Caribbean 101

Travel Tips For Your Next Island Vacation

Saint Lucia, Anse Chastanet beach, View of umbrella and sun loungers

FerryZievinger / Getty Images

As you dream about picture-postcard scenes of sand and sea, don’t forget that travel to the Caribbean requires a bit more than a passport, a string bikini and a good book. The islands are generally safe as long as you’re prepared and take a few sensible precautions.

General Travel Information 

The US State Department is a good resource for planning international travel. The website publishes a consular information sheet for all countries, which includes a broad overview and information about subjects like entry requirements, crime and road conditions. Travel Alerts are issued when such short-term conditions as a natural disaster or disease outbreak poses possible risks for US citizens. .

General Health 

The Centers for Disease Control publishes travel health information sheets for every country in the Caribbean. Along with information about current disease concerns and vaccination requirements, each page offers general health guidelines for travel to that region. If you plan to travel off resort property or are heading to an off-the-beaten path destination, visit a travel medicine specialist 4 to 6 weeks before departure to ensure immunizations and vaccinations are up to date.

Food and Water 

Diseases caused by food and water are the leading cause of illness in travelers according to the State Department. Reduce the risk of contracting an illness that causes vomiting and diarrhea by drinking bottled water or carbonated drinks in cans or bottles. Avoid tap water, fountain drinks and ice cubes. Cook food thoroughly and don’t eat food purchased from street vendors. Resorts often provide bottled water and use treated water in food preparation. Ask if you’re unsure.

Sun 

A tan is temporary, but skin damage from the sun can last forever in the form of cancers and wrinkles. Bring waterproof sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 and reapply throughout the day, even on cloudy days.

Insects 

Many diseases found in the Caribbean, like dengue fever, are spread through insect bites. The State Department recommends using bug spray with at least 30-50 percent DEET as well as wearing long-sleeved shirts, long pants and a hat outdoors in areas where insects congregate.

More Caribbean Vacation Ideas

Shoal Bay, Anguilla

Shoal Bay, Anguilla

Once a secret hideaway, Anguilla has come into its own as a Caribbean hot spot for Hollywood starlets and honeymooners alike. Filled with beautiful beaches, posh resorts and overall laid-back charm, Anguilla's popularity is certainly well-deserved. There are 33 beaches on this 16-mile stretch of island, and the best part is that they are all open to the public. Shoal Bay is among the most popular with 2 miles of pearly-white sand on the Atlantic side that has a convenient equipment rental on-site for visitors.

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Eagle Beach, Aruba

Eagle Beach, Aruba

With miles of clean shores, tranquil waters and picture-perfect weather year-round, Aruba sees its fair share of tourism. Eagle Beach is one of the most beautiful beaches on the island with its wide swath of powdery sand and gentle surf perfect for swimming. The beach is a bit quieter than some of its neighbors, but still free to the public like all of Aruba’s beaches. Sleep across the street from these serene shores at the Dutch-influenced Amsterdam Manor Beach Resort.

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Trunk Bay, St. John

Trunk Bay, St. John

Nearly 50 years after Laurance S. Rockefeller donated Trunk Bay to the National Park Service, the beach and offshore coral reefs remain among St. John's most breathtaking and well-preserved attractions. Trunk Bay's clear, warm waters and silky coral sands draw tourists in droves, and its well-maintained facilities include chair and snorkel equipment rentals and showers. Visitors can bask in the tropical sun, snorkel the 225-yard-long Underwater Trail of reefs, or try their hand at underwater photography -- the clean water and variety of colorful sea life promise spectacular photo opportunities.

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Crane Beach, Barbados

Crane Beach, Barbados

Barbados is a distinctive island, both in its natural beauty and fun-loving culture. This West Indies gem is actually a coral island. The sandy beaches are made up of pulverized coral, which makes for fine, soft sand. Just off the coast, there are coral reefs that tempt snorkelers and scuba divers with their exotic underwater life. Crane Beach is known for its great waves, and the waters are filled with surfers and even some body surfers, though the rough waters are appropriate only for strong swimmers.

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Palominos Island, Puerto Rico

Palominos Island, Puerto Rico

Palominos Island is a 100-acre private beach getaway off the coast at the northeastern tip of Puerto Rico. Adding to the island’s allure is its air of exclusivity as it’s only available to guests staying at the El Conquistador Resort and Golden Door Spa. Those lucky VIPs board a fast-moving catamaran for an 8-minute ride to this retreat for a day of snorkeling, wind surfing or riding wave runners or embrace the island paradise by simply lounging in a hammock with a frozen cocktail.

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Philipsburg, St Maarten

Philipsburg, St Maarten

St. Maarten is a cosmopolitan beach destination with European flair on the Dutch and French sides of the island. Phillipsburg is the capital of the Dutch side and the island’s hub of activity with cruise ships coming and going and visitors strolling along the brick-lined Great Bay Beach Promenade. This busy beachfront runs for nearly 2 miles with colorful umbrellas dotting the wide sandy shores. For a completely different experience, head to Cupecoy Beach, a clothing-optional spot beneath golden sandstone cliffs.

