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Traveling To The Caribbean: A Complete Country-By-Country Guide For U.S. Visitors

travelling to caribbean

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Vacations to the Caribbean are a bucket list item for many tourists, but lockdowns and travel restrictions have made the travel process more complicated than ever before. Now that every country and territory has its own vaccination and entry document requirements, it is important to learn about all the necessary steps to take before traveling anywhere in the Caribbean.

Updated October 3, 202 2

Anguilla is open to U.S. residents for non-essential travel. In order to enter, travelers must first apply for entry . Currently, Anguilla is only accepting visitors who have received their final dose of an approved vaccine at least three weeks before their arrival. Additionally, all travelers are required to provide a negative COVID test from 3-5 days before arrival.

Visitors must then submit to a second test upon arrival, after which they will be asked to quarantine until a negative result returns. This takes, on average, about 24 hours. Only after the test result returns can visitors leave their accommodations and begin exploring the country.

Beaches and other tourist attractions are open and welcoming visitors. There are no curfews, but there is a territory-wide mask mandate. All businesses implement some form of social distancing and capacity limitations.

  • The CDC currently classifies Anguilla at Level Four: A Very High Level of COVID .
  • For the country’s latest COVID numbers, reference the World Health Organization .

Antigua And Barbuda

Antigua and Barbuda is open to fully vaccinated U.S. residents. Unvaccinated travelers between the ages of 5 and 18 are required to submit a negative RT-PCR or rapid antigen COVID test no older than 4 days; unvaccinated travelers over 18 are not permitted entry. All visitors must submit a health declaration form issued on their flight in.

All visitors must stay at certified accommodations and patronize only certified businesses. A list of these certified locations is found here . Mask wearing on the islands isn’t mandatory but is “actively encouraged.” Physical and social distancing rules must be followed.

Aruba is open to all U.S residents. As of March 19, 2022, Aruba has lifted its COVID-related entry requirements for all international travelers.

Travelers to the country will still be required to complete an Aruba ED card before arrival, and they must also purchase Aruba Visitors Insurance prior to entering the country.

Officials have announced the lifting of local COVID-19 restrictions with local businesses and restaurants resuming normal hours and capacity limits with no restrictions on closing times.

The Bahamas are open to U.S. residents for non-essential travel. In order to enter, travelers must submit a Travel Health Visa Application (which requires travelers to opt into COVID insurance) and proof of a recent negative test. Vaccinated travelers can submit a negative rapid antigen test or RT-PCR test, whereas unvaccinated travelers must submit a negative RT-PCR test. Vaccinated travelers should also submit proof of their vaccination.

Barbados is open to U.S. residents. In order to enter, travelers must first complete the Online Immigration/Customs form at least 24 hours before arrival. All travelers, regardless of vaccination status, are required to provide a recent negative COVID test. Vaccinated travelers should also submit proof of their vaccination, as it will opt them out of quarantine requirements. If unvaccinated, a traveler will have to quarantine for three days, with a re-test on day four. For more information on entry requirements, visit their official tourism site .

British Virgin Islands

The British Virgin Islands are open to U.S. residents for non-essential travel. Vaccinated travelers must provide both a recent negative test and proof of vaccination upon entry. Meanwhile, unvaccinated travelers must obtain a BVI Gateway Travel Authorisation Certificate at least 24 hours before arrival (begining the application no later than 48 hours before arrival), provide a recent negative test, submit to a second test upon arrival, quarantine for one week, and then pass a final test.

There is currently a territory-wide curfew from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. during which only essential services are allowed to operate. Some businesses are requiring proof of vaccination upon entry.

Caribbean Netherlands (Bonaire, St. Eustatius, And Saba)

All three islands that make up the Caribbean Netherlands are open to U.S. travelers. Exact entry requirements depend on the island; you can find Bonaire’s here, St. Eustatius’s here, and Saba’s here .

  • The CDC currently classifies Bonaire at Level Four: A Very High Level of COVID; St. Eustatius at Level 3: A High Level of COVID; and Saba at Level 1: Exercise Normal Precautions.

Cayman Islands

Currently, the Cayman Islands are open to fully vaccinated U.S. visitors; unvaccinated travelers must quarantine for 10 days. Prior to arrival, travelers must apply for travel approval , upload medical insurance, and submit proof of a negative PCR test taken 24 hours before arrival. More detailed rules are outlined on Cayman’s COVID-19 website .

Beaches and other tourist attractions are open and welcoming visitors. There are no curfews or territory-wide mask mandates, but some businesses may implement their own guidelines. 

Cuba is open to vaccinated U.S. visitors. All travelers must present both proof of vaccination and a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours prior to arrival. All travelers must present a sworn statement upon arrival confirming their basic biographic information and vaccination status. Currently, unvaccinated Americans are not permitted to travel to Cuba for non-essential purposes.

Masks are mandated throughout the country in all public spaces.

  • The CDC currently classifies Cuba at  Level Four: A High Level of COVID .

Curaçao is open to U.S. travelers. All visitors must fill out both a digital immigration card and a Passenger Locator Card prior to arrival. Visitors are not required to submit a negative COVID-19 test, but if they test positive during their stay, they will be placed in isolation at their expense.

Masks are required in hospitals, other care facilities, and public and commercial transportation.

  • The CDC currently classifies Curaçao at Level Four: A Very High Level of COVID .

Americans are permitted to travel to Dominica. Vaccinated travelers must present proof of vaccination to their travel carrier before embarking for Dominica and to officials upon arrival; unvaccinated travelers must present a negative PCR test taken no more than 72 hours prior or a negative rapid antigen test taken no more than 48 hours prior. The rapid antigen tests need to have been taken at a certified facility; at-home tests are not accepted.

Beaches and other tourist attractions are open and welcoming visitors. Masks are mandated in all public locations. Bars have resumed normal operations, and night clubs are open with capacity restrictions.

  • The CDC currently classifies Dominica at Level Four: A Very High Level of COVID .

Dominican Republic

U.S. travelers are free to travel to the Dominican Republic. All travelers must fill out an E-Ticket form prior to arrival. Most travelers, including those from the U.S., do not need to present a negative test upon arrival. Instead, airports and other entry points will conduct randomized screenings and test a percentage of passengers upon arrival. If a traveler can submit proof that they have been fully vaccinated for at least two weeks, they are exempt from these screenings.

As of February 26, 2022, the mask mandate as well as vaccine checks in public areas such as restaurants and hotels have been dropped.

  • The CDC currently classifies the Dominican Republic at Level Four: A Very High Level of COVID .

Grenada is open to all travelers, regardless of vaccination status. Visitors do not need to make a health declaration, provide a negative COVID-19 test, or quarantine upon arrival.

  • The CDC currently classifies Grenada at Level Three: A High Level of COVID .
  • For a detailed overview of Grenada’s COVID testing processes, travel restrictions, and more, visit the U.S. Embassy in Grenada

Guadeloupe is currently open to U.S. visitors. All visitors must be fully vaccinated and must present a negative PCR test result taken 72 hours prior to arrival or an antigen test result taken 48 hours before arrival. Unvaccinated Americans cannot travel to Guadeloupe without an approved compelling reason. All travelers must present a sworn statement upon arrival stating that they have no symptoms and have not been in contact with a COVID case in the past two weeks.

There is currently a curfew throughout the region from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. during which only essential services are allowed to operate. While Guadeloupe is open to tourists, travel is limited within the region, and many surrounding islands are currently essential-travel only.

  • The CDC currently classifies Guadeloupe at Level Four: A Very High Level of COVID .

Haiti is open to all U.S. travelers, regardless of vaccination status. The only required document upon entry is a negative test taken no more than 72 hours earlier. Passengers will be asked to fill out a health declaration form while on the flight and submit it to immigration officials upon arrival.

Beaches and other tourist attractions are open and welcoming visitors. Masks remain mandatory in all public indoor spaces.

  • The CDC currently classifies Haiti at Level Four: A Very High Level of COVID .

Jamaica is open to U.S. visitors, regardless of vaccination status. Visitors returning to the United States must present a negative COVID-19 test taken within one day prior to their return flight.

  • The CDC currently classifies Jamaica at Level One: Low Level of COVID .


U.S. residents are permitted to travel to Martinique, but only if they have received the second dose of a two-dose COVID vaccine at least two weeks prior. If they have received a one-dose COVID vaccine, it needs to have been administered at least four weeks prior. All travelers over 11 must provide a negative test from no more than 72 hours before arrival, as well as their proof of vaccination. Unvaccinated Americans cannot travel to Martinique without an essential purpose. Travelers must present a sworn statement upon arrival stating that they have no symptoms and have not been in contact with a COVID case in the past two weeks.

There is currently a nationwide curfew from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. during which only essential services are allowed to operate. Masks are mandated for anyone 11 or older in all public spaces. Gatherings of more than six people are prohibited, and all beaches and parks are closed off to the public.

  • The CDC currently classifies Martinique at Level Four: A Very High Level of COVID .

Montserrat is open to U.S. travelers. Passengers must fill out an Access Declaration Form at least 72 hours before arrival. Upon arrival, travelers must present this form, as well as proof of vaccination and a recent negative test. They will then be asked to quarantine for five days. Currently, non-essential travel is open to only vaccinated Americans. 

