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Antigua, British West Indies

 When Christopher Columbus discovered Antigua in 1493, he encountered the unfriendly Carib Indians. Columbus chose to name the island Santa Maria de Antigua, in honor of a church in Spain. For many years, both the Spanish and French were unable to settle on the island due to the fierce nature of the Caribs. But in 1632, the British managed to take control of this island and neighboring Barbuda, developing the sugarcane industry with the use of slaves imported from Africa. During the 1780s, Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson commanded a British Navy Base at Antigua's Falmouth Harbour, which is today the best-preserved harbor in all the Caribbean. In 1981 Antigua and Barbuda were granted independence, and Vere Cornwell Bird was elected the first prime minister, leading the commonwealth until 1993 when his son took office.

 
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Aruba, Netherlands Antilles

 Aruba and the many islands that surround it were discovered by the Spanish in 1499. At that time, the only inhabitants on the mainland were the peaceful Arawak Indians, who perished after contracting diseases brought by early settlers. During the 17th century, the Dutch took control of Aruba, though settlers did not arrive for more than a century. Gold was discovered in the 19th century, and the population along with tourism grew. Since 1986 Aruba has been considered a separate entity within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, containing its own Parliament and currency. The capital of the island is Oranjestad, a quaint town with traditional Dutch architecture.

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BVI, British Virgin Islands

Tortola is the largest of the British Virgin Islands and is known for its Sage Mountain National Park, covered with primeval rainforest. During colonial times, pirates sailed along the shoreline of these beautiful islands in search of great treasures. Though the islands remain a British Dependency, the official currency was changed to the U.S. dollar, to aid the many British citizens who work in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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Barbados, West Indies

From the air, Barbados is shaped like a pear, stem end pointing north. It is the easternmost island of the West Indies, lying outside the curve of the Caribbean's Windward Islands chain. It is small - 166 sq. miles - 21 miles by 14 miles and is relatively densely populated, with about 250,000 inhabitants. The island is rimmed by beaches. The eastern edge lies on the Atlantic Ocean and is rugged and hilly. The west coast is washed by the calmer leeward sea and has most of the resort hotels. It is on this side that we will find the capitol, Bridgetown and the older settlement towns.

Barbados has seaside villages and English country churches that date from the 17th century. Some of the prettiest hotels are built of pink coral stone and are surrounded by lush gardens, and since the trade winds are steady and the climate kind, their leeward sides often have terraces covered with climbing vines and breathtaking views.

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Basseterre, St. Kitts West Indies

Butterfly-shaped Guadeloupe, discovered by Columbus during his second voyage spans only 720 square miles, which is approximately half the size of Rhode Island. The island was named after the beautiful tourquoise beaches and is as diverse as it is complex. Beaches wash the sides of volcanoes, flat expanses of sugar cane grow alongside winding mangrove swamps, international hotels contrast with wooden huts perched on four stones, and major highways cross paths leading over the mountains amidst giant ferns.

The history of this lush island followed the regional pattern: the native Indians were killed by European colonial forces, and for nearly 300 years, the islands were fought over by various European colonial nations. The French became the dominant force, and they imported slaves from Guinea to work sugar plantations. After slavery was abolished in 1848, Indians from Calcutta arrived to work the fields. The influence of the island's early laborers can be seen in everything from the madras headresses worn by vendors to the African strains in Guadeloupe's music.

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Caldera, Costa Rica

Among the first inhabitants of Costa Rica were the Guymi Indians, who greeted Columbus when he arrived in the early 16th century. The Spaniards brought many diseases to the Indians, many of whom died quickly. The area was colonized by Spain in 1506, but the Indians successfully forced them off their land. Several additional failed attempts by the Spanish to colonize Costa Rica followed until 1563 when Spanish governor Juan Vasquez de Coronado arrived. Costa Rica?s independence was established in 1821, and coffee trade flourished. The first president of this country was coffee grower Juan Rafael Mora, who was well-respected for his military efforts and credited with the rapid growth of the economy. From Costa Rica's central coastal city of Puerto Caldera visitors can explore the mountainous countryside and travel inland to the cosmopolitan capital of San Jose.

