There’s nothing like jetting off to the tropics to ease tension, lower stress, and rejuvenate yourself from head to toe. But to ensure your trip is as carefree as it should be, avoid these common mistakes and misconceptions about vacationing in the Caribbean.
1. Assuming All Islands Are Exactly the Same
It can be tempting to group the Caribbean into one lump destination, but the reality couldn’t be further — no two islands are alike. What you’ll see and experience on St. Lucia is vastly different from what you’ll encounter in the Dominican Republic, and the arid ABC Islands of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao deserve to be visited one by one. Even in archipelagos like the Bahamas, Nassau is a world away from the Out Islands.
Don’t discount the unique aspects of each individual destination or assume that if you’ve seen one Caribbean island, you’ve seen them all: To do so would mean missing out on a rich and diverse array of people, culture, food, traditions, and landscapes.
2. Expecting Only All-inclusive Hotels
You may be booked for an island vacation, but that doesn’t mean everything will be included in the price upon arrival. There are many all-inclusive options across the Caribbean, sure, but it would be an expensive mistake to assume that all accommodations in the region cover room, board, activities, and more. Read the fine print and know what’s included in the price of your chosen property.
3. Not Exploring Beyond the Hotel Grounds
It may be attractive to stick to your property, especially if you've booked an all-inclusive vacation. After all, you have everything you need at your fingertips, and it's free. But you'd be doing yourself (and the region) a disservice if you didn't venture off the hotel grounds to explore.
Many seasoned travelers won't opt for an all-inclusive because they feel the arrangement doesn't offer a real taste of the locale, and there's some truth to that. Going the all-inclusive route can be a convenient and cost-effective way to plan a vacation, but if it's your only exposure to the Caribbean, and you don't work in some non-resort offerings, you'll miss out on much of the flavor of the islands.
If you want a well-rounded, enriching experience in the Caribbean, make a conscious effort to go beyond your hotel's walls, meet with locals, eat in hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and try something new.
4. Only Visiting in the High Season
Just because a certain period is a "good" time to visit a place doesn't necessarily guarantee it's the "best" time for you. Visiting the Caribbean during the high season has its perks — solid weather, lots of flights, a bustling scene — but consider the shoulder season or off-season (mid-April to mid-December), too. Avoiding peak travel times and holidays will mean better deals, fewer crowds, and a vacation that caters to your needs more attentively. Plus, the weather in the Caribbean is generally warm year-round.
5. Or, Conversely, Not Taking Hurricane Season Into Account
While there are certain advantages to visiting the Caribbean during its off-peak period, some of those months unfortunately double as hurricane season. Peak hurricane conditions occur from mid-August through late October. Hurricanes are common in the region, but they’re not a guarantee, and many are minor or fizzle out before making landfall — it’s only the occasional tempest that makes headlines and presents the region as a storm-torn bedlam.
So, while you might want to avoid the Caribbean altogether from June to November — the full length of hurricane season — you might also score a dreamy getaway comprised of all the perks of off-season with none of the drawbacks. Plus, here's a local secret: Some Caribbean islands are located entirely outside of the Hurricane Belt, so places like Barbados, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, and Grenada are seldom at risk of a storm. Whatever you decide, understand that weather is ultimately unpredictable, so it pays to be flexible in case a hurricane does indeed form.
6. Skipping Local Food or Not Interacting With the Locals
Your resort may be all-inclusive, but what it likely doesn't include is the experience of interacting with locals, as well as the sights, sounds, and smells of everyday life on the islands. As long as you do your research and ensure you're heading to a safe area, as you would on any trip, feel free to get off the beaten path and wander at leisure. Meet some locals, and maybe even try their favorite dish at their go-to restaurant. These are the kinds of genuine encounters that make traveling worthwhile.