  • The CDC currently classifies Montserrat at Level Three: A High Level of COVID .

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is open to all fellow U.S. travelers. Domestic visitors — so those from U.S. states and territories — do not need to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test. Those who test positive on the island are required to quarantine at their own expense.

Restaurants, beaches, and other businesses are all open and welcoming visitors. Masks are not mandatory on the island, but individual businesses may still require them.

  • The CDC currently classifies Puerto Rico at Level Four: A Very High Level of COVID .

Saint Barthélemy

U.S. residents are permitted to travel to St. Barts, but only if they have received the second dose of a two-dose COVID vaccine two weeks prior, or a one-dose vaccine four weeks prior. All travelers must provide a negative test from no more than 72 hours of arrival, as well as proof of vaccination. All travelers must present a sworn statement upon arrival stating that they have no symptoms and have not been in contact with a COVID case in the past two weeks.

Masks are mandatory in all indoor, public places.

  • The CDC currently classifies Saint Barthélemy at Level Four: A Very High Level of COVID .

Saint Kitts And Nevis

Americans are permitted to travel to St. Kitts and Nevis if they have received the final dose of a COVID vaccine at least two weeks prior. In order to enter, travelers must first complete the entry form , upload their proof of vaccination, and provide a negative RT PCR test from no more than 72 hours before arrival.

Upon arrival, vaccinated travelers will be asked to quarantine for 24 hours at their “travel approved” condo, hotel, resort, or villa. Within that time, they must pass another RT PCR test. After this negative test, travelers are free to enjoy the country.

There is currently a nationwide curfew from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m., during which only essential services are allowed to operate. Beach picnics, parties, and gatherings are currently not allowed. Beaches are for swimming or exercise only according to the U.S. Embassy in Saint Kitts and Nevis .

  • The CDC currently classifies Saint Kitts and Nevis at Level Four: A Very High Level of COVID .

Saint Lucia

U.S. travelers are permitted to enter St. Lucia. All travelers must complete a Health Screening Form prior to arrival. Fully vaccinated visitors over the age of 5 must submit a negative rapid test taken 1 day prior to arrival or a negative RT-PCR test taken no more than 5 days prior to arrival. Unvaccinated visitors over 5 can only submit a negative RT-PCR test taken no more than 5 days prior.

Unvaccinated travelers will be transferred by a certified vehicle to an approved COVID-19 accommodation and remain on the property for 7 days. Vaccinated travelers will enjoy “expanded” access to the island.

Since March 16, mask-wearing on the island has been optional.

  • The CDC currently classifies Saint Lucia at Level Four: A Very High Level of COVID .

Saint Martin

Tourism to St. Martin is open to U.S. travelers. All visitors must complete a health pre-authorization application prior to arrival. Upon arrival, travelers should provide both proof of vaccination and a recent negative test. Unvaccinated Americans must quarantine for seven days upon arrival, and then undergo a second test at the end of quarantine.

There is currently a curfew throughout the region from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. during which only essential services are allowed to operate. Restaurants, beaches, and other businesses are all open and welcoming visitors. Masks are required at all public spaces.

  • The CDC currently classifies Saint Martin at Level Four: A Very High Level of COVID .

Saint Vincent And The Grenadines

American tourists are free to travel to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. All travelers will need to complete a Pre-Arrival Form prior to travel, provide a negative test from no more than 72 hours earlier, and show proof of a fully paid reservation. Unvaccinated Americans will then have to quarantine for 10 days, as well as complete additional tests. Vaccinated travelers can present their proof of vaccination to opt out of quarantine. All travelers must present a sworn statement upon arrival stating that they have no symptoms and have not been in contact with a COVID case in the past two weeks.

Restaurants, beaches, and other businesses are all open and welcoming visitors. Masks are required at all public spaces.

  • The CDC currently classifies Saint Vincent and the Grenadines at Level Four: A Very High Level of COVID .

Sint Maarten

American travelers are permitted to enter Sint Maarten. Beginning March 1, 2022, all travelers who are fully vaccinated, as well as those who have recovered from COVID-19 in the last nine months, are no longer required to show proof of a negative test upon arrival.

Unvaccinated individuals, however, must still provide a negative PCR test taken 48 hours prior to arrival or an antigen test taken 24 hours prior to arrival. All travelers, regardless of vaccination status, must fill out a health pre-authorization form as early as 72 hours before arrival.

Starting Feb. 25, 2022, all nightlife business hours will be extended to 3 a.m. Wearing a mask is still mandatory in all public places.

  • The CDC currently classifies Sint Maarten at Level Four: A Very High Level of COVID .

Trinidad And Tobago

Americans are permitted to travel to Trinidad and Tobago if they have received the final dose of an approved COVID vaccine at least two weeks prior to applying for a travel pass . In order to enter, travelers must first register for said travel pass, upload their proof of vaccination, and provide a negative test from no more than 72 hours before arrival.

Beaches and other tourist attractions are open and welcoming visitors. Masks are mandated in all public spaces, and most businesses operate a limited capacity. 

  • The CDC currently classifies Trinidad and Tobago at Level Four: A Very High Level of COVID .

Turks And Caicos

Turks and Caicos is open to Americans, but only those who have received their final dose at least two weeks before their vacation. Prior to arrival, travelers should fill out an authorization form , which will require basic traveler information, proof of a recent negative test, and evidence of mandatory COVID insurance.

There is currently a nationwide curfew from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m., during which only essential services are allowed to operate. Masks are mandated in all public spaces. All restaurants and bars require either proof of vaccination or a recent negative test in order to enter the premises, according to their tourism board .

  • The CDC currently classifies Turks and Caicos at Level Four: A Very High Level of COVID .

U.S. Virgin Islands

The U.S. Virgin Islands are open to all Americans. USVI have dropped the COVID-19 test entry requirement for vaccinated travelers coming from the U.S. mainland. Proof of vaccination status is not required. Prior to arrival, travelers must fill out a USVI Travel Screening Form .

While restaurants, beaches, and tourist attractions are open and welcoming visitors, mask mandates remain in place throughout the country.

  • The CDC currently classifies the U.S. Virgin Islands at Level Four: A Very High Level of COVID .

Related Reading:

  • Traveling To Canada: A Complete Province-By-Province Guide For Visitors
  • Traveling To Europe: A Complete Country-By-Country Guide For Visitors

Image of Madalena Robertson

Madalena Robertson is a Seattle native who has lived all across the United States, currently calling Las Vegas home. She is a communications expert who has worked on presidential campaigns and is pursuing a graduate certificate at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Her travels have taken her to London, Costa Rica, and Canada, as well as all across the United States.

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Best places to visit in the caribbean for 2023-2024.

A trip to the Caribbean islands may be just what you need if you're in search of some sun, sand and relaxation. Based on user votes and expert insights, plus factors like accessibility to beaches, tourist attractions and comfortable accommodations, U.S. News compiled a list of the best places to visit in the Caribbean for a getaway. Help us evaluate next year's top places by voting for your favorite destinations. And if you're in search of lodging, check out the  Best Hotels in the Caribbean.  (Note: If you plan to visit the Caribbean during hurricane season, which runs from May through November, purchasing an international travel insurance policy is strongly recommended.)

Turks & Caicos

British virgin islands, u.s. virgin islands, st. vincent & the grenadines, cayman islands, st. kitts & nevis, st. martin - st. maarten.

travelling to caribbean

Travel to the Turks and Caicos Islands to see some of the most beautiful white sand beaches in the Caribbean, including Grace Bay. Home to one of the largest barrier reef systems in the world, this collection of coral islands also offers unforgettable experiences for snorkelers and scuba divers. Whether you choose to spend the bulk of your time on land or underwater, these islands make a wonderful retreat for those seeking maximum comfort in a tropical setting. However, hotel prices can be higher here than in other Caribbean locales, especially during the peak winter season.

travelling to caribbean

Visit St. Lucia for its sprawling chalk-colored beaches, towering volcanic peaks and upscale resorts. You can start your day with a hiking adventure through the Pitons, soak up some midday sun along Reduit Beach and watch the sun set over the Caribbean Sea. You'll want to also save time for a visit to Sulphur Springs, the world's only drive-in volcano. St. Lucia's plethora of romantic luxury hotels, most of which offer incredible views of the Pitons, makes this Caribbean escape especially popular with couples.

travelling to caribbean

"Posh" is the best word to describe the British Virgin Islands. The island country's beautiful coast sets it apart from other Caribbean destinations. The shoreline at Cane Garden Bay and the white sand beaches on Anegada island are stunning. Meanwhile, the boulders and sea pools at The Baths National Park (touted as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world) mystify visitors. One of the best ways to see these scenic islands is by yacht or on a boat tour from the nearby U.S. Virgin Islands. Alternatively, you can relax on a beach or by a pool at one of the upscale hotels.

travelling to caribbean

Spring is the time to travel to the U.S. Virgin Islands, particularly in late April when the boisterous Carnival season on St. Thomas gets underway. Regardless of when you visit, try to spend at least a day enjoying the unspoiled beauty at one of the many beaches along St. John's shoreline, including the popular Trunk Bay beach. Or, visit a fort on St. Croix for a bit of Danish colonial history during your vacation. The best part? Americans don't need a passport to visit these Caribbean islands.

