The Caribbean[3] is a region consisting of the Caribbean Sea, its islands (most of which enclose the sea), and the surrounding coasts. The region is located southeast of the Gulf of Mexico and North America, east of Central America, and to the north of South America.

Situated largely on the Caribbean Plate, the region comprises more than 7,000 islands, islets, reefs, and cays. These islands, called the West Indies, generally form island arcs that delineate the eastern and northern edges of the Caribbean Sea.[4] These islands are called the West Indies because when Christopher Columbus landed there in 1492 he believed that he had reached the Indies (in Asia).

The region consists of the Antilles, divided into the larger Greater Antilles which bound the sea on the north, theLesser Antilles on the south and east (including the Leeward Antilles), the Bahamas, and the Turks and Caicos Islands or the Lucayan Archipelago, which are in fact in the Atlantic Ocean north of Cuba, not in the Caribbean Sea.

Geo-politically, the West Indies are usually regarded as a subregion of North America[5][6][7][8] and are organized into 27 territories including sovereign states, overseas departments, and dependencies. From January 3, 1958, to May 31, 1962, there was a short-lived country called the Federation of the West IndiesWest Indies cricket team continues to represent many of those nations. composed of ten English-speaking Caribbean territories, all of which were then UK dependencies.

The region takes its name from that of the Carib, an ethnic group present in the Lesser Antilles and parts of adjacent South America at the time of European contact.