Hispaniola (from Spanish, La Española) is the second-largest island of the Antilles, lying east of Cuba. Christopher Columbus arrived there in 1492, and in 1493 founded the first Spanish colony in the New World on it.
The Taíno called the island Quisqueya (or Kiskeya), a name still in use in both countries. It poetically refers to the Dominican Republic in that country's national anthem, Quisqueyanos valientes. The Spanish rechristened the island Santo Domingo, and the corresponding term Saint-Domingue was taken up by the French. Another indigenous name, Ayiti or variants thereof, was reintroduced in 1804 as the name for independent Haiti. The name Haiti was originally intended to mean the entire island, not just the western part, and in fact the present-day Dominican Republic was known briefly as Spanish Haiti. Bohio is yet a third indigenous name for the island.
After the French gained control of the western part of Hispaniola through the Treaty of Ryswick, the western part quickly came to overshadow the east in both wealth and population. Indeed, the population of the Dominican Republic did not overtake that of Haiti until about 1970. Haitians conquered the eastern part of the island on several occasions: in the 1790s under Toussaint Louverture and in 1821-1822 under Jean-Pierre Boyer.
Hispaniola is the second-largest island in the Caribbean (after Cuba), with an area of 76,480 km2;. The island of Cuba lies to the northwest across the Windward Passage; to the southwest lies Jamaica, separated by the Jamaica Channel. Puerto Rico lies east of Hispaniola across the Mona Passage. The Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands lie to the north.
Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico are collectively known as the Greater Antilles. The Greater Antilles are made up of continental rock, as distinct from the Lesser Antilles, which are mostly young volcanic or coral islands.
The Island has five major mountain ranges: The Central Range, known in the Dominican Republic as the Cordillera Central, span the central part of the island, extending from the south coast of the Dominican Republic into northwestern Haiti, where they are known as the Massif du Nord. This mountain range boasts the highest peak in the Antilles, Pico Duarte (3,175 meters above sea level). The Cordillera Septentrional runs parallel to the Central Range across the northern end of the Dominican Republic, extending into the Atlantic Ocean as the Samaná Peninsula. The highest point in the Cordillera Septentrional is Pico Diego de Ocampo. The Cordillera Central and Cordillera Septentrional are separated by the lowlands of the Cibao Valley and the Atlantic coastal plains, which exend westward into Haiti as the Plaine du Nord (Northern Plain). The lowest of the ranges is the Cordillera Oriental, in the eastern part of the country.
The Sierra de Neiba rises in the southwest of the Dominican Republic, and continues northwest into Haiti, parallel to the Cordillera Central, as the Montagnes Noires, Chaîne des Matheux and the Montagnes du Trou d'Eau. The Plateau Central lies between the Massif du Nord and the Montagnes Noires, and the Plaine de l'Artibonite lies between the Montagnes Noires and the Chaîne des Matheux, opening westward toward the Gulf of Gonâves.
The southern range begins in the southwesternmost Dominican Republic as the Sierra de Baoruco, and extends west into Haiti as the Massif de la Selle and the Massif de la Hotte, which form the mountainous spine of Haiti's southern peninsula. Morne de la Selle is the highest peak in the southern range and is the highest point in Haiti, at 2,715 meters above sea level. A depression runs parallel to the southern range, between the southern range and the Chaîne des Matheux-Sierra de Neiba. It is known as the Plaine du Cul-de-Sac in Haiti, and Haiti's capital Port-au-Prince lies at its western end. The depression is home to a chain of salty lakes, including the Saumatre Lagoon in Haiti and Lake Enriquillo in the Dominican Republic.
The climate of Hispaniola is generally humid and tropical. The island has four distinct ecoregions. The Hispaniolan moist forests ecoregion covers approximately 50% of the island, especially the northern and eastern portions, predominantly in the lowlands but extending up to 2100 meters elevation. The Hispaniolan dry forests ecoregion occupies approximately 20% of the island, lying in the rain shadow of the mountains in the southern and western portion of the island and in the Cibao valley in the center-north of the island. The Hispaniolan pine forests occupy the mountainous 15% of the island, above 850 meters elevation. The Enriquillo wetlands are a flooded grasslands and savannas ecoregion that surround a chain of lakes and lagoons that includes Lake Enriquillo, Rincón Lagoon, and Lake Caballero in the Dominican Republic and Saumatre Lagoon and Trou Cayman in Haiti.