travelling to caribbean

Comprising 32 islands, St. Vincent and the Grenadines has something to offer every traveler. Enjoy time on the biggest island of St. Vincent in its capital, Kingstown, a port city where you'll find a lush botanical garden and fresh fish and produce markets. Then, hop on a boat and sail between the country's other islands for diving, snorkeling, golfing, sunbathing and photo-ops. No matter how you choose to pass the time, a trip to this destination will be one for the books.

travelling to caribbean

One of the most scenic spots in the Caribbean, the Cayman Islands is home to premier dive sites, including Eden Rock and Devil's Grotto, as well as plenty of picturesque shorelines such as the world-renowned Seven Mile Beach. For travelers who want to stick to the shallows, Stingray City offers clear water, a sandbar and opportunities to swim with stingrays. Hotel and flight prices tend to be on the lower end during the summer months, so you can enjoy the palm-fringed white sand beaches and serene sea without ruining your vacation budget.

travelling to caribbean

While you'll certainly find the standard Caribbean staples – picture-perfect sandy beaches, verdant golf courses and palatial resorts – you'll also discover that Barbados offers a unique roster of non-beach things to do. Travel here to sample Mount Gay Rum, explore the limestone caverns of Harrison's Cave and the Animal Flower Cave, attend a horse race at Garrison Savannah and dance to calypso tunes. Don't forget to save time for exploring the island's historical plantation houses and exotic tropical gardens.

travelling to caribbean

With 16 major islands and hundreds of islets, the Bahamas derives its appeal from its stunning beaches and Caribbean Sea views. The country's beaches run the gamut from bustling Cable Beach to Pig Beach and Pink Sand Beach (both of which derive their names from their most unique characteristics). After enjoying your fill of the Caribbean sun, explore the Bahamas' expansive protected areas, including Lucayan National Park. Just plan on sticking to one or two islands to avoid blowing your vacation budget on transportation costs.

travelling to caribbean

St. Barts is known for its scenic beaches (from beautiful Anse de Grande Saline to sprawling Anse des Flamands) and unique French Caribbean culture, which is evident in its cuisine and lively annual festivals. St. Barts is also synonymous with luxury, so you'll find many high-end hotels and upscale resorts here, plus harbors that house mega-yachts. To save some coin, grab food at a local supermarket before heading to the beach for a picnic.

travelling to caribbean

The bright-colored buildings and natural features of St. George's harbor in Grenada offer a view worth savoring. But don't stare for too long – Grenada has more than 45 beaches to choose from, including the 2-mile-long Grand Anse Beach. Regardless of which shoreline you choose, you'll find clear water and white sand surrounded by lush greenery. If you need a break from the sand, head to Belmont Estate for a chocolate tour or stretch your legs on Grand Etang National Park & Forest Reserve's hiking trails.

travelling to caribbean

St. Kitts garners its popularity in part from the soft sands and buzzing nightlife of Frigate Bay. While many choose to vacation here to relax at a resort on the beach and enjoy delicious cuisine (think: tasty seafood and fresh fruit), this destination offers plenty in the way of culture as well. It hosts excellent festivals, most notably the St. Kitts & Nevis National Carnival (known locally as Sugar Mas). When you need a break from the action, hop on a ferry for a daytrip to the quieter island of Nevis, where you'll find Oualie and Pinney's beaches.

travelling to caribbean

Antigua is home to a wealth of diverse beaches – 365, to be exact. So whether you're interested in grabbing a bite to eat at Valley Church Beach or seeking a more secluded, romantic vacation at Half Moon Bay, you likely won't be disappointed. Plus, Antigua is where you'll find some of the best resorts in the Caribbean. The island also offers historical attractions to recognize Antigua's Colonial past, such as Nelson's Dockyard, constructed by the British Navy using enslaved people for labor, and Betty's Hope, an early sugar plantation.

travelling to caribbean

As one of the ABC islands (along with Aruba and Bonaire), Curaçao sits outside the hurricane belt, meaning you'll find sunny, pleasant temperatures year-round and little threat from swirling storms that can wreak havoc in the Caribbean. The dependable weather and healthy coral reefs (compared to the rest of the Caribbean) make Curaçao a top destination for divers, snorkelers and beach bums. Plus, this Dutch Caribbean locale boasts a lively capital filled with pastel-colored architecture and culturally significant sights, such as a sand-floored synagogue from the 18th century.

travelling to caribbean

Home to towering mountains, dense rainforests, colorful coral reefs and stunning beaches, Jamaica boasts diverse scenery that attracts visitors from around the globe. Adventurous travelers can hike, rock climb or dive while their calm counterparts can lounge on Seven Mile Beach's soft white sand or swim in its clear water. It's perfectly possible to spend an entire trip having fun and relaxing at one of the island's numerous all-inclusive resorts. But for an authentic dose of local culture, head to Kingston (the island's capital) to attend a lively festival, listen to reggae tunes and try local specialties like Blue Mountain Coffee and jerk chicken.

travelling to caribbean

You'll find first-rate beaches and plenty of activities on St. Martin - St. Maarten, as well as an assortment of hotel options and vacation rentals for many budgets. Experienced and first-time scuba divers can explore the reefs, shipwrecks, sea life and rock formations that surround the island. Meanwhile, foodies can savor everything from fresh seafood dishes (think: conch, codfish fritters and whelk soup) to French-Creole specialties, such as callaloo (kale and spinach soup). Or, stop for casual barbecued meat and fresh fish at one of the open-air lolos located along the shore.

travelling to caribbean

Aruba appeals to all types of travelers: Gamblers can hit the casinos, nature enthusiasts can check out Arikok National Park or hike through the Ayo and Casibari rock formations, and water lovers can explore the sea or sign up for a boat tour. Meanwhile, beach bums can soak up some sun along the shoreline on a lounge chair, typically without overheating thanks to the constant breeze Aruba enjoys. What's more, this island lies outside the hurricane belt, so it's an ideal place to visit year-round, though room rates are generally lowest in late summer.

travelling to caribbean

Compared to its neighbors, this group of islands has flown under the radar for years but is worth a visit. In this French Caribbean archipelago, you can explore white, golden and black sand beaches. Plus, more than 70% of Guadeloupe's territory is protected nature reserves – not to mention several marine parks complement their dry counterparts – making the country perfect for ecotourists and scuba divers. These preserved areas also appeal to those looking to avoid the crowded resorts and tourist hot spots of more popular Caribbean destinations.

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Puerto Rico

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From high mountain peaks to shimmering reefs, spicy salsa rhythms to hip-swaying reggae, pirate hideouts to sugar-sand beaches, the Caribbean is dizzyingly diverse.

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Stretching for a mile around a sheltered, horseshoe-shaped bay, Playa Flamenco (Flamenco Beach) is not only one of Culebra’s best beaches, it also makes a…

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If you need a reason to hire a water taxi, Isla Culebrita (Culebrita Island) is it. This small island, just east of Playa Zoni, is part of the national…

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Even in a country that abounds in waterfalls, Reach Falls stands out as one of the most beautiful places in Jamaica. The white rushing cascades are…

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Idyllic surroundings - Blue Lagoon, Grand Cayman.

Blue Lagoon

The waters that launched Brooke Shields’ movie career are by any measure one of the most beautiful spots in Jamaica. The 180ft-deep (55m) “Blue Hole” (as…

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Jessie on a Journey | Solo Female Travel Blog

Caribbean Travel Guide

Looking for an in-depth Caribbean travel guide ?

Then you’re in the right place!

The islands of the Caribbean are high on any traveler’s list for their gorgeous beaches, rich culture, and laid-back vibes. This region is truly the perfect place for a relaxing vacation for those who want to get away from it all.

Of course, the Caribbean is much more than its beaches. In fact, there’s a Caribbean destination for every kind of traveler out there.

Pin for Caribbean travel guide

Whether you’re an action-oriented traveler looking to hike the world — such as by exploring the hiking trails in St. Thomas — or want to explore as many cultures as you can, you’ll find something exciting in the Caribbean.

On this page, you’ll find complete travel guides for several Caribbean destinations, including Antigua , The Bahamas , the Cayman Islands , Puerto Rico , and more.

We’ve compiled some of the best things to do in each location as well as tips on hotels, activities, and food.

Plus, we’ve answered some of your most burning questions about budgets, safety, planning, and other travel considerations for the region.

Keep reading for some serious travel inspiration and to dive into resources that will help you with planning a trip to the Caribbean islands.

Note that this travel guide to the Caribbean contains affiliate links to trusted partners!

Caribbean travel guide

Caribbean Map

Use this Caribbean travel map to begin planning your trip!

Caribbean map

Click here for an interactive version of the above map.

Antigua Travel Guides

Antigua is home to some of the best places to travel in the Caribbean , a few of which are highlighted here.

antigua travel guide - beach at sunset

12 Antigua Adventures For An Unforgettable Caribbean Trip

Caribbean travel adventures hiking in Antigua

Hiking In Antigua: Take In Breathtaking England Harbour Views From The Pillars Of Hercules Trail

The best beach in the Caribbean may be in Antigua

Antigua Solo Travel: How To Have An Amazing Luxury Wellness Getaway For One

Bahamas Travel Guides

Traveling to the Caribbean ? Don’t miss these incredible Bahamas travel experiences!

