9 Caribbean Destinations to Visit This Winter (and 7 to Wait On)
The Caribbean was walloped by strong hurricanes this year, spooking many would-be visitors. According to the airfare search engine Fareness, searches for Caribbean destinations fell almost one-third while hurricane season was in full swing, and remained 12% lower than average from October to November.
Still, many popular Caribbean destinations are open for business, and Fareness data show there are affordable flights to several of them as the region's high tourist season begins. Among your cheapest options right now, according to Fareness: Turks and Caicos, where fares average $295 for a seven-day trip in January departing from New York City; Antigua, averaging $334; and the Bahamas, averaging $353.
Still wondering which Caribbean destinations are back in full swing? Here are nine slices of paradise that are a safe bet, and seven where you're probably better off waiting until next year.
Aruba and its lesser-known siblings, Bonaire and Curacao, were far outside the paths of Irma and Maria. In fact, the islands are far south of the hurricane belt and average only one major storm every 29 years.
If you go, expect top-notch beaches and snorkeling, but don't expect lush greenery: The ABCs are actually desert islands. Don't miss the spectacular natural swimming pool on Aruba's northern coast. Scuba diving is tops on Bonaire, which is far less developed than Aruba. In Curacao, marvel at the colorful Dutch colonial architecture in the capital, Willemstad.
Average Fareness plane fare for January: $408 (Fares assume a weeklong trip departing from New York City.)
Though its sister island, Barbuda, was all but flattened by Hurricane Irma, Antigua was left largely intact and has experienced a tourism bump as visitors flock here instead of harder-hit islands nearby.
Beach lovers, windsurfers and snorkelers should make a beeline for Half Moon Bay to enjoy this relatively uncrowded stretch of pink sand in eastern Antigua.
For a taste of island history, head to Nelson's Dockyard, a working dockyard that has been restored to its early 18th century grandeur; there's also a museum, shops, galleries, and restaurants. St. John's Public Market on Friday and Saturday mornings offers all the fresh tropical fruit, fish, and people-watching that you'd expect.
Average Fareness plane fare for January: $334
The Bahamas and its mega-resorts are open and buzzing with tourists as usual. While Irma did obliterate some spots in this chain of 700 islands, it spared the tourist hot spots, tourism officials have told the New York Times.
For many, the massive Atlantis resort off the coast of the capital, Nassau, is synonymous with the Bahamas. You'll find miles of beaches, multiple pools and restaurants, a casino, a water park and even an open-air marine habitat. For a more laid-back vacation, visitors will find endless beaches, boating, and colonial charm in the Abacos islands.
Average Fareness plane fare for January: $353
Though Turks and Caicos did sustain significant damage from Hurricane Irma in September, the islands are springing back quickly, according to Travel Agent Central. Most hotels are unscathed and major resorts including Beaches Turks and Caicos have either already reopened or plan to reopen relatively soon. Southwest Airlines also recently launched daily nonstop service from Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
After you've had enough time lounging on the long stretch of powdery white stand at Grace Bay Beach, can frolic with sting rays at Gibbs Cay on Grand Turk or kayak around the turquoise water and rocky islands of Chalk Sound National Park.
Average Fareness plane fare for January: $295
The Caymans are in the Western Caribbean, an area that saw few effects from Irma and Maria, so this popular destination is still receiving its normal influx of cruise-ship passengers on daytrips and visitors who come for a longer stay.
Grand Cayman's most famous stretch of bright white sand, Seven Mile Beach, is home to many of the island's resorts and is a good base for sailing, fishing, snorkeling, bike riding, island tours and even helicopter rides. Diving buffs and snorkelers won't want to miss the USS Kittiwake, where they can swim through the wreck of this 76-meter submarine not far below the water's surface.
Average Fareness plane fare for January: $404
Don't confuse the much larger Dominican Republic for Dominica, a small island that saw intense damage from Hurricane Maria. While Hurricane Maria did make landfall in the Dominican Republic as a Category 3 storm, most tourism infrastructure was left unscathed, according to Travel Market Report.
Don't miss Santo Domingo's Colonial City, established in the 15th century and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For an adventure, let a guide take you scrambling, swimming and climbing at the 27 Waterfalls of Rio Damajagua. When it's time for a lazy beach day, try secluded Playa Rincon -- there are enough restaurants to keep you fed, but no resorts that make it hard to claim a patch of sand.
Average Fareness plane fare for January: $415
Jamaica is one of the most prominent Caribbean islands spared by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Tourism officials hope to parlay that good fortune into additional tourism revenue of $150 million to $200 million this travel season, according to Reuters.
Once you've had your fill of the island's famous reggae, check out Dunn's River Falls, where you can climb up the falls, swim in one of the many pools and enjoy the lush greenery. For more adventure, take a hike in Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park. Get your fix of sand, sea, and jerk chicken at Boston Beach near Port Antonio.
Average Fareness plane fare for January: $424
Like most of the southern Caribbean, hilly St. Lucia was not affected by storms during this year's hurricane season, and tourism officials have emphasized that everything is business as usual.
One of the island's top attractions is Pigeon Island, which holds the ruins of military installations from battles between British and French troops here in the late 1700s. Hikers will find stunning views in the Pitons, and there are plenty of local companies that lead guided tours. For beach time, head to Anse Chastanet, which boasts great snorkeling right off the sand.
Average Fareness plane fare for January: $465
Despite this year's active hurricane season, it's business as usual in Barbados. Like Aruba, Barbados is too far south to see much action from hurricanes -- in fact, it hasn't been hit since 1955, according to Travel Market Report.
Tropical Barbados is noted for its British feel -- it was a colony for well over 300 years until 1966 -- so you'll find tea, colonial architecture, and cricket matches. Once you're bored with beaches, check out the lush, enchanting Hunte's Gardens or head to St. Nicholas Abbey Plantation to sample some rum, one of the most famous exports. There are also caves to explore, including Animal Flower Cave, which opens directly onto the Atlantic.
Average Fareness plane fare for January: $467