If last year’s hurricanes are making you rethink tropical travel this year, it’s time for a Caribbean update. Although several countries suffered serious damage, a whopping 70 percent of the region—more than a million square miles and 30 countries—remains untouched. And of the hurricane-affected Caribbean islands, many have already rebounded enough to resume receiving visitors.
“We will recover,” says Hugh Riley, secretary general of the Caribbean Tourism Organization. “Guests planning their trips to those [affected] islands this year and beyond should expect to see a product that is rebuilt stronger, better and even more attractive than before.”
Caribbean Update: 2018 Islands Report
Don’t put off Caribbean travel. As Riley says, “The best way to help the Caribbean recover is to visit the Caribbean.” Read on for Caribbean updates on affected islands, plus reasons to visit six of the Caribbean’s most popular destinations untouched by the storms.
How You Can Help: The best way to help the Caribbean is to visit, of course. But if a trip isn’t in the cards, you can still donate to the official regional relief funds set up by the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association and the Caribbean Tourism Organization.
Caribbean Update: Unaffected Islands with New Reasons to Visit
Best known for its beaches, casinos, and its multicultural population (90 nationalities and counting), the “Happy Island” lies beyond the Caribbean islands’ hurricane belt, so it’s a great bet year-round. But Aruba’s Soul Beach Music Festival on Memorial Day weekend (past headliners have included Mary J. Blige and Alicia Keys) just might encourage you to book that getaway right now.
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A second Sandals resort (complete with a rooftop infinity pool and a bowling alley) and a brand-new outpost of the scenester staple Nikki Beach are just two reasons to visit Barbados, the birthplace of rum, right now. But whenever you go, don’t miss Harrison’s Cave, a mile-long network of limestone caverns you can explore via electric tram.
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The newest arrival on Grand Cayman’s Seven Mile Beach is Margaritaville Beach Resort, an oasis that debuted last year that’s inspired by the laidback lifestyle and lyrics of singer Jimmy Buffett. But beyond Seven Mile’s sands are classic attractions (think Stingray City and more than 300 dive sites) that are also worth your time.
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Later this spring, the new luxury resort Silversands will be the first in 25 years to open on Grenada’s Grand Anse, the most famous beach on this island-on-the-rise. Further proof of the Spice Island’s upward trajectory: Kimpton Kawana Bay follows next year. My advice: Go now.
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The perennially popular Caribbean island is known for rum, reggae, and all-inclusive resorts (Excellence Oyster Bay and Spanish Court Montego Bay debut this summer). But Jamaica’s ruggedly beautiful landscape also attract runners to the Kingston City Run in March, and December’s Reggae Marathon, which ends on the sands of Negril’s seven-mile beach.
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With its first luxury resort—the Park Hyatt St. Kitts, now open on the island’s Southeast Peninsula—and increased nonstop flights from Charlotte, New York, Newark, Atlanta, and Miami, St. Kitts is clearly having a moment. When you’re not basking on the beach, consider a hike 3,000 feet up to the top of the island’s dormant volcano, Mount Liamuiga.
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Caribbean Update: Recovering Islands
Despite the pounding delivered by hurricane Irma, the 35-square-mile island of Anguilla has recovered remarkably well. Power has been restored; restaurants have been rebuilt; more than 600 rooms are available in small hotels and villas; and its six major resorts (including Malliouhana, Four Seasons Anguilla and CuisinArt Resort & Spa) will reopen between mid-February and the end of this year. Even better news: the beaches—all 33 of them—are as pristine and uncrowded as ever.
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All utilities have been restored on the posh French Caribbean island, but most of St. Barts’ 16 hotels (including the first, Eden Rock) won’t reopen until summer or fall. The good news: Villa management company WIMCO reports that 182 of its 360 rental homes (545 rooms in total) are already available. The airport and Gustavia’s cruise port are both open, with ferry service from St. Martin now resumed. And several restaurants, most shops, and all the collectivity’s beaches are back in biz.