Exumas Bahamas travel guide

Stingray Feeding, Conch Penis & Pig Roasts At Chat ‘N’ Chill Beach In The Exumas

Bahamas Caribbean travel swimming with sharks

Swimming With Nurse Sharks In Compass Cay, Exumas, Bahamas

Swimming with pigs in the Bahamas is the best Caribbean tour

Swimming With Pigs At Big Major Spot Cay In The Exuma Cays, Bahamas

Caribbean Sea travel

Is The Exuma Archipelago The Quirky Sister Of The Galapagos?

Bahamas breakfast foods

16 Best Bahamas Breakfast Foods You Must Try

Cayman Islands Travel Guides

No Caribbean tourism experience would be complete without visiting the Cayman Islands. Here’s why.

Cayman Islands Caribbean travel guide diving

Beyond Grand Cayman: Discovering Cayman Brac In The Caribbean

eating lionfish in the Cayman Islands when visiting the Caribbean

Delicious Lionfish: Responsible Eatings In The Cayman Islands

Things To Do In The Dominican Republic

Visit the Caribbean — specificially the Domincan Republic — for an amazing vacation. Here’s how.

Exploring attractions in the Dominican Republic when visiting the Caribbean

How To Spend One Awesome Day In Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

Punta Cana, Caribbean travel guide

Exploring Punta Cana Outdoors Beyond The Beach Resorts

Adventure travel guide to the Caribbean, including SUP in Punta Cana

Exploring Sustainable Adventure In The Resort Destination Of Punta Cana

Sunrise in the Dominican Republic when visiting the Caribbean

How To Have An Epic Dominican Republic Road Trip

Dominican Republic hiking

Dominican Republic Hiking: 12 Amazing Trails Not To Miss

Punta Cana itinerary

3, 5 & 7 Days In Punta Cana Itinerary (Best Things To Do!)

Things To Do In Guadeloupe

If you’re planning a vacation to the Caribbean islands you’ll want to put Guadeloupe on your itinerary.

Caribbean beach resort in Guadeloupe

Driving Around Guadeloupe: Travel Guide + Itinerary

Things To Do In Mexico

Enjoy the Mexican Caribbean with these helpful guides:

7 day Cancun itinerary

3, 4 & 7 Day Cancun Itinerary (Best Things To Do In Cancun!)

woman posing in a bikini on a white sand beach in Isla Holbox, Mexico

6 Best Beaches In Holbox, Mexico (Stunning!)

woman sitting in the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico around Isla Holbox, Mexico

23 Best Things To Do In Holbox Island, Mexico (Sample Itinerary Included!)

woman at a Playa Holbox beach club leaning on a palm tree

15 Best Beach Clubs In Holbox Island, Mexico

Things To Do In Puerto Rico

Want to travel in the Caribbean ? Puerto Rico has so much to offer, like…

Best beach in the Caribbean in Puerto Rico

This Is What Happens When You Travel Puerto Rico Solo (Itinerary Included!)

Caribbean food guide featuring ceviche

Farm-To-Table Dining On The Water At The W Retreat & Spa Vieques Island

Drinking mojitos in the Caribbean in Puerto Rico

Top Booze Experiences In Puerto Rico

woman hiking Charco Prieto Waterfall in Puerto Rico

Charco Prieto Waterfall: Hiking To Puerto Rico’s Secret Waterfall

Things To Do In St. Lucia

Looking for Caribbean travel tips ? Here’s one: Don’t miss visiting St. Lucia and having the following incredible experiences.

Riding ATV's during St. Lucia Caribbean travel

Adventurous Couple’s Guide To Marisule, Castries & Rodney Bay, St. Lucia

st lucia beaches

6 Secret Beaches To Visit In St. Lucia

St. Lucia Guide featuring moutainous landscape

Adventurous Couple’s Guide To Soufriere, St. Lucia

Drinking hot chocolate when visiting St. Lucia in the Caribbean

Cocoa Experiences At Saint Lucia’s Hotel Chocolat

Caribbean solo travel at BodyHoliday Resort in St Lucia

An Amazing Solo St. Lucia Wellness Retreat At BodyHoliday Resort

Caribbean travel resorts

3 Romantic Hotels In St. Lucia That Aren’t Sandals

Luxury hotel available via all-inclusive vacation packages in the Caribbean

An Unforgettable Romantic Getaway For One At St. Lucia’s Jade Mountain Resort

Things To Do In St. Thomas

If you’re looking for fun things to do in the Caribbean in St. Thomas, don’t miss:

Beautiful Caribbean views in St. Thomas

Hiking In St. Thomas: 5 Amazing Trails Not To Miss

Trinidad & Tobago Travel Guides

Trinidad and Tobago is home to some top Caribbean points of interest , and these guides can help you explore them.

Flying hummingbird spotted by a Caribbean bird guide

Trinidad And Tobago’s Best Outdoor Experiences

Tobago offers some of the best beaches in the Caribbean

Learning To Stand Up Paddleboard In Tobago

Taking in water views is one of the top things to do in the Caribbean

Taking The Scenic Route: Driving Up North Coast Road In Trinidad

Yellow building while exploring Caribbean tourism

Are You A Trinidad Or Tobago Traveler?

Carnival Festival on a Trinidad and Tobago Caribbean vacation

6 Signs You’ve Survived A Trip To Trinidad And Tobago

Bird watching while enjoying Caribbean travel

12 Things You Didn’t Know About Trinidad And Tobago

Caribbean Travel Tips

Make your Caribbean vacation even more memorable with the help of the following travel guides!

best Caribbean islands for solo travel

13 Best Caribbean Islands For Solo Travel (+ Tips!)

Caribbean resort travel featuring Jade Resort with a view of The Pitons

3 Best Luxury Caribbean Wellness Retreats

Caribbean Tours

Book an experience with a Caribbean tour guide and get to know the culture through a local.

  • Majestic Gros Piton Hike (Cap Estate, St. Lucia)
  • Sailing and Snorkeling Day Tour to Les Saintes (Saint Charles, Guadeloupe)
  • Trinidad Rainforest Hike to Waterfall (Port of Spain, Trinidad)
  • Argyle Waterfall with Adventure Farm (Crown Point, Tobago)
  • Nicole’s Table – Cooking with Rum (Saint John, Antigua and Barbuda)
  • Rum, Reggae & Rhythms Tour (With Cable Beach Visit!) (Nassau, Bahamas)

Caribbean Hotels

Click here to browse hotels in the Caribbean!

Prefer self-contained stays? 

Click here to check out unique local rentals!

You can also use this map to search for local stays:

Don’t eat meat? Check out these top vegan resorts in the Caribbean !

Caribbean Travel Insurance

It doesn’t matter if you’re traveling solo or with a group on a Caribbean tour. When visiting the Caribbean — or any other country in the world — make sure to get travel insurance to protect your health and safety.

In my opinion, the best travel medical insurance for travelers is SafetyWing as they’ve got a large network and offer both short-term and long-term coverage — including coverage if you’re traveling for months as well as limited coverage in your home country).

Additionally, SafetyWing is budget-friendly and offers $250,000 worth of coverage with just one low overall deductible of $250.

With coverage, you’ll have peace of mind as you embark on your Caribbean itinerary.

Click my referral link here to price out travel insurance for your trip in just a few clicks .

Renting A Car In The Caribbean

Renting a car in the Caribbean?

Use Discover Cars to quickly compare your car rental options.

travelling to caribbean

Caribbean Travel Guide FAQ

Below, find answers to frequently asked questions about traveling to the Caribbean

Q: What are the Caribbean travel destinations?

There are 29 different island nations and destinations you can visit in the Caribbean. These include:

  • Aruba (one of the best Caribbean islands for solo travel !)
  • Antigua and Barbuda
  • The Bahamas
  • British Virgin Islands (including Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada and Jost Van Dyke)
  • Cayman Islands
  • Cuba (note: U.S. citizens can only travel to Cuba with an organized and licensed tour group)
  • Dominican Republic
  • Puerto Rico
  • Saint Barthelemy (aka St. Barts)
  • Saint Kitts and Nevis
  • Saint Lucia
  • Saint Martin/Sint Maarten
  • Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
  • Sint Eustatius
  • Trinidad and Tobago
  • Turks and Caicos
  • U.S. Virgin Islands (including St. Croix, St. John, and St. Thomas)

There are also parts of Latin America that are considered to be within the Caribbean — for instance, here is an epic itinerary for Cancun if you’d like to visit the Mexican Caribbean!

Q: How many islands are in the Caribbean?

The Caribbean region contains 700 islands organized into 28 different island nations. Not all of these islands are inhabited or accessible but that still leaves a lot to explore in this beautiful area!

Q: How do you travel between Caribbean islands?

One of the best ways to travel between Caribbean islands is by ferry or boat. Several companies offer ferries between Caribbean islands, particularly those that are closest in distance to each other. For example, there are several weekly ferries between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic as well as daily service between the US Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands.

