The Caribbean Islands are at the top of the list for vacation spots around the world. Each year, almost 30 million people head down to the former home of the rum runners to enjoy the sun, booze, and deep, deep southern hospitality that makes these laid-back spots so beloved. With acres and acres of sandy beach and blue-green ocean, to say nothing of the flow of the aforementioned rum, it’s easy to find a lot to do in the Caribbean, or just a lot of nothing to soak in under the rays of the sun. The trouble is, you’re going to be competing with every one of those 30 million to enjoy it.
Though being there is all about enjoying the high life, drinking the days away, and dancing to steel drum music, before you pack your sandals – and almost nothing else – you need to have a plan. You should know when to go, where to stay, how long to schedule, and how to duck away from the overpriced tourist traps that lay in wait throughout the tropical islands like a deadly jungle cat. When you want your vacation to be successful, you need these 18 Caribbean travel tips to see your way to more fun and relaxation for less cash.
Stick to Cotton
When packing for your trip, the best articles of clothing to pack are those that are 100% cotton. Naturally, swimwear will be constructed out of synthetics, but for average wear you’re going to want the natural breathability, flex, and moisture wicking that comes from king cotton.
Overestimate the Sun
Skin cancer is more prevalent than ever, and even if you’re from a hot place like Phoenix or Miami, you’re still not truly prepared for how intense the Caribbean sun is. Load up on sunscreen, hats, lip balms, and anything else you can use to protect your skin from the harmful UV rays. Also, know about sunglasses to help guard your eyes.
There’s a reason that malaria runs rampant in tropical regions, and it’s due to how friendly the climate is to bugs that bite, particularly the bloodsucking mosquito. Have bug spray that is at least 30-50% DEET at all times, hang nets where you sleep, use candles or electric repellents wherever you stay, and have soothing lotion for when you do get bit. These bugs are everywhere.
Keep Swimwear for Time in the Water
No matter how cute you think you look in that bikini top, or how nice your board shorts are, it is a sign of disrespect in the Caribbean to wear your beach gear anywhere but when on the beach. You should have lots of lightweight cotton clothing, use it before you go anywhere that isn’t surf and sand.
Beware Manchineel Trees
These kinds of trees are toxic and produce a painful sap that can easily drip on you, especially if you take cover underneath one during a rainstorm. Know these trees and give them a wide berth.
Keep Your Clothes On
There are beaches in the Caribbean archipelago that allow for nude or topless sunbathing, but they are not common. Unless you’re visiting one of the proclaimed nude beaches, you need to follow the local decency laws which restrict how much skin you can show.
Check With The State Department
Before you book a trip, take a look at the state department’s travel website which will tell you anything you need to know about your destination. If there’s warnings or hazards, consider postponing or changing your plans.
Talk to the Concierge
Whatever hotel you’re staying at is going to be your best resource for where to go and what to do. It might be exciting to go out and experience the culture all on your own, but you’re likely to be robbed, swindled, or worse, since it’s easy to get into trouble. Know what areas are safe, what areas to avoid, and get suggestions from the employees who are there to enhance your stay. Tipping them well and listening to them could literally save your life.
Hire a Guide
A local guide who knows the area and can cope with some of the more difficult circumstances that arise is invaluable. Make sure you get one that is licensed as an official guide. Typically those suggested by websites such as Tours By Locals are high-quality, but check for reviews and recommendations before you hire anyone.
Hit Multiple Islands
If you’re going to a single destination in the Caribbean, you’re missing out. Merely because the region is closely grouped together doesn’t mean that there aren’t wildly different cultures from spot to spot. Boat tours, yacht rentals, quick plane hops, or cruises between islands are available on the cheap. You might hate island #1, but fall in love with #4. Give yourself that chance. Just make sure you book ahead of time, because trying to find a local flight or boat can be incredibly costly.
Know Your Carry-On Limits
When moving between islands, you should be aware of your full itinerary – and have it printed out to carry with you – and know how much you can be taking on every vessel you board, whether it floats or flies. This avoids embarrassment, delays, and potential issues while in country.
Know Where You’re Going
It’s necessary to have your itinerary with you when travelling around the Caribbean because the authorities need evidence you’re not looking to disappear as so many have. You should also be clear on which islands are the safest and most dangerous before you ever set foot on them. If you can afford to vacation here, you’re going to be a target for these impoverished places and the jackals that lurk near them.
Stash Your Valuables
Ideally you shouldn’t be travelling with many valuable items, but any you do have – cash, travellers cheques, jewelry, electronics, etc. – should be stowed in the hotel safe, or locked out of sight should you be driving a car.
Keep Your Passport
Each island is a sovereign nation, and you’ll need your passport to get in and out. Lose it, and you’re in danger.
Don’t Touch the Coral
Coral reefs are fascinating pieces of nature, but they are also being rapidly depleted and destroyed, which is harming the overall ecosystem of the oceans. As goes the water, so goes the world; so keep your hands to yourself when snorkeling or diving.
Lock All Entryways
Don’t ignore the sliding balcony door that opens out from your hotel room. Many thieves can and will climb up and in through those doors while you’re out or asleep. Keep every possible method of ingress secure in your room.
Stay Safe At Night
There’s far more predators in the lazy summer sun than you’d expect. They tend to come out when darkness falls, so stay with a group, stay in public areas, and don’t go anywhere alone or with a stranger. It also helps to drink in moderation and stay with people you know at all times, or you’re easy prey.
Don’t Buy Drugs
Though illegal drugs are everywhere in Caribbean, and the temptation is pretty great for those who like a good party, the drug cartels are vicious in that region and happy to dip their toes into kidnapping, extortion, and every other unsavory diversion out there. Don’t get to know them or buy their wares and you won’t get on their radar.