The Caribbean have been devastated by a series of hurricanes this year, with hurricane Irma having the worst impact, Jose following and Maria yet to come. Several of the islands, including favorite tourist destinations have been devastated, while others have been spared. What is the situation now and should you travel to the Caribbean now? How canHow can you consider weather in your future travel plans?
There a reports of the devastation in the Caribbean and shocking photos all over the social media – but what are you supposed to do, if you have plans to visit? Often enough, the media is hyping up destruction of natural disasters or violence for ratings, so how bad is it? Factor in that the storms have impacted islands quite differently, depending on the path of the storms, and there is no easy answer. The New York Times has written a detailed article on the aftermath of Irma and other reports are freely available as well, so here is a summary of the impact on the different tourist destinations and whether they are open for visitors or not:
Devastated, not recommended for visitors now: Barbuda (near Antigua) is one of the hardest hit islands, with more than 90% of buildings damaged or destroyed. For the first time in 300 years, all inhabitants of the island had to be evacuated, there is no power or water and it will take years to rebuild. St. Martin, the Dutch & French island, also has been hit hard, with severe damage to the airport and many of the hotels and restaurants. St. John and St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands have also seen significant damage to the airport, hotels and restaurants, with flights still focused on evacuation and emergency support and many hotels closed for months to come. The Florida Keys have been directly hit by Irma as well, with the airport closed, and no power, water, fuel or mobile phone service available.
All efforts in these destinations is focused on rescue and recovery, and they are not ready to receive visitors. I don’t recommend to book new travel for the coming months and to contact your airline or hotel, if you have open reservations.
While I do believe in tourism as a boost to local economy, now is not a good time to do so. If you do want to help, you can help more through donations or by volunteering, than by traveling there!
Severe hurricane damage, travel possible soon: The Turks & Caicos Islands are heavily damaged, with many hotels without power or water and they are not able to accept guests right now, but are planning to reopen as soon as October or November. Anguilla, St. Barthelemy and the British Virgin Islands have also seen damage, but are scrambling to reopen for the Christmas season.
If you have current reservations, I’d contact your airline and hotel to check on the status. They might allow you to rebook your trip for a later time. If you want to book a new trip, I would hold off on making new reservations until there is more clarity about the reconstruction efforts.
Some islands have been hit by the storm, but are open for business: Puerto Rico has weathered the storm pretty well, the airport is open and so are hotels and restaurants. Currently, a lot of effort is focused on helping neighboring islands. St. Kitts & Nevis appear to have been spared by the storms, the airport and local hotels are open for business.
If you hold reservations for these destinations, you can travel as planned. There might be some impact on your travel from ongoing rescue and repair efforts on other islands or smaller damage here.
In situations like this, there are always conflicting desires – on the one hand, the focus needs to be on rescue and recovery, and tourists get into the way. On the other hand, destinations that are dependent on tourism would want travelers to return as soon as possible, because they need the money to support the economy.
When faced with a similar situation after the earthquake in Nepal, we had to cancel our trip, because it was not possible to go and we did not rebook soon after, as we did not want to get in the way of the rebuilding efforts. Part of visiting a destination for me is to engage with the people – and quite frankly, they have more important things to do than deal with visitors. Help is better provided through donations than through travel in those cases.
If you want to help the victims of Hurricane Irma, there is a list of reliable charitable organizations on Business Insider!
At the same time, there is no point in suspending travel to a whole region or country, because one part of it was hit – so if the island you want to travel to is fine, by all means, visit! I feel similar about travel in Asia, for example the Philippines constantly has travel warning due to the unrest in the South, when the majority of the country really has no such issues!
Why you should always consider the weather in your travel plans: It always amazes me how many people travel to a foreign country without any consideration of the local weather. Often, a destination is unbelievably cheap because the weather is horrible – I remember plenty of “deals” for travel to the Caribbean each year during Hurricane season. Even “travel experts” like Conde Nast publish “best places to visit in August” lists with islands in the middle of rainy or Taiphoon season! While that in most cases will just make for a less pleasant vacation, it can end up in disaster like this year in the Caribbean.
You don’t have to be a weather expert – a quick search of “your destination” climate chart will get you an image like this for Phuket: You can see in one glance that December to March is the dry season, best for a beautiful beach vacation and you’ll have lots of rain in August or September!
Many guide books or destinations sites will also give you the “best time to visit” information, with clear indication when the weather is best and when it is good enough! Often, the “shoulder season” offers what I consider the best value – you get good weather and have few tourists, so your experience is more “local” and you still get great prices, without the risk of ruining your vacation!
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