If you’re planning on spending a few days in each destination and want to plan your own itinerary, ferries are the way to go. Another great way to island-hop is via cruise ship. Though you won’t have much control over your itinerary, cruises are a great way to visit several Caribbean islands in a short amount of time, particularly those not easily accessible by ferry.

Direct flights between Caribbean islands can be hard to come by but are available. You’ll have the most luck finding flights for a Western Caribbean island-hopping adventure between islands like St. Martin and Guadeloupe.

Q: What is the best month to go to the Caribbean?

Winter and early spring are considered the best times to go to the Caribbean. The dry season makes for beautiful warm weather without the humidity and threat of hurricanes that the summer season brings.

Winter is also peak tourist season in most Caribbean destinations, so places tend to be more crowded and prices can be higher.

If you’re looking for the best prices — and the quietest beaches — you may want to hold off until May once Spring Break season and the Easter holidays have passed.

Q: What are the most dangerous Caribbean islands?

Though beautiful and culturally rich, Jamaica has a reputation for being one of the most dangerous Caribbean islands. The country has a high homicide rate compared to the global average and crime is common in certain areas. As such, a trip to Jamaica may require a higher level of vigilance than other destinations.

The Dominican Republic and Trinidad and Tobago have similar reputations for crime. Most state departments recommend exercising increased caution in these countries.

Q: Which Caribbean islands are the cheapest to visit?

While the Caribbean is known for its lavish beach resorts, you can find some great deals when traveling to certain islands. Your money will go farthest at up-and-coming destinations in the Southern Caribbean like Martinique, Curacao, Trinidad, and Tobago, and Grenada. Here, you can enjoy free beach access, delicious street food, and reduced hotel rates as well as each island’s unique cultural offerings.

Puerto Rico is also a less expensive option in the Caribbean for American travelers, as many low-cost American airlines offer regular flights to the island.

Also note that when planning a Punta Cana itinerary you can find great deals on all-inclusive vacations, especially if you travel outside of peak season.

Q: What is the cheapest month to go to the Caribbean?

The least expensive months to travel to the Caribbean are June through November, during the heart of hurricane season. Though while you’ll find some great deals on hotels and flights during this time, you’ll need to contend with the humidity and the risk of severe storms.

The best way to avoid any bad weather during this time is to visit islands outside of the hurricane belt such as the ABC islands of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao.

Q: What are some top Caribbean points of interest?

The top points of interest for any Caribbean island are usually its beautiful beaches! You’ll find some of the most gorgeous beaches throughout the Caribbean, with soft white sand and clear waters perfect for snorkeling and swimming. Relaxing on the beach is the number one activity in the Caribbean for a reason.

Beyond the beach, many Caribbean islands have other natural wonders to explore, like towering volcanoes and lush rainforests. You’ll find some great hiking throughout the region, so make sure to get out and explore!

Oh, and you can’t miss the incredible luxurious Caribbean wellness retreats across and islands!

Q: What is the rainy season in the Caribbean?

The rainy season in the Caribbean takes place through summer and fall, from June 1st to November 30th.

Q: What are the West Indies islands?

The West Indies islands are comprised of three major groups of islands: the Greater Antilles (Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico); the Lesser Antilles (the Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, Montserrat, Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Barbados, and Grenada); and the North American and South American continental shelves (The Bahamas and Turks and Caicos to the North, Trinidad and Tobago, Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao to the South).

trip to the Caribbean

What would you add to this Caribbean travel guide?

travelling to caribbean

Nomadic Matt's Travel Site

Travel Better, Cheaper, Longer

Caribbean Travel Guide

Last Updated: August 30, 2023

A pristine beach in Bermuda, featuring lush green palm trees and a bright blue sky

The Caribbean is one of the most popular travel destinations in the world. It’s made up of over 5,000 islands, reefs, and cays, each with its own unique attractions and price ranges. Especially popular with North Americans fleeing the winter, the Caribbean is perfect for beach bums, honeymooners, and anyone looking to soak up the sun and enjoy the outdoors.

Unfortunately, there is a misconception that a vacation to the Caribbean is an expensive affair and that only luxury travelers and honeymooners can visit.

But that couldn’t be further from the truth. After all, this is a huge and diverse region and every island has something unique to offer. Sure, you can splash out here if you want. But you can also visit the Caribbean on a budget. It won’t be dirt cheap, but it doesn’t have to break the bank either.

With so many places to choose from in the Caribbean, you can definitely find an island that suits your interests and budget. Trust me. I’ve been to a lot of the countries in this part of the world (I love a good beach!).

This Caribbean travel guide can help you plan your trip, save money, and make the most of your time in these stunning tropical paradises!

Table of Contents

  • Things to See and Do
  • Typical Costs
  • Suggested Budget
  • Money-Saving Tips
  • Where to Stay
  • How to Get Around
  • How to Stay Safe
  • Best Places to Book Your Trip
  • Related Blogs on the Caribbean

Click Here for Country Guides

Top 5 things to see and do in the caribbean.

An old blue car driving down the street past a mural that says 'Cuba Libre' with a Cuban flag, in Havana, Cuba

1. Sail around the Virgin Islands

Spend a few days sailing to the remote islands that ferries don’t visit in the BVIs. You’ll get away from the crowds and discover hidden snorkeling spots. There’s ton of sailing options around this part of the world. Here’s how you can sail on the cheap .

2. Visit Havana, Cuba

Often eliciting images of revolutionary heroes, Havana is the largest city in the Caribbean. Lately the city has emerged as a tourist hotspot, rich in history, architecture, and culture. Wander the colorful streets of Old Havana, visit the Plaza de la Revolución, and walk the Malecón sea wall.

3. Hike the Pitons in St. Lucia

The Pitons are two dormant volcanoes: Gros and Petit Piton. The Gros Piton hike is a challenging two hours from 600 feet above sea level to the summit at 2,600 feet. You must have a guide, which costs $50 USD. Petit Piton is more difficult. A guide is also needed, which costs $70 USD.

4. Swim with pigs in the Bahamas

This group of world-famous pigs and piglets live on Pig Beach. Nobody knows how they got there as Big Major Cay is uninhabited and the pigs are not native to the island. Boat tours leave from Nassau and start around $220 USD for a full day. (Just be careful — they bite!)

5. See Trunk Bay, St. John

Frequently voted one of the best beaches in the world, Trunk Bay is picture perfect with white sands and clear water. It does cost a few dollars to get onto the beach, but the coral and marine life you see while snorkeling makes it all worthwhile.

Other Things to See and Do in the Caribbean

1. sample rum at the mount gay rum distillery in barbados.

Barbados is the birthplace of rum and Mount Gay is the oldest continuously running rum distillery in the world (they’ve been doing it for over 300 years). For $20 USD you can learn about the history and home of Mount Gay and taste a selection of their finest rums. You get huge discounts on their rum at the end too!

2. Learn about Reggae’s roots in Jamaica

Jamaica is home to reggae music, and there’s little chance of you going anywhere in Jamaica without hearing Bob Marley blaring in the background. Make the pilgrimage to his museum, the large house on Hope Road in Kingston, where he lived and worked between 1975-1981. You can learn more about the iconic Rastafarian’s life, with glimpses into his recording studio and bedroom. Admission is $25 USD.

3. Splash around Dunn’s River Falls in Jamaica

This is the most popular visitor attraction in Jamaica. Located in Ocho Rios, these falls cascading over plateaus are 600 feet high and are absolutely stunning to see up close. For those who are adventurous, you can climb up them (it’s a bit slippery but not hard). If not, you can simply walk up the regular trail. Bring your bathing suit so you can swim in one of the many azure pools at the base of the falls. Entry $24 USD. You can also zipline nearby if you’re an adrenaline junkie (prices start at $25 USD).

4. Go snorkeling or diving

Divers and even snorkelers can visit shipwrecks and coral reefs in the waters surrounding the islands. In the Bahamas, the Tongue of the Ocean is an oceanic trench that runs along the entire length of the Andros Island coast. The wall of the trench leads to an almost 6,000-foot drop to the seabed where divers can get up close and personal with reef sharks as they swarm in to feed. Two-tank drives start from $120 USD. St. Lucia is another great place to explore the ocean for its clear waters and a vast array of sea creatures, including parrotfish, trumpet fish, and needlefish (especially in the Anse Chastanet Reef). Diving here costs start around $110 USD for a two-tank dive and snorkeling costs around $60 USD.

5. Go zip-lining in St. Lucia

If you’re looking for an adventurous break from sun-tanning, try ziplining through the rain forest canopy. Adventure Tours St. Lucia has a total of 12 lines, including the highest, longest, and fastest line on the island. There are also five net bridges and lots of opportunities to catch some gorgeous views over St. Lucia. A full day of ziplining is $90 USD.

6. Relax on Antigua

Antigua is one of the largest Caribbean islands, with over 365 pink and white beaches (including Dickenson Bay and Pigeon Point Beach). If you’re into sailing, sign up to be a deckhand or observe Sailing Week at the end of April, the world-renowned regatta featuring 150-200 yachts and more than 1,500 participants.

