They're called the Windward Islands because they are exposed to the wind ("windward") of the northeast trade winds (the northeasterlies) from the Atlantic Ocean.

Within the Windward Islands is a chain that includes many of the smaller islands in this group. This is often called the Windward Chain and here they are listed from north to south.

  • Dominica: The northernmost island, the British government held this territory until 1978 and considered it part of the Leeward Islands. It is now an independent country and most often thought to be in the Windward Islands.
  • Martinique (France)
  • Saint Lucia 
  • Saint Vincent and The Grenadines
  • Grenada  

Just a little farther to the east are the following islands. Barbados is more to the north, nearer St. Lucia, while Trinidad and Tobago are to the south near the coast of Venezuela.

  • Barbados
  • Trinidad and Tobago

What Are the Leeward Islands?

Between the islands of the Greater Antilles and those of the Windward Islands are the Leeward Islands. Mostly small islands, they are called the Leeward Islands because they are away from the wind ("lee").

The Virgin Islands

Just off the coast of Puerto Rico are the Virgin Islands and this is the northernmost part of the Leeward Islands. The northern set of islands are territories of the United Kingdom and the southern set are territories of the United States.

  • Outside of the Bahamas and Jamaica, the Virgin Islands are among the most popular tourist destinations in the Caribbean.
  • St. Croix is the largest of the Virgin Islands.
  • Though considered part of the Lesser Antilles, from a purely geological standpoint, the Virgin Islands are actually part of the Greater Antilles.

British Virgin Islands

There are over 50 small islands in the British Virgin Islands territory, though only 15 are inhabited. The following are the largest islands.

  • Tortola
  • Virgin Gorda 
  • Anegada
  • Jost Van Dyke

U.S. Virgin Islands

Also made up of around 50 small islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands are a small unincorporated territory. These are the largest islands listed by size.

  • St. Croix
  • St. Thomas
  • St. John 

More Islands of the Leeward Islands

As you might expect, there are many tiny islands in this area of the Caribbean and only the largest are inhabited. Working south from the Virgin Islands, here are the rest of the Leeward Islands, many of which are territories of larger countries.

  • Anguilla (U.K.)
  • Saint Maarten - the Netherlands controls the southern third of the island. The northern two-thirds are controlled by France and called Saint Martin.
  • Saint-Barthélemy (France)
  • Saba (the Netherlands)
  • Sint Eustatius (the Netherlands - in English Saint Eustatius)
  • Saint Kitts and Nevis
  • Antigua and Barbuda (Redonda is an uninhabited dependent island.)
  • Montserrat (U.K.)
  • Guadeloupe (France)

What Are the Leeward Antilles?

To the west of the Windward Islands is a stretch of islands known as the Leeward Antilles. These are farther apart from each other than the islands of the other two groups. It includes more of the popular destination Caribbean islands and runs along the Venezuelan coast.

From west to east, the major islands of the Leeward Antilles include the following and, collectively, the first three are known as the "ABC" islands.

  • Aruba (Netherlands)
  • Curaçao (Netherlands)
  • Bonaire (Netherlands)
  • Isla de Margarita (Venezuela)

Venezuela has a number of other islands within the Leeward Antilles. Many, like the Isla de Tortuga, are uninhabited.

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Your Citation
Rosenberg, Matt. "Geography of the Windward and Leeward Islands." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Rosenberg, Matt. (2020, August 27). Geography of the Windward and Leeward Islands. Retrieved from Rosenberg, Matt. "Geography of the Windward and Leeward Islands." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 23, 2023).