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With its airport open and power and water restored, the largest of the United States Virgin Islands is also bouncing back the fastest of the three. St. Croix resorts (including two of its best known, The Buccaneer and Hotel Caravelle), restaurants, and shops are back in business. Cruise ships resumed calls at Frederiksted in November, and The Fred, the island’s first new hotel in more than 30 years, had a soft opening in February and should be complete by April.
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Fair warning: You’ll arrive and depart St. Maarten from tents adjacent to the terminal building at Princess Juliana International Airport, whose waterlogged structure won’t reopen before the end of 2018. And some of the biggest resorts here—including all three Sonestas and the Westin Dawn Beach Resort & Spa—are closed until further notice. But 1,200 rooms in small hotels and guest houses on the Dutch side of this twin-nation island are available; all 37 beaches and most of the shops on Front Street are open; and restaurants and nightlife at Simpson Bay are up and running. Rockland Estate, a new zipline attraction, opened in November, and the cruise port at Philipsburg welcomed its first ships in December.
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“All our airports are operational and more than 200,000 passengers have cruised to and from San Juan over the last three months,” says Puerto Rico Tourism Company’s acting executive director, Carla Campos. Although approximately 20 percent of the island is still without power and 20 percent without water, Campos notes that “there are currently more than 100 hotels, 4,000 restaurants and 107 major tourism attractions open. San Juan has been receiving leisure travelers since November 30, and other areas, such as Culebra, Ponce, La Parguera, Mayaguez, Cabo Rojo, Rincón, and Vieques, are also back in business.”
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Caribbean Update: Severely Affected Islands
Despite feeling the category five force of Hurricane Maria in September, more than 20 small hotels have reopened on the nature island. Amenities on Dominica, however, are limited and utilities still intermittent. Consider visiting on a cruise (ships returned in January), as natural attractions popular with passengers, such as Trafalgar Falls and Emerald Pool, have reopened and are as beautiful as ever.
The smallest U.S. Virgin Island took a big hit, losing 70 percent of its hotel rooms to the storm, including those at marquee resorts Caneel Bay and the Westin St. John Resort & Villas, which will remain closed for the rest of the year. But most of St. John is back on the grid, and several small hotels, including Gallows Point Resort and Estate Lindholm, are welcoming guests. Most restaurants and shops in Cruz Bay are open, as are all the Caribbean island’s beaches, including Trunk Bay and Cinnamon Bay. Consider a day trip from Red Hook in St. Thomas, via the hourly ferry service.
Although St. Thomas’ airport is open, several large resorts—including the Ritz-Carlton St. Thomas and Frenchman’s Reef & Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort—are closed through the rest of the year. Cruise passengers will find many shops and restaurants in Charlotte Amalie open; attractions such as the Paradise Point Skyride are operating; and the island’s most famous beach, Magens Bay, is restored.
The French side of the twin-nation island is in rebuilding mode, so for now, facilities for visitors on St. Martin are limited. However, officials say that there are about 400 rooms available in villas and small hotels; all the beaches are groomed; and attractions including Loterie Farm have reopened.
British Virgin Islands
These 30-something islands famously comprise one of the Caribbean’s sailing capitals. And post-hurricanes, with major resorts such as Peter Island, Bitter End Yacht Club, and Rosewood Little Dix Bay closed for most or all of 2018, sailing remains one of the best ways to explore the archipelago—in fact, there are more than 100 vessels available for charter from yacht companies The Moorings and Sunsail. Conditions vary by island in the British Virgin Islands, but Tortola’s airport, cruise pier, and about 50 restaurants and bars are open; and interisland ferries are operating.
Caribbean Update: Off the Table (For Now) Islands
Only 2,000 people lived on this 62-square-mile island, and after evacuating to sister island Antigua, very few have returned. Water and electricity on Barbuda is limited and there’s no lodging available for visitors. But actor Robert De Niro is still forging ahead with his ambitious Paradise Found resort project, scheduled to break ground later this year, so keep your eyes peeled.
For the latest Caribbean updates, go to CaribbeanTravelUpdate.
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Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon is a Caribbean travel expert, award-winning travel journalist, and self-described “Carivangelist,” who goes to the beach and beyond to share the world’s favorite warm-weather destination with brands including Travel + Leisure and The Telegraph. Follow her on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook and on JetSetSarah.com.