My father has been a dedicated scuba diver for close to 50 years, so as you can imagine, a majority of my family trips were taken to island destinations so that we could all scuba dive. The islands in the Caribbean are an incredible place to explore and offer an abundance of outdoor adventures and activities. If you’re planning an island getaway, be sure to check out these tips so you’re completely prepared.
1. Pick Your Island
With thousands of islands to choose from, making a decision can be difficult. If you’re looking for nightlife and a crowd, consider Jamaica, the Bahamas and Puerto Rico. The search for fabulous beaches should steer you toward the Dominican Republic, the pink sands of Bermuda, or the fabulous Seven Mile Beach on Grand Cayman. Peace and solitude (and no beaches) would be Saba—one of my favorites and a great island for hikers.
2. Cruising In
If you’re looking for a taste of each island, a cruise is the way to go. You typically are in port during the day and can get a good snapshot of island life with a cruise-sponsored tour. I prefer to get a “real” taste of the island and take a half-day tour with a local taxi driver
3. When to Go
The good part about the Caribbean is that there is no real “bad” time to go. Peak season is December to April, when the weather is best, so rates will be higher. Summers will be hot, and there will be rain each day, but that’s when the best deals are offered. It’s also hurricane season from June 1 to Nov. 30. The sun will rise and hurricanes will come—you can count on it. If you’re on a cruise—no worries. Today’s ships are fast enough and technologically savvy enough to outrun almost any storm.
4. Why Go
The Caribbean lends itself to many purposes. Of course honeymoons and romantic trips top the list, but the Caribbean is also the perfect spot for families, destination weddings, business meetings (they’re tax free in Jamaica and a few other islands), or, as I have done, for a solo trip to just forget your worries and get away from it all!
5. Travel Documents
There are no visas required for U.S. citizens of any Caribbean basin nation. As for passports, the rules have changed, so pay attention. The U.S. government’s Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative is now in effect, and U.S. citizens flying to or from the Caribbean (and Canada and Mexico) need a passport. If traveling by land or sea, passports will be required beginning June 1, 2009. The only exception to this rule is Barbados, which has always required a passport from U.S. citizens regardless of mode of transport. If you plan to travel to the Caribbean and don’t yet have a passport, get one now. The only countries exempt from this requirement are Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, which are territories of the United States.
Typically a Caribbean trip is an investment both in time and money. Don’t risk it. Last summer I was supposed to go to Turks & Caicos on Aug. 16. Due to a fall on Aug. 15, my beach chair and piña colada were replaced with a surgical table and a scalpel. Thankfully, I had travel insurance. While I was bummed about the trip, my wallet was happy and I was made whole.
7. Money, Language and Other Necessities
There are perhaps a dozen different currencies in the Caribbean; the U.S. dollar is widely accepted. I do recommend getting a small amount of local currency for taxi driver tips and small incidentals, but it is not necessary. The electricity is the same as the United States and is on a standard 120/240v system. Internet Wi-Fi hot spots are spotty, and your best bet is at an Internet cafe. Cell coverage is also spotty and very expensive. If your phone is unlocked by the cell carrier, it is usually less expensive to buy a new SIM card at your destination—they are usually available in airports and in news stores. English is also widely understood and spoken.
8. Flying In
The Caribbean is served by many airlines. Some islands are better than others. For the major islands, there likely will be nonstop service from the United States mainland. For the medium-sized islands, there may be an intermediate stop or two. And for the really small islands, be prepared for multiple connections, small planes, short runways and dramatic landings.
9. Where to Stay
The Caribbean boasts every type of accommodation imaginable. From sprawling luxury resorts to intimate thatch-roof shacks, the choice is yours. St. Lucia is home of Anse Chastanet and Ladera, two of the finest romantic hotels in the world. Jamaica is the queen of the all-inclusive resort with Sandals, Grand Lido, Beaches, Breezes and the naughty Hedonism resorts.
10. How Long
I have been to Jamaica for one night and it was no fun. While shorter stays are possible on the larger islands closer to the mainland, to really experience any island, I feel you need five days at a minimum. Remember, you could possibly lose two days just in traveling if your destination is in the Southern Caribbean. Three days will allow you to relax, unwind, sip a cool cocktail or two, soak up some sun, splash in the clear blue waters and explore the land a little.
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Post based on “10 Tips for Island Hopping in the Caribbean” by John Frenaye