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Nassau, Bahamas

Nassau, Bahamas

While Nassau’s beaches are certainly lovely, the allure for many is the spectacular diving just off the sandy shores where visibility can reach up to 100 feet. Explore the Blue Hole, a natural hole 100 feet across and 200 feet deep full of large schools of fish. Trinity and Piece of Cake caves both have openings large enough to swim through and are home to some large lobsters. There are also countless shipwrecks that have occurred along the reefs surrounding the islands of the Bahamas that make for some very exciting underwater adventures.

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Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands

Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands

The British Virgin Islands are made up of a collection of smaller islands, each with its own unique topography and island vibe. Virgin Gorda, 1 of the largest islands, is a popular tourist spot with posh resorts, pristine beaches and great sailing. Virgin Gorda is probably most famous for the Baths, a unique national park on the island's southwest coast with white sandy beaches framed by gigantic granite boulders, some of these with diameters reaching 40 feet. Bring along your water shoes, a snorkel and a waterproof camera and explore the series of caves and grottos created by these irregular boulders.

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Harrismith Beach, Barbados

Harrismith Beach, Barbados

Spend the day like a castaway on the remote Harrismith Beach in the Parish of St. Philip in Barbados. Though it’s just a short walk from Bottom Bay, this sandy paradise is far removed from the resort scene at the more developed beaches. The beach is accessible by a flight of stone steps carved into a cliff overlooking the sea. The cliff-top ruins of an old plantation house add to the romantic air. After descending the steps to the shore, enjoy a picnic, search for shells or relax with a book—but swim at your own risk as there’s no lifeguard on duty at this hidden gem of a beach.

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Horseshoe Bay, Bermuda

Horseshoe Bay, Bermuda

Bermuda's famous pink-sand beaches are considered some of the loveliest seaside retreats in the world, and the shores of Horseshoe Bay are no exception. Wide stretches of the pastel pink sand -- the result of crushed shells, coral and calcium carbonate -- offset by clear blue waves lapping at the shore, create an enticing lure for the scores of visiting beachgoers who descend each year upon the 21-mile-long island. Horseshoe Bay Beach's facilities, lifeguards and equipment rental shops have helped secure its ranking as Bermuda's most popular shore.

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Sandy Island
Sandy Island

Sandy Island

Drop your anchor and enjoy a romantic day on beautiful, uninhabited Sandy Island -- just a 30-minute boat ride from Petite Anse. The island has numerous coconut trees. So if you need a break from snorkeling or bird watching -- crack open a coconut and sit on the beach with the cool, crystal-blue water lapping at your feet. 960 1280

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Jamesby Island

Jamesby Island

Relax, go sunbathing or take a swim off the coast of Jamesby Island. One of 5 isles in Tobago Cays, this island has the smallest beach in the area. 960 1280

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Winstar Cruise

Winstar Cruise

Take an exciting Windstar Cruise through St. Lucia, located northeast of St. Vincent and northwest of Barbados, in the Caribbean Sea. Climb aboard a luxurious ship for a unique voyage where fun is at your fingertips - book shore excursions, enjoy a candle-lit dinner, listen to live entertainment, work-out in the fitness facility, rent water sports equipment and more. 960 1280

Winstar Cruises  

Hiking in St. Lucia

Hiking in St. Lucia

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Tobago Cays

Tobago Cays

Located in the southern Grenadines, the Tobago Cays is an archipelago that consists of 5 small uninhabited islands -- Petit Rameau, Petit Bateau, Baradol, Petit Tabac and Jamesby.  A popular port of call for cruise ships, Tobago Cays draws thousands of tourists for diving, snorkeling and sports fishing. 960 1280

  

Sandals La Toc Golf Resort & Spa

Sandals La Toc Golf Resort & Spa

If staying dry and on land is your speed -- enjoy a game of golf at the Sandals La Toc Golf Resort and Spa in St. Lucia. Sharpen your club-selection skills on this 3,141-yard course, where several holes demand laser-like accuracy for the perfect shot. Rolling hills and majestic fairways inspire performance at all levels. 960 1280

Sandals Resorts  

St. George's, Grenada

St. George's, Grenada

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Scuba Diving near St. Vincent

Scuba Diving near St. Vincent

St. Vincent is a scuba diver’s paradise. The island offers some of the best diving in the Caribbean, with numerous reefs, shipwrecks, caves and caverns for underwater adventurers to explore. 960 1280

Dennis Sabo-Photographer/Creator/Copywrite Holder  

River Antoine Rum Distillery

River Antoine Rum Distillery

Looking for local spirits in Grenada? Head to the River Antoine Rum Distillery where a potent rum (only sold on the island) is produced the same way it was when the distillery opened in 1785. Today, the distillery functions primarily as a museum; so rum is produced in limited quantity. If inclined, tourists have the option to sample a less strong version of River’s rum. 960 1280

