Tips for Traveling the Caribbean in Hurricane Season
With its vast expanses of snow-white sand lined with palm trees and piña coladas topped with colorful umbrellas, the Caribbean is every tropical island cliché brought to life. Unfortunately, paradise comes with some pitfalls, including a location spread across one of the world’s most active hurricane belts. But for all the storm warnings sprawled across the headlines, traveling the Caribbean in hurricane season is not as dangerous as you might expect—in fact, it’s a great time for budget savvy travelers to grab some of the best bargains. There are other benefits that come with the hurricane season too, like the low crowds at some of the most popular resorts, the low humidity and some of the most favorable weather (when it’s good, of course).
Hurricane season officially runs from June 1st until November 30th, although August to October are the peak months and the likelihood of getting caught in the storm in June and November is minimal. Statistically, the odds of a hazard-free holiday are in your favor, but there are risks to traveling in hurricane season that need to be considered. Most of these risks are a hassle rather than a disaster, but of course you need to be prepared, so here are some tips for traveling during the hurricane season:
1. Get Travel insurance
Hurricane season travel comes with a risk, so no matter how thoroughly you plan your trip, you need to be prepared in case everything goes haywire. A good insurance plan with a reputable company is a must—make sure it covers you for trip cancellation or amendments, should your flights or boats be interrupted by the weather changes, and check the fine-print, if a storm was already reported at the time of booking it may not be covered. Make sure you know what you’ll need to make a claim too—many companies will need a written statement of cancellation or amendment to validate your claim.
2. Pack for Emergencies
You might not want to consider the worst, but thinking ahead will ensure you can handle whatever situation comes your way. Keep important phone numbers close to hand and take an extra cell phone battery for emergencies. Keeping an extra supply of cash to hand is also a worthwhile precaution—if power outages strike, ATM and card machines will be down and a supply of cash to last a few days or to pay for return transport may be a lifesaver. While you’re packing your swimwear and sun-block, make sure you slip in something warm and a sturdy raincoat in there too, just in case.
3. Check the small print
Traveling at a time of year when there are lots of variables can be a good time to book an organized tour or hire a travel agent to help you plan your trip, rather than organizing everything independently. A good tour company will be well versed in hurricane season policies and will be on-call to help you reorganize in the event of on-location changes. Ensure you understand the policies for changes and cancellation before you book anything—hotels, ferries, day trips and activities may all have their own hurricane guarantees, so check the small print and make sure you know exactly what the policy entails—do you get a full refund, partial refund or vouchers for a future stay?
4. Listen to the weatherman
Keep one step ahead of the weather both before and during your trip, taking heed of any hint of developing storms and the paths that they might hit. The National Hurricane Center is the best place to go for up-to-date, area-specific information but the Weather Channel’s Tropical Storm centre and Hurricane Tracker are also useful websites. Carrying a portable weather radio is another good idea.
Even if your destination isn’t directly in the hurricane’s path, be aware that the weather patterns could still be changeable—high winds, heavy rains and even flooding can spread hundreds of miles around the storm’s path. If hurricane warnings hit, make sure you have enough information to make an educated decision about whether you want to avoid the risk and even if you’re confident that you will avoid it, prepare yourself for delays and changes to your travel plans and allow extra time for ferries, flights, and buses.
5. Choose the lowest risk destinations
No Caribbean island can claim to be 100% safe from hurricanes, but choosing your destination with a mind to the risks can drastically lower your chances of being caught in the downpour. The region around the Bahamas often gets the worst of hurricanes, so head south instead. The aptly named ABC islands—Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao—off the coast of Venezuela are popular low-risk destinations. Nearby Trinidad, well versed for adventure activities with its mountainous terrain and Tobago, with its relaxed and under populated beaches, both fall outside of the hurricane belt, but a visit is best planned from mid-September to mid-October, when the daily rains ease up. Hurricanes in Puerto Rico and Panama are also rare.
The smart option for exploring higher risk islands during the season is to book on an island cruise—cruise liners source real-time weather information and re-route to avoid danger zones, so as long you’re happy to go with the flow, it can be a safe and hassle free way to explore the Caribbean’s many islands.
6. Stay Flexible
Wherever you decide to go, keep your plans flexible and always plan extra time when traveling anywhere. Make sure flights and ferry tickets are changeable and keep contact details to hand in case you need to change your schedule. Keep an eye on the weather patterns and if it’s not looking good, make sure you call to confirm your travel plans in advance. Ultimately though, keep the risks in perspective and remember that scores of happy travelers make it through the hurricane season without a hitch. Being prepared is a wise precaution, but don’t let the worry of a hurricane stop you from enjoying your vacation..