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Even if it is stormy at Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas, other parts of the Caribbean may have perfectly fine weather.
Yes, you can still have a great trip to the Caribbean during hurricane season, but a serious tropical storm is possible. Here’s what you need to know before you go.
The conventional wisdom is that the Caribbean is a no-go zone during hurricane season, which spans from June to November. 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. When hurricanes do occur, they usually affect only a small part of the Caribbean islands at a time, which span approximately 1 million square miles of the Caribbean Sea.
This means, “even if a hurricane is impacting the southern Bahamas, most of the region would likely have ideal tropical weather,” says Frank J. Comito, CEO and director general of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association.
With most Caribbean islands now reopened to travelers (with some COVID-19 restrictions and requirements in place), visiting the region in the coming months is finally a possibility for 2021. However, if you plan to visit between now and November, it’s important to be prepared for the chance of serious storms and bad weather. Here’s what you need to know about traveling to the Caribbean during hurricane season before you go.
According to the U.S. National Weather Service, hurricane season in the Caribbean runs from June 1 through November 30 and normally peaks in August and September. The Caribbean region is included as part of the Atlantic hurricane season, which also impacts states in the southern United States. In 2020, the Atlantic region recorded more storms than any previous year and the second-highest number of hurricanes, clocking in at 14. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts that 2021 will still see above average storm activity, although not to the extent of 2020.
To remain prepared, check updates from the National Hurricane Center before your trip and throughout its duration. 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.
Even if there are no reports of hurricanes in the weather forecast, you may experience some rain at your destination. Be prepared and grab your best waterproof luggage, pack a rain jacket, and consider bringing a dry bag, like those by Sea to Summit, to keep important items like your camera and wallet dry while out and about.
The Caribbean islands closest to South America typically see fewer hurricanes and are generally the best to visit during this time. They include:
On these Caribbean islands, wildlife, swimming, and ocean conditions in September are generally much as they are in February.
If you’re willing to travel during this time of year, the risk is slight and the rewards can be great: lower rates and lighter crowds. 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 many 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 warnings and alerts for tropical storms. Most travel insurance also covers 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 travel insurance policies.
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—around $100 or $200 for a couple planning a $2,000 vacation.
For example, trip cancellation or interruption due to inclement weather and natural disasters, both at home and your destination, is covered under World Nomads’s standard and more premium “explorer” plans.
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. Caribbean cruise line options range from the high-luxury small ships of Silversea, Seabourn, and Azamara to the big vessels of Celebrity, Carnival, and NCL.
Some Caribbean cruises have already started back up after being on hiatus for months due to COVID-19, but check with the individual cruise line to make sure the cruise sailing is still operating. If it is, also check for any potential travel requirements, such as COVID testing and/or vaccine requirements.
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.
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 and June 2021, to include current information.
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