The Caribbean is the name given to the various nations lying in the Caribbean Sea. It is also sometimes referred to as the West Indies, although this term is usually restricted to describing the area under colonial rule. Geographically it refers to two main groups of islands, the Greater and Lesser Antilles. Politically, it also often includes the nations of Belize and Guyana, which are located in Central and South America respectively, but are usually considered closer culturally to the English-speaking Caribbean.
The various islands of the Caribbean were colonized by the Spanish in the early 1500s, much to the confusion of the Carib and Taino tribes who had already been living there for at least a millennium. For the next 400 years, these islands and territories then passed between various powers, including Great Britain, France, Denmark, Portugal, the Netherlands, and Sweden. During the 17th to early 18th centuries, the Caribbean islands were also regularly used as a base by pirate crews, who took advantage of their weak colonial governments, and their prime location in relation to the triangular trade routes.
Today, most nations of the Caribbean are politically independent, although they maintain heavy ties to their colonizing powers through languages and economic influence.
During the Cold War, the Caribbean played a major role in defining relations between the United States and the Soviet Union, culminating in not one, but two invasions of sovereign nations (Cuba and Grenada) by the US military.
The present-day demographic landscape of the Caribbean is heavily defined by the legacy of slavery - a large percentage of those living in Caribbean nations are of African descent. The white minority are typically much wealthier, and this is especially the case in the Caribbean's many tax havens.
The various nations of the Caribbean are also among the most religious in the world, due to the influence of missionaries and the Catholic Church in the 17th and 18th centuries. The influence of indigenous African traditions can also be felt in many syncretist religions, which mix African spiritual beliefs with Christianity.
Lotsa nice beaches in the Caribbean, as well as rum, and some pretty awesome food. Roast oxtail, anyone?