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Swimming in the Caribbean.

7 Things You Should Never Do in the Caribbean

Don’t be that obnoxious, sunburned, and disrespectful tourist that everyone makes fun of. Avoid making these seven common mistakes the next time you travel to the Caribbean.

Swim with Dolphins

Yes, a photo with Flipper would be adorable. Until you learn the truth behind swimming with dolphins, and then it’s just a sad memento. A joint report released by The Humane Society of the United States and the World Society for the Protection of Animals strongly condemns keeping marine mammals in captivity. Even places that bill themselves as rehabilitation centers for stranded whales and dolphins aren’t as good for the animals as they seem.

The report states: “Public display facilities often promote themselves as stranding and research centers. In fact, most stranded marine mammals, especially whales and dolphins, die after they are rescued; few survive rehabilitation to be released to the wild; many releases are not monitored for success; and some animals, despite their suitability for release, are retained for public display….

“With any marine mammal exhibit, the needs of the visiting public come before the needs of the animals. Enclosures are designed to make the animals readily visible, not necessarily comfortable. Human-dolphin interactions such as swim-with-the-dolphins encounters and so-called petting pools do not always allow the animals to choose the levels of interaction and rest they prefer or need.”

Read this tragic testimony from a former dolphin trainer in the Caribbean to understand the issue further and to see what conditions are really like behind the scenes, and then decide if you really want to swim with dolphins.

Apply Too Little Sunscreen

At home, you rarely burn, so before you head out of your Caribbean hotel in the morning, you slap on some sunscreen and then promptly forget about it. You’re likely to be in pain by the end of the day, which will put a damper on your vacation. The sun is stronger in the Caribbean than you’re probably used to, especially if you’re out on the water (water reflects UV rays, making them more powerful). Keep your skin safe by reapplying throughout the day, avoiding the sun between 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m., and wearing a swim shirt while snorkeling or swimming. Don’t forget to use reef-safe sunscreen to protect the region’s fragile coral.

Ignore Beach Warning Signs and Local Advice

You might be so delighted to stumble across an empty beach all to yourself that you fail to notice a warning flag or sign. There could be strong currents or dangerous animals lurking below an otherwise placid-looking surface, so make sure you heed any posted warnings. Remember that not all beaches in the Caribbean have lifeguards or warning flags, so always follow any local advice on where to swim safely.

Forget Bug Spray

Although Zika is waning in the Caribbean, travelers still need to protect themselves against other bug-borne diseases such as chikungunya. If you’ve ever sat outside at dusk on the beach, you know mosquitoes and other bugs can be a big problem on many islands. Pack some travel-sized bug spray and take it with you if you’re heading out into wooded areas or near the water in the evening.

Travel During Hurricane Season Without Insurance

Travel insurance is a good idea for most trips, but it’s even more important if you’re planning a visit to the Caribbean during hurricane season, which runs from June 1 through November 30. Buy it as soon as you book your flight, especially if you’re traveling during peak hurricane season (mid-August through late October). Remember, if you wait until a hurricane is in the forecast, it’s already too late to be insured, and you could lose out on a lot of money if you have to cancel or delay your trip.

Never Leave Your Resort

All-inclusive resorts can be incredibly fun and relaxing, but what’s the point of traveling to a new country if you’re not going to get out and see any of it? Make sure you dedicate some time on your trip to leaving your hotel and seeing what the country is really about. Mingle with the locals, try some cuisine not cooked by your hotel chef, and see the scenery beyond the resort beach—your vacation will be much richer for it.

Over-Generalize the Caribbean

When planning your trip, don’t generalize “the Caribbean” into one conglomerate (as I did for this article). There are dozens of countries and dependent territories within the Caribbean region, all with their own distinct cultures, cuisines, traditions, and laws. Make sure you do your research before you go, and don’t expect one nation to be the same as its neighbor.

What to Wear in the Caribbean

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Caroline Morse Teel is a Senior Editor at SmarterTravel. Follow her on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline for photos from around the world.

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