7. Forgetting to Plan Water Activities
Warm, crystal-clear waters are one of the main draws of a Caribbean island vacation. To take full advantage of this pristine, inviting opportunity, learn to snorkel or dive before your trip so you can fully immerse yourself in all that the Caribbean has to offer, above and below the surface of the sea. Even if you haven’t had a lot of exposure to the ocean, you’re going to want to ensure there are plenty of activities on your itinerary that incorporate the region’s sparkling waters.
8. Presuming Everyone Speaks English
While many Caribbean islands will feel familiar, English isn't the first language spoken on all, and each one has a culture that beats to its own drum. You can get by with English in most places, as plenty of islanders do speak the language in addition to other dialects, but in some destinations, you'll find a larger concentration of Dutch, French, or Spanish. Assuming that everyone in the Caribbean speaks and acts the same way as you would be a mistake, so take the time to research and understand what you may encounter on your visit.
9. Expecting a Fast Pace
In the Caribbean, there's no getting around it: You're on island time. The region is unfamiliar with the concept of a New York minute, nothing is punctual, and "late" is a subjective construct. You can choose to get frustrated by it, or you can take a deep breath and realize that the laid-back approach and total absence of hurry is all part of the appeal.
10. Counting on Cell Signal
While much of the Caribbean is populated and modernized, they're still islands, after all. A strong cell signal isn't a given, and Wi-Fi can be hit or miss. Depending on which island you're visiting and where you're staying, some places are better equipped than others, but if you arrive expecting lightning-fast speeds and massive bandwidth, you may be disappointed.
Instead, take advantage of the opportunity to unplug and enjoy a taste of analog life, which in the Caribbean looks like beachfront piña coladas, hearty doses of vitamin D, and hammocks tied to swaying palms — in other words, paradise.
11. Drinking the Water
Don't make the unfortunate mistake of drinking the local water before ensuring it's safe for consumption. It's a quick and effortless way to ruin your vacation, or at least a few days of it. While most of the Caribbean has water that's safe to drink from the tap, especially inside resorts, not all areas do, so make sure to check before you go gulping straight from the faucet.
12. Neglecting to Look Up Prices Beforehand
If you head to the Caribbean expecting low price points, you might find yourself shocked at the numbers on menus and services across the region. Prices are higher, not lower, on islands. Their isolated whereabouts demand that most supplies, tools, and ingredients are imported, and you'll see that tax reflected in the final value of goods and services you're purchasing. Budget accordingly.
This fact drops a point on the side of all-inclusives: Paying one price up front, as high as it may seem to you at home, could save you from an on-island financial freak-out. And while you may think you'd never eat, drink, or play enough to make the price of an all-inclusive worth it, factor in the inflated price of just about everything in the Caribbean and it becomes easier to hit those lofty numbers than you'd expect.
13. Not Carrying Cash
As with anywhere, you'll want to carry cash on your trip to the Caribbean. Many islands accept the U.S. dollar, but do a little investigating to determine if your destination warrants securing some local currency, too. Have coins and bills on hand for artisan markets, roadside food stops, and souvenir shopping — not to mention tipping, which is common and appreciated in the Caribbean service industry.
14. Buying Tacky Souvenirs
In the Caribbean, you’ll be faced with ample opportunities to buy things you don’t need. Instead of dishing out for low-quality tchotchkes, find a market where you can support local artists and makers. You (and your loved ones) will get a lot more value from things like homemade Jamaican jerk seasoning, Bahamian straw bags, and Barbados rum than you would from a generic T-shirt or key chain.
15. Assuming a Cruise Is the Only Way to Visit Multiple Islands
Cruising the Caribbean can be a great way to visit the region, but it’s not the only option. If you want to see multiple islands and take charge of your own schedule, rather than being transported from port to port, it’s possible. Hopping between Caribbean islands usually involves a ferry or short flight, and it’s easily doable.
Just remember that the Caribbean is an umbrella term for a region composed of many different countries, so don't leave home without a passport and well-researched plan.