7. See the world’s “wickedest” city in Jamaica

Most travelers don’t venture into Jamaica’s eastern parish of Portland — it’s an area off the tourist trail and a nice alternative to the crowds on the coast. But if you do come here, the reward is quiet beaches, endless natural beauty, and friendly locals who aren’t afraid to chat you up. While you’re here, visit the Blue Lagoon, see Somerset Falls, and eat your weight in tasty jerk chicken in the town of Boston.

8. Kayak around the islands

One of the best ways to explore these islands is by water. One of the best kayaking experiences is with Clear Kayak in Aruba . Their clear-bottomed kayaks let you see the reefs and coral beneath you as you explore. Prices vary by island (and sometimes your hotel may have some rent them out), but you can expect to pay around $100 USD for a full-day tour.

9. Pretend you’re a pirate in Bahamas

If you’re looking for more pirate culture, check out the Pirates of Nassau Museum in the Bahamas. The Golden Age of Piracy lasted for around thirty years, from 1690 to 1720, and much of that was centered around the Bahamas (specifically Nassau). You can walk around replica pirate ships, visit the dungeon, and learn through interactive exhibits about how pirates like Blackbeard set up base here between 1690 and 1720. Admission is $13.50 USD.

10. Go nude at Salomon’s Beach in St. John

Once a secluded nude beach, authorities have been cracking down in recent years on anyone caught not wearing clothing (fines are around $100 USD). Nevertheless, many people push their luck anyway and hit the sand in nothing but their birthday suit. There are usually just half a dozen people here at a time, though it’s often deserted too. Are you bold enough to risk getting fined?

11. Lose yourself in the clouds in Jamaica

Holywell National Park is Jamaica’s only national park. It lies in the Blue Mountain region and offers several short treks that take you up into a cloud forest brimming with colorful birds (like hummingbirds!) and screeching monkeys. The hike to the summit is challenging and takes around seven hours (and costs $20 USD). There are also coffee plantations and farm tours available here too (costing around $25 USD). A short drive from Kingston, this tropical park can easily be visited in one afternoon. Park entrance is $10 USD. You can also book a night in one of the many cabins in the park for around $85 USD per night.

12. Celebrate Carnival in St. John

St. John’s Carnival takes place in late June and traditionally culminates with a 4th of July parade, as Islanders also celebrate the United States’ Independence Day. It features mocko jumbies, calypso music, the crowning of Ms. St. John, and the Carnival King. Spectacular fireworks are shot into the air at the festival. It’s a huge party and the island fills up so be sure to book your accommodation in advance.

13. Explore the Hato Caves in Curaçao

These caves were once hiding spots for escaped slaves who would hide in them for weeks or even months at a time. Before the arrival of Europeans and the slave trade, the indigenous used the caves and left petroglyphs. You can take a guided tour and see the stalagmites, stalactites, and cave drawings, which date back over 1,500 years. Admission is $9 USD, including the tour.

14. Visit the Baths in the British Virgin Islands

The Baths are a beach area on Virgin Gorda. After crawling through a tiny opening, you’ll be surrounded by gigantic granite boulders nestled on each other with streams of water flowing all around them. After wading through, enjoy the calm and beauty of Dead Man’s Beach.

For information about specific destinations in the Caribbean, check out these guides:

  • British Virgin Islands
  • Saint Lucia

Caribbean Travel Costs

A flock of flamingos in the Caribbean Ocean off the store of a tropical island covered in lush greenery

Accommodation – There aren’t many hostels or campgrounds to be found in the Caribbean as most islands don’t cater to budget travelers. For the ones that exist, a bed in a dorm with 4-6 beds costs about $30 USD per night. A dorm with eight beds or more costs from $20 USD per night. Private rooms start at about $40 USD per night. Expect basic amenities like free Wi-Fi and self-catering facilities.

Budget hotels with private bathrooms start at about $80 USD in St. Lucia, $40 USD in Jamaica and $110 USD in Curaçao. Most affordable hotel rooms on St. John start from $230 USD per night. Free Wi-Fi is standard and some hotels also include free breakfast.

Airbnb is widely available all over the Caribbean. In Aruba , private rooms cost around $45 USD per night on Aruba and $60 USD in the Bahamas, while on St. John they start from about $110 USD. A full apartment on Curaçao starts at about $250 USD per night. Aruba averages about $110 USD per night for an entire apartment, while it’s as high as $200 USD per night in the Virgin Islands. As you can see, prices vary drastically!

Food – Food in the Caribbean varies depending on the island, though some staples are common across the region, including rice and beans, plantains, sweet potatoes, coconut, chicken, and fish. Seafood, naturally, plays a huge role. Influences from Africa and Europe abound, so expect an amalgam of fresh produce, seafood, meat stews, grilled meats, dumplings, and dried fish.

Many hotels and resorts around the Caribbean include free breakfast for guests. In Aruba, a sandwich at a café starts from about $3.50 USD, while you can grab a ham-and-cheese sandwich at Superfoods around the same. In the BVIs, the cheapest meal I saw around the islands was a small sandwich that cost $10-15 USD. However, you can find fresh fruit and fruit juices at food stalls all over the place for $1-2 USD.

A fast-food combo meal (think McDonald’s) costs $8-10 USD. In general, $10-15 USD gets you a fish or chicken plate or a burger, and a meal of conch fritters or a large plate of peas and rice costs from $7 USD.

For main courses, steak, fish, or seafood, you’re looking at $20 USD or more. At a mid-range restaurant, expect to pay between $35-50 USD for a fish or steak main course, and a glass of wine to wash it down is about $10 USD. A beer starts from $2 USD at most restaurants.

Avoid restaurants near cruise ports and resorts as prices will be much, much higher.

If you plan to cook your own meals, basic groceries for the week cost around $60-80 USD. This gets you basic staples like rice, beans, seasonal produce, and some meat or fish.

Backpacking the Caribbean Suggested Budgets

Prices for Caribbean travel vary greatly depending on where you are. You can find islands to fit any budget, but some places (like the Virgin Islands) is much harder to do on a shoestring.

If you’re backpacking the Caribbean, my suggested budget is about $75 USD per day. This budget covers a hostel dorm or camping (when available), cooking all of your meals, limiting your drinking, and sticking to mostly free activities like relaxing at the beach.

For places like Bahamas , British Virgin Islands , and St John , budget closer to $100 USD.

A mid-range budget of about $190 USD per day overs staying in a private Airbnb, eating out for some of your meals, doing some inter-island travel, enjoying a few drinks, taking the occasional taxi to get around, and doing more paid activities like diving or kayaking. In the more expensive islands add at least $75-100 USD to this budget.

On a “luxury” budget of about $355 USD per day in the cheaper islands or $400-500 USD in the more expensive ones, you can stay in a hotel, eat out for all your meals, take taxis everywhere, do more inter-island travel, drink more, and do any activity you want as often as you want! This is just the ground floor for luxury though. The sky is the limit!

You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages – some days you spend more, some days you spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in USD.

Caribbean Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips

While the individual country guides have more specific information on how to save money for each destination in the Caribbean, here are some general tips to help you backpack the Caribbean on a budget:

  • Look for discounts and deals – Most individual Caribbean countries have whole sections dedicated to seasonal discounts and deals on their website (mostly for accommodations). Do a quick search, and see what you come up with. Packaged deals are especially popular.
  • Use hotel points – Got hotel points? Use them! Hotels like Marriott and Hilton are found all over the Caribbean that can be booked with points. Free is always better than spending money. Here’s how you can get started earning points today!
  • Stay with a local – To save money on accommodation, use Couchsurfing. You’ll not only get a free place to stay but you’ll get to meet a local who can share their insider tips and advice with you.
  • Shop around – If you’re going snorkeling, shop around for the best price as equipment and tours can vary widely even along one beachfront. Consider bringing your own gear since rentals add up.
  • Time your trip right – First of all, avoid spring break. If you visit during the American spring break season in March, everything costs 25% or more (not to mention you have to have to deal with all shenanigans those kids cause). That’s not the only thing to bear in mind, though. Prices can be as much as 50% cheaper for accommodation and activities in off- and shoulder seasons, so avoid the peak season to save money.
  • Enjoy nature – Relax on the beach, go for a hike, or take in a sunset. The Caribbean’s natural beauty is breathtaking and free, so drink it in!
  • Hitchhike on boats – Want to hop around the Virgin Islands? Hitchhike on the boats and save thousands of dollars. It’s easier to do than you think. Here is how to get started.
  • Book online and in advance – If you’re planning on going diving, or doing any other expensive activities, be sure to check online for discounts beforehand. Some companies offer discounts for direct bookings. Also, last-minute accommodation bookings cost a fortune. If you can, book as far in advance as possible.
  • Eat and drink locally – You’re on an island, local specialties such as grouper, mahi-mahi, and snapper are less expensive than other seafood options (plus, they’re fresh)! Imported alcohol can be expensive so sticking to local liquor if you’re going to be drinking keeps your costs down.
  • Look for local deals and discounts and find free stuff – Some of the islands have discount cards available for purchase or tourism websites with a section for package deals and discount offers. Also, it’s worth finding out which bars offer happy hours and when to save money. In addition, many hotels offer free use of snorkeling equipment, include free breakfast, and arrange free or cheap organized excursions. Always ask to see what free stuff is available!
  • Cook your own meals – Eating out for every meal ruins your budget. Cook your own meals to save money. It won’t be fancy, but you can use those savings for fun activities instead! In some places, BBQing on the beach is a popular local activity to add some variety to the cooking at home scene.
  • Watch your transport costs – Taxis on many of the islands can really put a dent in your budget so avoid them if you can. Consider renting a car if public transportation options aren’t comprehensive enough for your plans as it may save money in the long run.
  • Bring your own snorkel gear -Snorkel rentals can cost $7-10 USD per day. If you plan on doing lots of snorkelling, bring or buy your own equipment and it will pay for itself.
  • Get dropped off – Taking a day sail but plan on heading to the next island after? Most tour companies will drop you off at no extra charge if the island is nearby.
  • Travel with friends – Since accommodation is so expensive, I wouldn’t recommend going to these islands alone. If you do, your expenses are going to skyrocket. It’s much better to go with someone so you can split costs.
  • Use local currency – When possible (and applicable), I recommend paying for anything in the local currency. You tend to get a better exchange rate than if you use stronger international currencies.
  • Don’t drink the tap water – The tap water isn’t always safe to drink here. Bottled water adds up (and is bad for the environment) so bring a reusable bottle. LifeStraw make a bottle with a built-in filter to ensure your water is always clean and safe.

