On a Caribbean vacation you are almost certain to enjoy a romantic sunset because the Caribbean islands are one of the tropical regions that have beautiful sunsets. There are some locations on certain Caribbean islands like Rick’s Café in Jamaica and Shirley Heights in Antigua that are world famous for the sunsets that can be viewed from these locations and an evening spent looking at these spectacular sunsets is often the highlight of a vacation. Is the Caribbean simply blessed by nature so that it has these wonderful tropical island sunsets or are there specific reasons why the Caribbean has more brilliant sunsets than other areas.
To understand why there are such beautiful sunsets in the Caribbean we must first consider what is meant by the term sunset. Sunset is the daily disappearance of the sun below the horizon as a result of the Earth’s rotation. While the sun going below the horizon is actual sun set, most people associate the term sunset with the brilliant colours of gold, red, yellow and purple that are seen in the sky when the sun goes below the horizon.
Sunlight is actually composed of a spectrum of colors that ranges from violet and blue at one end to orange and red on the other. As the sunlight passes through the atmosphere the colour elements in the sunlight are scattered, with the blue light being scattered by air molecules and the white light being scattered by water drops and dust. During the middle of the day the light from the sun has a relatively short distance to travel until it reaches the human eye and the scattering of the blue element in the colour spectrum creates the blue sky that we see. At sunset the light from the sun has a much longer distance to travel before it reaches the human eye. In fact at sunset the light travels up to 30 times farther than at midday. Because of this increased distance more of the blue and violet elements of the light are scattered which leaves the yellow, red and purple colours to be seen by the human eye.
While the above explains the wonderful colour variation that is seen at sunset, it does not fully explain why the Caribbean has such glorious sunsets that provide such vibrant tropical sunset pictures. The answer now lies in the geography of the Caribbean. Certain elements in the light spectrum are scattered by dust. Without dust in the atmosphere the sunset colours tend to be yellow or orange while an increase in the dust particles causes the colours to be more towards red and purple. However too much dust in the atmosphere subdues the vibrancy of the colours and can actually prevent you from seeing the colours. The area called the Caribbean is a collection of small islands surrounded by miles of ocean. Those miles of ocean mean that the Caribbean has very clean air and that clean air allows you to clearly see the vivid sunset colours. This is not to say that there is no dust in the atmosphere above the islands of the Caribbean, rather the dust is in small quantities creating the correct blend to give the full range of sunset colours.
Dust also contributes in another way to the vibrancy of Caribbean sunsets. Every year between June and August, there is a phenomenon known as Sahara Dust. African dust plumes stirred up by storm activity in the Sahara Desert region begin a trans-Atlantic journey. The dust, originating from fine particles in the arid topsoil, is transported into the atmosphere by winds and carried more than 10,000 feet high. These dust clouds cross the Atlantic Ocean and reach the Caribbean in about 5 to 7 days. This Sahara Dust enhances the richness of the sunset seen on some days.
Another reason for the beautiful Caribbean sunsets that produce such wonderful tropical sunset pictures is the size of the islands. Most Caribbean islands are relatively small in size so that no part of any island is far from a westward facing beach. Being on a Caribbean beach that faces to the west gives you an unimpeded view of the setting sun and so allows you to see the full majesty of the sunset. Even when inland on a Caribbean island, the fact that the majority of areas still have their natural vegetation provides a scene for a visually rich sunset. Even in inland areas where there are buildings these are usually low, therefore still allowing great views of the sunset.
All sunsets can be beautiful but when the sky has a few clouds the sunset can be awe inspiring. The reason that clouds can be a visual enhancer is that the clouds tend to catch the last rays of the setting sun and seem to light up with those rays. Very high clouds such as cirrus, cirrostratus, and cirrocumulus clouds, which are made up almost entirely of ice crystals due to the extreme altitudes where they are found, capture the light before there is any colour loss due to dust. These clouds tend to light up in colours of red, scarlet and orange. For many countries, low lying clouds such as stratus and stratocumulus clouds do not generally enhance the sunset because they tend to be at the level where there is much dust in the atmosphere. Once again the clean air of the Caribbean works towards enhancing the richness of the tropical sunsets seen by allowing even low lying clouds to fill the sky with vibrant colours from the setting sun.
Wherever you are in the Caribbean when the sun is setting, take a moment to enjoy the beauty of the sunset.