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Carriacou, Grenadines

One of the 32 Grenadines, beautiful Carriacou is situated off the northeastern coast of Grenada and is the largest island of the group. Like most of the islands in the group, it is volcanic and possesses a mountainous terrain, surrounded by beautiful black sand beaches. The name Carriacou itself is supposed to come from the Carib word for the island. In the 17th and 18th century records, it was spelled Kayryouacou - which is quite a mouthful! The first French of Carriacou were said to be turtle fishermen, who were joined later by some inhabitants of Guadeloupe after their plantations had been destroyed by insects. The British took control in 1763. Today, there are still three distinct sections of Carriacou reflecting the Scottish, French and English influences.

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Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel lies 11 miles off Mexico's coast and is surrounded by the Caribbean Sea. Cozumel is Mexico's largest island measuring 29 miles long by 8 miles wide. The first inhabitants of the island were the Mayans, and this lost civilization can be traced back to 2000 B.C. Many cermonial centers and cities were built by the Mayans in Southern Mexico, the Yucatan and Guatemala. The civilization reached it's height around A.D. 600 and mysteriously declined some 300 years later. The last great Mayan city was Chichen Itza and it is believed that the only Mayan costal fortified city was Tulum - both located on the mainland.

Cozumel boasts miles of unspoiled sugar-white, palm-lined beaches, warm crystal-clear waters of varying shades of blue and magnificent coral reefs. Jacques Cousteau's 1960 documentary film about Palancar Reef - the largest in the world with its four different types of coral including the rare black variety and exotic marine life - attracted divers from around the world, and soon after Cozumel was ranked as one of the world's top dive sites.

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Curacao, Netherlands Antilles

  

Spaniard Alonso de Ojeda discovered Curacao in 1499, and the first Spanish settlers soon followed. The Dutch conquered the island in 1634, and it prospered under the rule of the Dutch West India Company. In 1811 Venezuela's Simon Bolivar was exiled to Curacao after failing to liberate South America, though later his efforts paid off in the fight for the independence of Venezuela, Panama, Peru, Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador. The British briefly controlled Curacao from the beginning of the 19th century, but in 1815, under the Treaty of Paris, the Dutch were assigned permanent rights. Today Curacao is considered a Member of the Netherlands Antilles.

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Ft. Lauderdale, United States

Those who haven't visited Fort Lauderdale in a while will be pleasantly surprised by the changes that have taken place over the past several years. In addition to a complete renovation of the beach and trendy Las Olas Boulevard, many new attractions have been added including the Science Museum and IMAX Theater, the Art Museum, and the Performing Arts Center. This city offers some of Florida's best dining and shopping opportunities as well, as you'll discover.

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Grand Cayman, Cayman Republic

Grand Cayman is the largest of the trio of the Cayman islands and despite its name, the island is only 22 miles long and 8 miles across at its widest point. Columbus discovered the Cayman Islands on his last voyage to the New World in 1503 and named them Las Tortugas because of the numerous turtles found here. The current name comes from "caymanas" - Spanish-Carib for crocodiles.

Sir Francis Drake was the first Englishman to visit the Caymans. Shipwrecked sailors and buccaneers are believed to have been the first settlers during the mid-17th century. The islands became a haven for pirates in the early 1700s and Sir Henry Morgan and Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, were among those who engaged in piracy. Fisherman of Scottish origin established settlements in the mid-1700s when swashbuckling days came to an end.