Where to Stay in the Caribbean

Here are my favorite budget-friendly places to stay in the Caribbean:

  • Hostel Room Aruba (Aruba)
  • E Cas di Zoe (Aruba)
  • The Towne Hotel (Bahamas)
  • La Bamba (Curaçao)
  • First Hostel Curaçao Curaçao)
  • Mobay Kotch (Jamaica)
  • Raggamuffin Hostel & Coffee Bar (Jamaica)
  • Casa del Vega (St. Lucia)
  • Somewhere Special Guesthouse (St. Lucia)
  • Coconut Coast Villas (St. John)

How to Get Around Caribbean

A sea turtle swimming through the clear waters in the Caribbean

Flying – Regional airlines can get you just about anywhere you need to go, especially to smaller airports in the Caribbean. Some of the best airlines include:

  • Bahamas Air
  • Caribbean Airlines
  • interCaribbean
  • Pineapple Air
  • Jet Air Caribbean
  • and Western Air

These routes are not exactly budget-friendly however. For example, a one-way flight from Nassau to Eleuthera starts from $105 USD, Curaçao to Kingston starts from $280 USD, and Barbados to Antigua is $200 USD. Flights between the Virgin Islands start from $245 USD each way with a stopover. One way from Aruba to Curaçao starts from $130 USD. Most islands don’t have direct flights between them every day so you need to be flexible with your transfer dates.

Ferry – The Caribbean surprisingly doesn’t have a lot of inter-island ferry transportation, but the ones available are more economical than flying (and more scenic). Some ferry companies include:

  • Bahamas Ferries
  • QE IV Ferry
  • Road Town Fast Ferry
  • L’Express des Iles

In the Lesser Antilles, you can take inter-island ferries between many of the islands, from the Virgin Islands all the way down to Trinidad and Tobago. There are ferries between the U.S. Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands; Anguilla, Saba, and St. Martin; and Dominica, Guadeloupe, Martinique, and St. Lucia; Antigua and Barbuda and Montserrat; and St. Kitts and Nevis.

A lot of people make St. Maarten their base so they take short ferry trips to Anguilla, Saba, St. Eustatius, and St. Bart’s. For example, the service from St. Maarten to Anguilla is from $20 USD each way.

In the Bahamas, ferry services range between $62-175 USD. A ferry ride between St. Lucia to Guadeloupe is from $113 USD. Ferries between the Virgin Islands cost as little as $8.15 USD each way.

The Bahamas also has mail boats (mailboatbahamas.com) that sail to the lesser inhabited islands, departing from Nassau to places like the Out Islands and Grand Bahamas, and you can hitch a ride overnight.

Sailing – The Caribbean islands see countless people who rent charter boats, hire captains, or sail their own boats around for as long as the wind can carry them. If you play your cards right, you can hop on someone’s boat — for FREE! You’d be surprised how often there’s a captain looking for some company on a sail, especially in exchange for cleaning or cooking.

If you’d rather do a sailing tour, there’s no shortage of them starting from about $130 USD per day.

When to Go to Caribbean

December to April are the busiest months across the Caribbean, and this is when hotel rates are the highest as people from the north flee harsh winter temperatures. On the other hand, the water visibility is perfect for diving and snorkeling. Average daily highs during this time are around 30°C (87°F).

May to November is the off-season across the Caribbean when accommodation and activity rates are up to 50% lower than in the peak season. The beaches are much less busy during this time, and temperatures are still hot and pleasant — averaging up to 32°C (89°F) in places like Curaçao and Aruba and 27°C (80°F )in the Bahamas.

In some places, you have to consider hurricane season (between June to the end of November). Places like the Bahamas and the Virgin Islands are in the hurricane belt, but other islands like Curaçao and Aruba are outside the hurricane zone. If you visit during hurricane season, make sure you have comprehensive travel insurance.

How to Stay Safe in Caribbean

The Caribbean is very safe for backpacking and solo traveling, but there are scams and petty crimes you should watch out for. Avoid wandering around certain areas alone at night, like Kingston (Jamaica) or San Nicolas (Aruba).

When on crowded public transportation, always keep an eye on your belongings. Never leave any valuables unattended on the beach either.

Solo female travelers should generally feel safe here, however, the standard precautions apply (don’t leave your drink unattended at the bar, never walk home alone intoxicated, etc.).

Be sure to pack sunscreen, including biodegradable sunscreen if you plan on snorkeling in coral reefs. You also need mosquito repellent, especially in certain areas where the risk of dengue fever or the Zika virus is high. Check to see if the U.S. State Department has any travel advisories listed for where you’re headed.

If you’re hiking, stick to the well-marked trails and bring lots of water. Armed robberies sometimes happen on less busy trails, so keep an ear out for any warnings in the area.

When it comes to eating and drinking, dysentery and hepatitis are risks when it comes to consuming contaminated food and water. Check the Center for Disease Control website for any warnings before you travel!

Scams are rare but can occur so check out my list of common travel scams to avoid so you can be prepared.

Always trust your gut instinct. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID. Forward your itinerary along to loved ones so they’ll know where you are.

The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance protects you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past.

Caribbean Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources

These are my favorite companies to use when I travel. They consistently have the best deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the companies I use the most and are always the starting point in my search for travel deals.

  • Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
  • Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
  • Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
  • Get Your Guide – Get Your Guide is a huge online marketplace for tours and excursions. They have tons of tour options available in cities all around the world, including everything from cooking classes, walking tours, street art lessons, and more!
  • SafetyWing – Safety Wing offers convenient and affordable plans tailored to digital nomads and long-term travelers. They have cheap monthly plans, great customer service, and an easy-to-use claims process that makes it perfect for those on the road.
  • LifeStraw – My go-to company for reusable water bottles with built-in filters so you can ensure your drinking water is always clean and safe.
  • Unbound Merino – They make lightweight, durable, easy-to-clean travel clothing.
  • Top Travel Credit Cards – Points are the best way to cut down travel expenses. Here’s my favorite point earning credit cards so you can get free travel!

Caribbean Travel Guide: Related Articles

Want more tips for your trip? Check out all the articles I’ve written on Caribbean travel and continue planning your trip:

9 Ways to Explore the Caribbean Sustainably

9 Ways to Explore the Caribbean Sustainably

My 16 Favorite Things to Do in the Virgin Islands

My 16 Favorite Things to Do in the Virgin Islands

Bermuda: The Impossible Budget Destination? Maybe Not!

Bermuda: The Impossible Budget Destination? Maybe Not!

How to Save (and Not Save) Money in the Virgin Islands

How to Save (and Not Save) Money in the Virgin Islands

I Didn’t Like Curaçao (But I Didn’t Hate it Either)

I Didn’t Like Curaçao (But I Didn’t Hate it Either)

The Best Places on Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast

The Best Places on Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast

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Known for its consistent tropical climate, wide selection of amazing white-sand beaches , and world-class resorts and accommodations, the Caribbean is one of the most popular vacation destinations in the world. 

Home to more than 700 distinct islands, each possessing their own unique charm and appeal—from breathtaking beaches and rich and vibrant local cultures to diverse and exotic cuisines—there are countless reasons to visit the Caribbean . 

Here’s everything you need to know about traveling to the Caribbean.

antique alarm clock sitting in beach chair next to a beach umbrella

The Best Time to Travel

When planning your Caribbean adventure, it’s imperative you determine the best time to schedule your visit, and that means considering factors such as weather, pricing, crowd sizes, and more.

With predictable tropical climates and year-round temperatures typically ranging between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit, the Caribbean nearly always feels like summer, which is a large part of its appeal for vacation-goers.

The best weather at the most popular destinations is late fall and early spring, between December and April. Temperatures tend to be cooler, with average highs around 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and there’s far less humidity. 

Weather varies among the islands, typically correlating to their locations in the Caribbean Sea. The southern islands, for example—including Antigua, Aruba , and Barbados —tend to be notably hotter and experience hurricanes less frequently. Those in the north such as Cuba, Jamaica , and the Dominican Republic are relatively cooler and more prone to heavier storms and occasional hurricanes. 