Katchooo, Flickr  

Bridgetown, Barbados

Bridgetown, Barbados

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Princess Margaret Beach

Princess Margaret Beach

St. Vincent and the Grenadines consists of 32 islands and cays located in the southern Caribbean. One of the islands, Bequia, has several beaches perfect for swimming and sunbathing, including Princess Margaret Beach (pictured). Tourists will need a water or land taxi to get here. We recommend grabbing a bite to eat at Max's Bar and then, after an hour, you can swim, snorkel or take a stroll along the beach to burn off a few calories. 960 1280

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Kingstown

Kingstown

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Walter Bibikow / Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images  

Villa Beach

Villa Beach

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Walter Bibikow / Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images  

La Soufrière

La Soufrière

Go on an adventure and hit St. Vincent’s most popular hiking trail near La Soufrière and its crater lake. The 4,049-foot-tall active volcano is the highest point on the island. The last time this majestic beauty erupted was in April 1979. 960 1280

re-vanessa971, Flickr  

Gros Piton

Gros Piton

The second highest peak on Saint Lucia, Gros Piton can be climbed without ropes or mountaineering experience. 960 1280

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Cas En Bas Beach

Cas En Bas Beach

Giddyup! A man rides a horse along Cas En Bas Beach, a stretch of sand to the north of St. Lucia. 960 1280

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Green Figs and Salt Fish

Green Figs and Salt Fish

Don’t let the name fool you. This dish may be called “green figs and salt fish,” but there are no figs in it. Popular since the 1700s, it consists mainly of boiled green bananas and salted fish. 960 1280

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Fort Rodney

Fort Rodney

St. Lucia is home to Fort Rodney, an old British military base, overlooking the Caribbean Sea. 960 1280

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Diamond Falls Botanical Gardens

Diamond Falls Botanical Gardens

This soothing waterfall can be found at Diamond Falls Botanical Gardens, a 6-acre tropical retreat. 960 1280

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Rainforest Zip-Lining

Rainforest Zip-Lining

St. Lucia holds plenty of adventure, including the chance to zipline through its rainforests. 960 1280

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St. Lucia Jazz Festival

St. Lucia Jazz Festival

Musicians Mike Stern, Richard Bona and Bob Franceschini perform on the final day of the 20th St. Lucia Jazz Festival. Held every May, the festival showcases various flavors of jazz from the US, Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America and Europe. 960 1280

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Diving Paradise

Diving Paradise

A diving paradise, St. Lucia’s waters include a stunning array of coral, sponge and marine life. 960 1280

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Soufriere

Soufriere

A scenic town on St. Lucia’s west coast, Soufriere has many hot springs and mineral baths -- no surprise given that its name means “sulphur in the air” in French. 960 1280

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Sulphur Springs

Sulphur Springs

Sulphur Springs is the world’s only drive-in volcano. It’s located on the southwestern end of St. Lucia. 960 1280

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Castries Market

Castries Market

Enjoy fresh papaya at Castries Market, a lively market filled with tropical fruits and vegetables. 960 1280

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Anse Chastanet Resort

Anse Chastanet Resort

Mountain biking in the Caribbean jungle of St. Lucia. Here, bikers take a break at Anse Chastanet Resort, which encompasses more than 600 tropical acres. 960 1280

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Crime 

Some Islands, especially those with poverty and drug trafficking, are more prone to crime than others. Check the State Department website for specifics on each country and use common sense. Leave valuables at home, use hotel safes, don’t bring valuables to the beach or out at night and never leave valuables in a rental car.

It may seem like a no-brainer, but we’ll remind you: don't buy drugs. Drugs are illegal on every island, including Jamaica. The majority of crime and murder in the Caribbean is associated with the drug trade.

Swimming 

If you plan to swim in the sea, a few basic guidelines will keep you safe. Don't float where you can't swim. If weather is kicking up the surf, make sure you’re comfortable in the rough water. Don’t swim alone, swim sober and never dive off a rock or cliff headfirst.

If you get caught in a rip current, don’t fight it. Instead, swim parallel to the shoreline until you break out of the current. Then swim at an angle, away from the current toward shore.

The ocean contains a few mildly dangerous plants and animals. Coral can cause painful cuts. Stingrays and jellyfish will sting when touched or stepped on. Generally, if you leave them alone they will return the favor.

Driving 

Motor vehicle accidents are one of the leading causes of medical problems among tourists. Use common sense, follow local traffic laws, wear a seatbelt and don't drink and drive.

Cultural Sensitivity 

Each Caribbean island has a unique cultural heritage and norms. Women interested in topless sunbathing should head to an island with a continental European history. If hooking up is in your plan, bring condoms and beware of scams in which potential “boyfriends” are more interested in a women’s pocketbook.

Jamaica, Barbados and the Cayman Islands have earned a reputation for being averse to homosexuals and lesbians while French, Dutch and American islands, especially St. Barts, welcome gay couples and singles.

MORE: Explore the US Virgin Islands

Video: Explore the US Virgin Islands

Kinga goes sailing and kite surfing at the US Virgin Islands National Park.

Explore the US Virgin Islands

 10:32

Kinga goes sailing and kite surfing at the US Virgin Islands National Park.

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