The conventional wisdom is that the Caribbean is a no-go zone during hurricane season, which spans from June to November. But that isn’t necessarily always the case. When major 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.
“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.
But if you do plan to visit the region during hurricane season, it’s important to be prepared for a chance of serious storms and severe weather. Here’s what you need to know about traveling to the Caribbean during hurricane season.
What are the different kinds of tropical storms?
Weather patterns can be tough to understand, especially when the difference between a tropical storm and a hurricane can feel somewhat nebulous to most travelers. But the difference between the two all comes down to wind speed, which is the most important factor in determining the severity of a storm and its classification. A weather system is considered to be a tropical storm when wind speeds reach 39 miles per hour. Once it increases above 74 miles per hour, it’s entered hurricane, typhoon, or tropical cyclone territory. Hurricanes, typhoons, and tropical cyclones are all names for the same weather phenomenon—the only difference among them is where the storm is happening in the world.
Hurricanes occur in the North Atlantic, central North Pacific, and eastern North Pacific regions, while the same weather pattern is called a typhoon in the northwest Pacific. In the warm waters of the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific, the more generic “tropical cyclone” term is used to describe severe storms no matter how strong the winds are.
Why is the Caribbean prone to hurricanes?
The Caribbean’s unique geography make it vulnerable to storms. The region’s warm water and high humidity result in wet summer months. As warm air evaporates and rises, it irritates the ocean’s surface and quickly results in thunderstorms, as well as tropical storms. Warm water keeps hurricanes active—something you can certainly find a lot of in this region.
In very simplified terms, think of a hurricane as a massive group of thunderstorms concentrated in a single area. When high amounts of rainfall combine with strong winds, an influx of water can be kicked inland. But as soon as tumultuous weather systems hit land and begin to cool off, you often see storms start to slow.
When is hurricane season in the Caribbean?
According to the U.S. National Weather Service (NWS), hurricane season in the Caribbean runs from June 1 through November 30 and normally peaks in August and September. The Caribbean region is a part of the Atlantic hurricane season, which also impacts Florida and other parts of the coastal 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. Fortunately, the 2021 season was less harsh, with just 7 hurricanes. In 2022, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) counted 17 named storms that passed through the Caribbean.
To remain prepared, check for updates from the National Hurricane Center before your trip. This NWS division tracks and predicts weather in the tropics and issues hurricane warnings and updates on weather conditions 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 and tough weather patterns at your destination. Be prepared and take 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 best low-risk Caribbean islands to visit during hurricane season
The southern Caribbean islands closest to South America typically see fewer storms and are generally considered the best options to visit during hurricane season. They include:
- Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao, which are world-class scuba diving destinations collectively known as the ABC Islands
- Barbados, whose capital, Bridgetown, is a UNESCO World Heritage site
- Trinidad and Tobago, popular for music and culture
- Grenada, known for its beaches and rum distilleries and located off the coast of Venezuela, outside of the Caribbean hurricane belt
Although not an island, the Central American country of Belize, whose coastline borders the Caribbean Sea, is another alternative in the region, since its location keeps it relatively protected from the worst hurricane activity.
Read more: The Best Curaçao Hotels and Resorts for a Truly Local Stay
It’s more affordable to visit the Caribbean from June to November
If you’re willing to travel during this time of year, you can expect lower hotel fares and smaller 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, with flight deals and discount resort offers in abundance. (Some islanders even take advantage of deals themselves to travel within the Caribbean.)
To keep an eye on flight deals, set up an alert in Google Flights or sign up for a deal newsletter such as Going, which regularly shares affordable flights to the Caribbean and other destinations.
Although many hotels close for annual maintenance for a few weeks or months, they’re open much of the season—keep a look out for fall promotions.
Buy travel insurance before you go
And in the case that things do go sideways, it’s best to be prepared. Purchase travel insurance that includes NOAA warnings and alerts for tropical storms. Most travel insurance policies also cover cancellations 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. 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.
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.
Consider booking a cruise
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.
Caribbean cruises are back and sailing after many were on hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic.
What to do if a hurricane strikes
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 most recently updated on May 25, 2023, to include current information. Jessie Beck and Erika Owen contributed to the reporting of this story.