Some travelers looking ahead to winter and spring getaways may be wondering what their options are when it comes to Caribbean islands, with all the headlines about hurricane damage.
Some islands like Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and St. Martin have a ways to go in recovery from the storms. But many other places were relatively unscathed. Island destinations where it’s business as usual include Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas.
Here are some recommendations from a couple of travel experts about other spots you might consider if you had your heart set on an island destination that’s now off-limits, but you’re still hoping for sun, sand and sea.
BEACHES, HISTORY AND DIVING
Brian Major, executive editor for the Caribbean and Latin America for the trade media company travAlliancemedia, says if you look on a map, it’s easier to understand the storms’ path. The hurricanes mainly impacted the Caribbean’s northeastern Leeward Islands, which include among other destinations Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, St. Martin, Dominica, Anguilla and St. Barts.
Largely unaffected were islands located farther south, like Grenada and Trinidad, and farther west, like Jamaica and the Dominican Republic.
Major offered a few other islands as alternatives to hurricane-impacted destinations.
—Consider Martinique or Curacao if you’re looking for the European cultural mix found on St. Martin. There’s “terrific air service” to Martinique, he said, and “an excellent highway system” if you care to rent a car, “wonderful food” and mostly boutique hotels, along with interesting historic sites like the Schoelcher Library, named for a famed abolitionist. On Curacao, you’ll find great diving, Dutch-style gabled houses on the waterfront and local food vendors at Plasa Bieu.
—Consider Montserrat for rugged landscapes and outdoor adventures like what Dominica is known for. Montserrat is a volcanic island with soaring mountains, inland rivers, waterfalls, diving and snorkeling.
—The Bahamas, like the Virgin Islands, offer a little of everything, with easy access from many U.S. cities (about 300 miles or 480 km from Florida). They offer “every stripe of resort, from all-inclusive to small historic.” Travelers who want to experience the famed Atlantis waterpark on Paradise Island without paying for lodging at the resort often stay across the street at the Comfort Suites. For adventurers, head to Exuma Island. There are even small private islands where you can pitch a tent.
—Try Barbados for “cosmopolitan flair” and “nice beaches.” A former British colony, it offers everything from UNESCO World Heritage sites to horse racing. Hotels range from all-inclusives like Sandals to three- and four-star and boutique hotels. It’s easy to rent a car and drive around (though Americans must learn to stay on the left) or hire a driver for a tour.
For information on how hurricanes affected individual islands and resorts, Major recommended the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association.
ECO-ADVENTURES, CASINOS AND CULTURE
Kelly A. Luf, a Boston-based leader for Liberty Travel’s Northeast region, offers these ideas for travelers looking for island alternatives to hurricane-impacted destinations.
—Consider St. Lucia “for a customer who was maybe hoping for something like St. John, where they could have a lot of outdoor eco-adventure.” Experiences include hiking, hot springs and mineral baths, and diving to underwater national parks.
—Try Aruba “if you love a vibrant downtown and shopping like you’d find on St. Thomas.” Aruba also offers “excellent casinos and gaming” and “incredible beaches.”
—Barbados might work “if you enjoyed the refinement and food on the French side of St. Martin.” It’s got “European-style culture” and great dining options that make it “the only island that’s Zagat-rated.” You’d be “equally wowed” with an upscale meal at The Cliff or a fish sandwich from a chattel house, a traditional local eatery.
NO PASSPORT? CONSIDER HAWAII
Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have always been favorites among Americans who prefer to travel without a passport. Luf said her office was able to rebook travelers to Hawaii whose trips to St. Thomas and Puerto Rico were canceled because of the hurricanes. These customers thought Hawaii was unaffordable, she said, but ended up vacationing there for “not much more” than the Caribbean. While of course Hawaii is a longer haul for East Coast residents than the Caribbean, Luf noted that there are nonstop flights available. Another option: Norwegian Cruise Line sails out of Honolulu.
Liberty Travel has an excellent online FAQ for Caribbean travel.
Travel to Cuba remains legal for U.S. citizens, the island has cleaned up hurricane damage and prices are lower than in recent years. Just be aware of warnings from the U.S. State Department about unexplained sonic attacks in Cuba and be sure to comply with travel regulations. The Trump administration has said it will issue new regulations but so far has not. Beth J. Harpaz, AP Travel Editor