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Key West, United States

Key West is the Southernmost community in the U.S. and the point closest to Cuba (a 90-mile swim), combines Southern, Bahamian, Cuban, and Yankee influences in a unique culture that can be seen in its architecture, tasted in its often quirky food, and felt in its relaxed, individualistic atmosphere. Traditionally, fishermen, artists, and writers have been drawn to this tranquil slip of sand and sea. Ernest Hemingway, among its early devotees, lived here during his most productive years, when he wrote To Have and Have Not, For Whom The Bell Tolls, Green Hills of Africa, and one of his greatest short stories, "The Snows of Kilimanjaro". His Spanish colonial-style house of native stone, surrounded by a lush garden of planting from the Caribbean, is now a museum with many original furnishings and Hemingway memorabilia. Among others who have been attracted to Key West are John James Audubon, Tennessee Williams, John Dos Passos, Robert Frost, and President Harry S. Truman, who established a "Little White House" there.

You'll find it quite easy to walk around this charming community called Key West. In addition to the tour which is offered, guests may purchase tickets on the pier for the following attractions: Hemingway House Museum, Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Museum, The Fireball Glassbottom Boat, Key West Hand Print Fashions and the Key West Aquarium.

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Montego Bay, Jamaica

Montego Bay, on the northwest coast, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Caribbean. It is Jamaica's second-largest city and a thriving port.

The heart of Montego Bay is Sam Sharpe Square. It is named in honor of the slave who led the bloody "Christmas Rebellion" of 1831, which helped to expedite emancipation on Jamaica. The square is a popular gathering spot, where vendors offer refreshments, snacks, and T-shirts.

Montego Bay has some excellent examples of Georgian architecture, a style emphasizing classic proportions. A favorite is the Town House, built in 1765 for a wealthy sugar planter. It now houses a restaurant.

The crafts market, where "higglers" (street merchants) hawk their wares and bargain with customers, is an exciting place to observe and even participate in what many people consider a game.

Outside Montego Bay lie several splendid plantations and great houses that may be toured. They are reminiscent of a time when sugar, the Caribbean's boom crop, generated great fortunes for Jamaica's large landholders.

Rose Hall may well be the most renowned estate on the island. The opulent edifice was built between 1770 and 1780 by John Palmer, a custos, or "custodian", of the parish. Annie Palmer, the estate's second mistress, brought great notoriety to the estate, becoming known as "the white witch of Rose Hall". Her deeds ranged from cruelty toward slaves to the murder of her three husbands.

At Croydon in the Mountains, a working plantation located outside Montego Bay in the interior of the island, tour guides explain how coffee, pineapples and other crops are cultivated and offer insight into Jamaican landforms, plantation life, and history.

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 Nassau, Bahamas

The Bahamas Islands begin about 50 miles off the coast of Florida, stretching 760 miles to the southeast. The 700 islands making up the Bahamas are scattered over 90,000 square miles. New Providence Island on which Nassau, the capital, is situated, is 21 miles long and 7 miles wide.

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 Ocho Rios, Jamaica

Tropical splendor is the best way to describe Ocho Rios. Set on Jamaica's north coast between Montego Bay and Port Antonio, the town is surrounded by breathtaking countryside. Shaw Park Gardens sits on a hill above the town. The botanical garden features sparkling cascades, tropical plants and flowers, and many exotic birds.

Famed British playwright Noel Coward made his home at a modest but elegant estate called Firefly. The cottage, perched on a cliff about 17 miles east of Ocho Rios, cannot be compared to the island's grand estates, but it is charming in its own way and filled with personal touches. The house is open to the public. In the neighboring town of Port Maria, there are several historic buildings that are representative of 19th century island architecture.

Also nearby are the Llanrumney Estate and Brimmer Hall. The Llanrumney Estate belonged to Henry Morgan, a privateer who served as lieutenant-governor. Brimmer Hall is a working plantation open to visitors.

A visit to Dunn's River Falls is a must. Located just west of downtown Ocho Rios, the cool mountain waters plunge 600 feet to smooth limestone beds, then stream under the roadway before mingling with the turquoise Caribbean Sea.

