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Ah, the Caribbean: The sea and the many islands strewn throughout the sea often seem like the ideal getaway destinations. But when Caribbean hurricane season hits, it’s anything but the best time to visit the Caribbean. Not only are these the worst months to visit and the worst months to cruise the Caribbean, but the region has even sometimes experienced direct hits by exceptionally dangerous Category Four and Category Five hurricanes.
So which destinations make for the best Caribbean vacations? Though nowhere is always 100 percent safe during this most tumultuous time of the year, here are a few destinations that are essentially the safest Caribbean islands during hurricane season.
So when is hurricane season in the Caribbean? Let’s begin by examining when hurricanes start to form and where hurricanes typically go. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), the U.S. government’s official meteorological agency, the Atlantic hurricane season begins June 1 and ends November 30, while the Pacific hurricane season begins May 15 and ends November 30. Though hurricane trackers fear 2023 may become a hyperactive year for Pacific hurricanes, we’ll be focusing more on the Atlantic side because the Caribbean Sea is on the Atlantic side.
Where do hurricanes come from? They typically form as thunderstorms off the West African coast, just north of the equator. When the ocean water is warm enough and the air above is humid enough, humid air flows upward at a zone of low pressure over warm ocean water, and water releases from the air to create storm clouds. As humid air continues to rise, the storm system rotates, and the storm system needs to move farther away from the equator in order to continue rotating and benefitting from the Coriolis effect (or Coriolis force). As cyclonic circulation continues and wind speed kicks up, these storm systems can evolve into tropical depressions, then tropical storms, and eventually hurricanes.
As warm air continues to rise from the equator, it flows toward the poles, yet these warm air currents are often deflected eastward as they try to continue moving north. But as these warm air currents descend toward the ground around 30 degrees north latitude, the currents move southwest and back toward the equator. These are called trade winds, and we now have a much better understanding of why the Greater Antilles islands (which include Cuba, the island that Haiti and the Dominican Republic share, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, and the Cayman Islands), The Bahamas, and the U.S. State of Florida are especially prone to hurricanes. Long story short, Florida and the northern Caribbean islands make that “sweet spot” of warm climate, warm waters, and far enough north latitude to draw in tropical storms and let them intensify into powerful hurricanes.
While Atlantic hurricane season officially begins June 1, it usually kicks into high gear in August, when North Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea water become particularly warm. September is usually the peak month for Atlantic and Caribbean hurricanes, and hurricanes occasionally reach the Caribbean Sea as late as mid-November. Keep in mind that no part of the Caribbean is always “100 percent safe”, as storms occasionally follow a southerly route, and a few hurricanes have even crossed Central America into the Pacific Ocean. Still, we can now see why the northern Caribbean islands are especially at risk for hurricanes late in summer and early in the fall.
The Windward Islands of the Lesser Antilles tend to directly face the Atlantic Ocean to the east, yet their southern location (mostly below 16 degrees north latitude) provides welcome shelter from most Atlantic hurricanes. This archipelago includes fantastic Caribbean vacation destinations like Barbados, Grenada, Martinique, and Saint Lucia. And though this island country is not always considered part of the Windward Islands, Trinidad and Tobago is essentially situated on the southeastern corner of the Caribbean region.
Since these islands tend to have direct Atlantic Ocean frontage, they still get quite rainy during the summer and early fall. With that said, their southern location often protects them from hurricanes due to the weaker Coriolis force down here. If you decide to visit these islands, you’ll likely want to pack umbrellas and weatherproof gear in your suitcase, but you won’t have to worry as much about hurricanes ruining your Caribbean vacations. Islands like Barbados and Saint Lucia make it easier to shelter from the rain with their fabulous resorts. And when the rain finally lets up, you can explore volcanic peaks and dramatically scenic beaches.
Not to be confused with the Leeward Islands and/or the Greater Antilles to the north, the Leeward Antilles are also on the southern end of the Caribbean Sea. But because they’re west of the Windward Islands and don’t have any direct Atlantic Ocean frontage, these may be the safest Caribbean islands, and they’re certainly the driest. The largest and most easily accessible of the Leeward Antilles are the ABC Islands of the Netherlands.
Last fall, I had the great pleasure of visiting the ABC Islands: Bonaire, Curaçao, and Aruba. Bonaire is a great place to find yourself while getting lost in nature, while Curaçao has perhaps the liveliest urban scene in Willemstad, and Aruba has an abundance of picture-perfect beaches and luxury resorts. Not only do their annual precipitation totals hew closer to California’s Central Coast than the rest of the Caribbean, but their peak rainy season actually falls later in the fall, meaning that the ABC Islands are likely your best bet for the most sunny beach days.
