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Tropical storms and hurricanes are powered by warm water, strong winds, and warm air.
Yes, you can have a great beach vacation during Atlantic hurricane season, but it’s crucial to be prepared for the possibility of a serious tropical storm. Here’s what you need to know before you make the trip.
The conventional wisdom is that the Caribbean is a no-go zone during hurricane season. The conventional wisdom is wrong. Even though some parts of the year are more statistically likely to see hurricanes, that hardly means a strong tropical storm is guaranteed.
Hurricanes usually affect only a small part of a big region at a time. The Caribbean islands span approximately 1 million square miles of the Caribbean Sea, which means that even if a hurricane were impacting the southern Bahamas, most of the region would likely be having ideal tropical weather, says Frank J. Comito, CEO and director general of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association.
Still, if you’re planning on traveling to the Caribbean during hurricane season, it’s important to be prepared for the chance of serious storms and bad weather. Here’s what you need to know before you go.
According to the U.S. National Weather Service, hurricane season in the Atlantic runs from June 1 through November 30. If you’re willing to travel during that time of year, you’ve just taken back half a year of potential vacation time. The risk is slight, and the rewards can be great: lower rates and lighter crowds.
To remain prepared, check updates from the National Hurricane Center before your trip and throughout the duration of it. This NWS division tracks and predicts weather in the tropics and will issue hurricane warnings across the Atlantic Ocean up to 48 hours in advance.
Here is a summary track map of the tropical storms and hurricanes so far in the Atlantic basin in 2018, excluding Florence. pic.twitter.com/peCOtiAA6g— National Hurricane Center (@NHC_Atlantic) September 1, 2018
The islands closest to South America typically see fewer hurricanes. Safer bets include Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao (world-class scuba diving destinations collectively known as the ABCs); Barbados (with its polo and botanical gardens); Trinidad and Tobago (popular for music and culture); and Grenada (with its unsullied beaches and rum distilleries located off the coast of Venezuela—and outside of the Caribbean hurricane belt). On these Caribbean islands, wildlife, swimming, and ocean conditions in September are generally much as they are in February.
Airlines and hotels don’t explicitly market “hurricane rates,” but shoulder-season can be one of the most affordable times to visit the Caribbean, when flight deals and resort offers are abundant. (Many islanders take advantage of the deals to travel within the islands.) Although a lot of hotels close for annual maintenance for a few weeks or months, they’re open much of the season. Look for fall promotions, and, of course, read the fine print.
Make sure to get travel insurance that includes NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) warnings and alerts for tropical storms; most also cover cancellation or interruption if a destination is deemed uninhabitable, as long as the policy was purchased before a hurricane or tropical storm was named. Sites like InsureMyTrip.com, which casts a wide net, and TravelInsurance.com, which offers tighter, more curated lists, let you shop and compare for the best policy.
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According to Stan Sandberg, cofounder of TravelInsurance.com, purchasing a travel insurance plan is a necessary precaution to take, and it’s more affordable than most think. “You can get high-quality coverage for what amounts to the cost of a nice dinner out on vacation,” Sandberg says. While prices vary depending on destination, trip cost, desired benefits, and even travelers’ ages and residences, travel insurance costs between 3 and 10 percent of the trip being covered—perhaps $100 or $200 for a couple planning a $2,000 vacation.
Cruise ships will reroute when they receive storm warnings, meaning that unless you had your heart set on a particular island, your vacation will be virtually unaffected by unexpected storms. Cruise line options range from the high-luxury small ships of Silversea, Seabourn, and Azamara to the big vessels of Celebrity, Carnival, and NCL.
If you booked a trip—and didn’t buy travel insurance—don’t panic if a hurricane hits. “In the Caribbean, we’ve become experienced at dealing with the impact of storms. We know as soon as any system forms and have pretty accurate predictions as to ETAs,” says Johnson JohnRose, communications specialist for the Caribbean Tourism Organization. Local governments and hotels keep a close eye on storms’ developments and have detailed activation plans in place for evacuating or sheltering guests.
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If an impending storm looks serious, hotels and airlines often let guests cancel or reschedule without penalties. Ask about policies when you book travel, and if trouble seems to be looming, ask again about your options. “We are regularly made aware of instances where guest satisfaction levels increase during a storm,” says Comito of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association. “They are well taken care of by the resort and staff.”
This article originally appeared online in September 2015; it was updated in September 2018 to include current information.
>>Next: Some of the World’s Best Beaches Are in Countries You May Not Expect
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