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 Panama Canal

  Completed in 1914, the Panama Canal was the culmination of a dream shared by many that begins in 1513 with the Spanish conquistador Balboa. He was the first European to trek across the 43 mile wide isthmus. The French Canal company began construction of the Panama Canal in 1880 but, plagued by disease, financial burdens, and engineering problems, sold its rights and properties to the United States for $40 Million, a loss of $240 Million.

The United States began construction in 1904 and completed the monumental project in ten years at a cost of approximately $387 million. The building of the Canal involved three main problems: engineering, sanitation, and organization. For example, the engineering challenges alone involved digging through the Continental Divide, construction of the largest earth dam ever built up to that time, designing and building the most massive canal locks ever envisioned, constructing the largest gates ever swung, and solving environmental problems of enormous proportions.

Today the United States continues to oversee operations of the canal, although it did sign a treaty in the late 1970s to transfer the canal back to Panama by the 21st century. Until that time, the canal is under the direction of the Panama Canal Commission, a US government agency set up to operate it.

A complete canal transit is comprised of cruising through three sets of locks. The Gatun Locks are situated on the Caribbean side of the Continental Divide while the Pedro Miguel and Miraflores Locks are on the Pacific side. Ships transiting the canal are raised and lowered 85 feet in this three lock system.

Two other special highlights of the canal are Gatun Lake and the Gaillard cut. Gatun Lake is one of the world's largest man-made lakes covering 163 square miles. Gaillard Cut is an 8 mile channel built through solid rock which was the most difficult excavation in the canal construction.

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Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica

 Among the first inhabitants of Costa Rica were the Guymi Indians, who greeted Columbus when he arrived in the early 16th century. The Spaniards brought many diseases to the Indians, many of whom died quickly. The area was colonized by Spain in 1506, but the Indians successfully forced them off their land. Several additional failed attempts by the Spanish to colonize Costa Rica followed until 1563 when Spanish governor Juan Vasquez de Coronado arrived. Costa Rica's independence was established in 1821, and coffee trade flourished. The first president of this country was coffee grower Juan Rafael Mora, who was well-respected for his military efforts and credited with the rapid growth of the economy. From Costa Rica's central coastal city of Puerto Caldera visitors can explore the mountainous countryside and travel inland to the cosmopolitan capital of San Jose.

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San Blas Islands, Panama

 The islands of eastern Panama's scenic San Blas archipelago are inhabited by the primitive Cuna Indians, who rule the islands as an autonomous province. The Cunas have tightly preserved their own language and cultural traditions over the centuries, despite influences from European colonies. The Cunas' economy is reliant upon its coconut and fishing industry, much of which is exported to Colombia. The Cuna women, adorned with necklaces and arm bracelets, are known for their intricately-made stitchery, which is sold to visitors to the islands.

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San Juan, Puerto Rico

 Puerto Rico's first inhabitants were the Taino Indians, who encountered Columbus in 1943. The Spanish quickly settled on the island, defending their territory against the Dutch and British. This is evident by the imposing fortresses of Old San Juan, namely the grandiose El Morro Castle, erected 140 feet above the sea and dominating the old section of this capital city. In 1897, Spain declared Puerto Rico an autonomous state, but after the Spanish-American War, Spain ceded Puerto Rico to the U.S. and residents were granted American citizenship in 1917.

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 St. Barts, French West Indies

 The 8-square-mile island of St. Barthelemy was named after Columbus' Brother, Bartolomeo. The first colonists were the French, who arrived in 1645, but later sold the land to the Knights of Malta. The island was then abandoned after several raids by the Carib Indians and was resettled in 1674 by the French. The British occupied St. Barts for a short time during the century, but the French prevailed once again, selling the island to Sweden in 1784. The Swedish heritage of St. Barts can be felt in the capital of Gustavia. France bought the island back from Sweden in 1878, and today it is considered part of the Dependency of Guadeloupe, an Overseas Department of France.