Do you seek different kinds of Caribbean vacations that also let you escape the worst of Caribbean hurricane season? You might want to give Panama’s Bocas del Toro a closer look. Located off the northern Caribbean coast of Panama’s mainland, Bocas del Toro may by far be the rainiest islands on this list. But since they’re located at the southwestern edge of the Caribbean Sea, they’re ideally positioned to avoid the hardest hits of Caribbean hurricane season.
Unlike perpetually popular Caribbean vacation destinations such as Aruba and Barbados, you won’t find much of any luxury resorts and posh beach clubs at Bocas del Toro. But if you consider the best time to visit the Caribbean any time when you can leave the hotel (or Airbnb) for the day, enjoy sparsely crowded beaches, explore the open rainforest, and even try surfing the Caribbean Sea, Bocas del Toro is a great place to venture far away from the beaten path and do a different kind of beach trip. Isla Bastimentos National Marine Park is a nature lover’s paradise with protected forests, mangroves, and animal species (including four species of endangered sea turtles), and you can easily catch cheap boat rides to the island’s best surfing beaches.
As we discussed earlier, nowhere in the Caribbean is completely immune from Caribbean hurricane season. If you’re traveling this way during the summer months and/or early in the fall, there’s always the risk of your “perfect Caribbean vacation” taking a stormy turn. But if the potential for occasional dark clouds and heavy rain still doesn’t faze you, now you know which islands are the safest Caribbean islands where you stand the best chance of staying far away from the hurricanes’ path.
For more great travel ideas, take a look at the cheapest and most expensive Instagram-worthy destinations, our handy guide to help you decide whether Puerto Vallarta or Cancún is better for your next Mexican beach vacation, and our Oaxaca Coast (Mexico) travel guide. Wherever you go next, we wish you safe travels, and we hope you find new and exciting travels as you keep wandering around the world.
When you go to Hawaii, you’re going to want to stay for a while. That’s simply what snorkeling, surfing, eating poke, sipping shave ice, and hiking through glorious National Parks will do. And in Hawaii, you’ve got quite a few great options, whether you’re doing the city thing in Honolulu or getting away in Lanai.
Part of an extended stay is living like a local. In Hawaii, you can do that while pampering yourself with the extra creature comforts a real vacation warrants. Think of the hotel as your headquarters for an immersive island experience, a place to rest up in between incredible meals, fun excursions, and visits to the archipelago’s many wondrous small towns and beaches.
The rental car apocalypse is upon us. Gone are the pre-pandemic days when you could book a vehicle at the last minute and still be assured of scoring a deal. This summer, prices are high and availability is startlingly low. Waiting till the last minute might land you a $200-a-day deal for a mid-sized vehicle, or even no vehicle at all. How did this happen? Over the last 12 months, many car rental companies (those that didn’t declare bankruptcy) slashed their stocks in order to stay alive. Now that Americans are hitting the road once again, rental outfits simply can’t meet the demand.
While you might have to put the great American road trip on hold, there’s no need to cancel your travel plans altogether. There are many places where you can still plan a rewarding getaway. In truth, it can be liberating to travel without a car. Not only will you be doing the Earth a favor by reducing your carbon footprint, you won’t have to worry about the hassle of long lines at the rental counter, dealing with heavy traffic on unfamiliar interstates, or hunting for a gas station before you return the vehicle (or dropping it off on “empty,” which entails its own special brand of white-knuckled anxiety). Car-free sometimes means carefree, and going green never felt so right.
New York City & the Hamptons
Thinking about booking a weekend getaway or a week’s long, unplugged, get-me-out-of-here-right-this-minute trip, the first thing on your mind is probably, “How much is this going to set me back?” It can often be a deal breaker on how long you can go, where you are traveling, and if you can afford to go at all.
While the airlines have certainly changed their flight prices post-COVID, the cost of airfare for this summer may surprise you. Travel booking site Hopper came out with a report that breaks down how much flyers can expect to pay based on location, and it also includes some good intel on hotels and car rentals as well. The bottom line: It’s going to cost you to unwind. Cheap airfare will be hard to come by.
How much will a trip cost this summer?
According to their report, average round-trip air ticket prices to Europe increased over last year to the tune of $1,167 versus $850 last year. If Asia is on your bucket list, the news is equally dismal. The average round-trip ticket is coming in at $1,817, compared to only $917 during the summer of 2020. Even going to Canada will cost you more, 2% higher than last year and up 11% over 2019.
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