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St. John, US Virgin Islands

 Only 16 miles square, St. John is about 5 miles east of St. Thomas and 35 miles north of St. Croix. The population is only 3,500, mainly concentrated in the little town of Cruz Bay and the village of Coral Bay. The population of St John fell to less than a thousand people in 1950 when 85% of the land had reverted to bush and second growth tropical forest. In the 1950s Laurence Rockefeller bought about half of the island but later donated his holdings to establish a national park which was to take up about two thirds of the predominantly mountainous island. The Virgin Islands National Park was opened in 1956 and is covered by an extensive network of trails (some land in the park is still privately owned and not open to visitors).

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St. Kitts, French West Indies

 Upon discovering it in 1493, Christopher Columbus was so enchanted by this volcanic island's natural surroundings that he named it after himself. The British established their first Caribbean colony on this island in 1623, and fought for control of both St. Kitts and Nevis for many years. To protect their territory, they built the imposing fort of Brimstone over the course of 100 years on the island of St. Kitts. Today St. Kitts and Nevis are together considered an Independent Member of the British Commonwealth and offer miles of tropical rainforests, waterfalls, rock formations, and fertile hills.

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St. Lucia, West Indies

 During St. Lucia's long history, many cultures occupied this physically alluring island. The first inhabitants, the Arawak Indians, were driven out by the fierce Carib Indians. The British made a failed attempt to settle, though the French had a bit more luck, occupying the island in 1660. Over the next century and a half, the rule of St. Lucia changed hands between the French and the British several times until it was ceded to Britain under the 1814 Treaty of Paris. Slavery was abolished on the island in 1834 and in 1979 it was declared an Independent Member of the British Commonwealth. Those who visit St. Lucia often wonder why the island became a vacation spot only in recent years, with its beautiful twin Piton peaks, the dramatic volcanic crater of Mount Soufriere, and its unspoiled golden beaches.

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St. Maarten, Netherlands Antilles

 St. Maarten is the smallest piece of land shared by two sovereign states. Legend has it that the Dutch and French boundaries of the island were determined by two men who challenged one another in a race around the island. The meeting point on the other side became the boundary, and since the Frenchman walked faster, the French claim five more square miles than the Dutch. Legend or not, both the Dutch and the French settled here in the 1630s and despite occupancy by the British twice, the Dutch and French have lived peacefully together ever since they arrived. Exploring the island, visitors discover St. Maarten's Dutch capital of Philipsburg and the French flavor of St. Martin's capital of Marigot. All around the island are fine beaches, excellent cuisine and some of the best duty-free shopping in the world.

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St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands

Charlotte Amalie, the capital of the U.S. Virgin Islands, is located on St. Thomas Island. The island was originally inhabited by the fierce Carib Indians, and today is home to a melting pot of people from virtually every race, nationality and religion of the world. The oldest structure on St. Thomas is the 17th century Danish Fort Christian, built by the Danes to protect the city from pirates. In addition to its historic treasures and scenic allure, St. Thomas is adored by travelers from the world over who come to take advantage of the island's free port status.

St Thomas lies about 75 miles east of Puerto Rico at 18? north, 40 miles north of St Croix. Thirteen miles long and less than 3 miles wide, with an area of 32 square miles and population of 51,000, St Thomas rises out of the sea to a range of hills that runs down its spine. The highest peak, Crown Mountain, is 1,550 feet, but on St Peter Mountain, 1,500 feet, is a viewpoint at Mountain Top. Various scenic roads can be driven, such as Skyline Drive (Route 40), from which both sides of the island can be seen simultaneously. This road continues west as St Peter Mountain Road, with a detour to Hull Bay on the north coast. Route 35, Mafolie Road, leaves the capital, Charlotte Amalie, heading north to cross the Skyline Drive and becomes Magens Bay Road, descending to the beautiful bay described below. It should be said that much of the island has been built upon, especially on its east half.

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