Before booking your trip, monitor conditions ahead of time so you won’t be caught off guard by unwelcome weather.

Tourism & Prices

Caribbean travel demand can have a huge impact on your experience, influencing hotel availability and crowd sizes, as well as airfare and accommodations prices. Knowing which travel season better suits your needs is an important consideration in finding the optimal time to book.

The high season for tourism runs from mid-December through April, giving vacation-goers a tropical refuge from the bitter cold of winter. These peak travel months encapsulating the Christmas, New Year, and Easter holidays boast fantastic weather, characterized by little rainfall and warm, comfortable temperatures. The most popular travel period throughout the region, expect larger crowd sizes and potentially higher rates for airfare, hotels, and more.  

The low season from June to November is hotter, more humid, and poses greater risk of rain and severe storms. For those seeking a less expensive and less crowded stay, this may be a good time to book, with the lowest rates generally available between September and October, right before the holiday rush.

rope hammock over the shallow waters on the Caribbean islands

Traveling to (& Between) the Caribbean Islands

The Caribbean is easily accessible to travelers from all over the world, with international airports and ports across many of the most popular.

The Caribbean is easily accessible to travelers from all over the world, with international airports and ports across many of the most popular.  

If you’re planning to travel by air, you’re in luck. There are plenty of direct and connecting flights from the United States and Europe to islands throughout the Caribbean, with a number of major airlines providing direct service. These include American Airlines, Delta, United Airlines, JetBlue, Southwest Airlines, and more.

The Caribbean also represents one of the most popular destinations for cruise vacations, with more than 200 cruise ships sailing the region every year, including Carnival Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Disney Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean International, Seabourn Cruise Line, and more. There’s no shortage of Caribbean itineraries!

Whether you’re seeking non-stop flights from the East Coast to the Caribbean , or a leisurely sea adventure , you’ll have plenty of options!

Traveling Between the Islands

If you want to venture between islands , you’ll have several choices: 

There are inexpensive ferries, but with no unified system in the region, you’ll have to search for connections between the islands. 

Some travelers hire chartered yachts to travel between the islands, and while this may cost more, there is much more autonomy—with the ability to sail from port to port and set your own itinerary.

There are also a large number of fast and inexpensive, daily, inter-island flights, with some of the more remote islands only served via other Caribbean destinations.

Traveling Around the Islands

The most convenient method of transportation for getting around individual islands is by car. 

Travelers can either rent a vehicle or use public transportation—the most common, bus and shuttle services. Most islands also have taxi services located near airports and hotels, with select resorts even offering transportation services of their own for their guests.

water slides at a water park

Best Destinations & Activities for Every Type of Traveler

The Caribbean Islands have something to satisfy every type of traveler, with plenty of fun-in-the-sun activities, glorious vistas, beautiful beaches, and so much more. Whether you’re looking to take a relaxing solo trip, romantic getaway, or an adventure-packed family vacation, there's a perfect Caribbean island for you.

Family Vacations

If you’re seeking a family-friendly island excursion , you can find everything you’ll need to have fun with the kids in the Bahamas. 

With plenty of water-based activities available for all ages, kids can have fun on the Pirate’s Cove Zipline and Water Park on Grand Bahama, where they can soar through the air before swimming or relaxing by the beach.

Aquaventure at the Atlantis Hotel on Paradise Island boasts nine water slides and various other fun water activities. Families can also enjoy the Pirates of Nassau , an interactive educational experience in the heart of Nassau, where the whole family can learn about the history of smuggling and piracy.

The U.S. Virgin Islands hosts a variety of fun and exciting options for families. Go ziplining and hiking through the jungle on St. Thomas, or if you want to experience marine life, head to Coral World Ocean Park , a self-professed “indoor-outdoor aquarium” also located on St. Thomas. 

The Dominican Republic is home to the Nickelodeon Resort in Punta Cana, an all-inclusive destination full of kid-friendly activities including movies, magic shows, dance parties, musical performances, character meets, a kids program, waterpark, and more.

When it comes to family-friendly destinations , you can find just what you’re looking for in the Caribbean.

Couples & Romantic Getaways

There are few romantic vacation destinations more beautiful or unforgettable than the Caribbean Islands. 

St. Lucia provides the perfect setting for scenic and romantic escapades. The island boasts extraordinary volcanic peaks, crystal-clear waters for swimming and snorkeling, and picturesque hiking trails for those who enjoy the outdoors.

The Jade Mountain Resort is one of the best romantic vacation resorts on the island, home to a wide array of couples-centric amenities including restaurants, bars, boutiques, art galleries, and much more. A wide variety of exclusive spa services can be enjoyed in the privacy of intimate sanctuaries, or at Kai en Ciel, Jade Mountain’s boutique spa and fitness studio. The resort also features dedicated butler services and free, daily yoga classes for truly unforgettable experiences. 

With bountiful natural wonders and a wide selection of romantic activities, Grenada is another favorite destination for romance seekers, particularly for weddings and honeymoons. Sporting idyllic beaches and an absolutely gorgeous coastline, the island is home to some of the best nature and adventure activities in the Caribbean. Checked out the luxurious hillside spa Mount Cinnamon Resort , providing rejuvenating experiences, as well as a wide range of sailing and watersports activities.

Singles & Solo Retreats

Some of the best vacation destinations for singles can be found in the Caribbean, whether you’re looking to engage in some relaxing solo travel, or party.  

Puerto Rico is home to plenty of bars, nightclubs, restaurants, live music, beaches, world-class museums, rum tours, jungle hiking, and more—providing ample opportunities to dance and celebrate like a true islander. The fun-filled and luxurious La Concha Resort in Condado offers stylish amenities and breathtaking ocean views. Visitors can enjoy island cocktails while lounging by the sea—all without venturing far from the energetic district. 

The Dominican Republic is also a phenomenal destination for a singles holiday. With its pristine beaches and lively nightlife, travelers can mingle, relax, or dance the night away. The Barcelo Bavaro Beach Adults-Only Resort in Punta Cana is one of the premier singles destinations in the D.R. Part of a complex of multiple resorts, it has activities and amenities to suit every traveler’s needs. This exclusive hotel features spacious rooms with seaside views along Bavaro Beach—an ideal romantic getaway! 

Young couple planning vacation trip and searching information or booking hotel on a smart phone

Best Way To Plan Your Caribbean Vacation

With so many islands, activities, and accommodations, it can be incredibly difficult to identify and chart out the best.

That’s why the easiest way to plan your Caribbean vacation is by working with the right travel advisor. This experienced expert will help determine the ideal islands for your stay, time to book your trip, how to get the most out of your visit while staying within budget, and much more. 

The best travel advisor for your Caribbean vacation possesses extensive firsthand knowledge of the region, and access to exclusive rates, packages, and upgrades that add extra value. 

In other words, you want to enlist an InteleTravel Advisor!  

Our experienced team stays up-to-date on all the things you need to know to have the best stay possible—from the latest trends and openings to special deals to save you money every step of your journey. To begin arranging your next Caribbean excursion, contact an InteleTravel Advisor today!  

So what are you waiting for? Connect with an InteleTravel Advisor today!

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A Beginner's Guide to Island Hopping in the Caribbean

A majestic view of Trunk Bay on the island of St John, in the Virgin Islands National Park

Freelance Caribbean Writer

You can easily take in a string of delicious Caribbean destinations on a single trip by mastering the art of island-hopping. Our guide to small island-hopping shows you how with must-visits and travel tips and learning more about the Caribbean culture.

Did you know you can now travel with Culture Trip? Book now and join one of our premium small-group tours to discover the world like never before.

The close proximity of the Caribbean’s small islands makes them ideal for a hop, skip and a jump from one to the other in a daisy chain of island explorations. Fancy diving down to a shipwreck in Aruba one day and getting up close with flamingos on Guadeloupe the next? Then read on…

Where to visit in the Caribbean

The island of St Martin (or St Maarten) is a great destination to start exploring the eastern side of the Caribbean. It’s divided roughly down the middle between the French Republic and the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and so it offers visitors a two-nation vacation. The Dutch side of the island is known as the party side for hosting the Heineken Regatta, a four-day sailing race with concerts and other festivities. Meanwhile, in true French fashion, the other side of the island features quaint, romantic restaurants , designer boutiques and nude beaches .

From St Martin, journey to the islands of Anguilla and enjoy its secluded coves, before heading to St Barts to do some celebrity spotting and Saba , which is known for its diving site at Saba Marine Park. Puerto Rico, the jewel of the Caribbean, is also a popular choice. The island is known for its cuisine – a mixture of Spanish, African, and Taino – plus its strong rum.

Elsewhere, you can get pretty much anywhere in the Caribbean from San Juan (thanks to regional carriers such as Cape Air and Seaborne), and a number of islands are even closer by ferry and plane, such as Culebra, Vieques, British Virgin Islands and the US Virgin Islands. The Dominican Republic is also only a very short flight away.

You can do all the island-hopping you want in the Guadeloupe Islands and stay within the same territory. This beautiful archipelago has five islands within easy reach by ferry and air from the main island of Grande Terre/Basseterre, each with its own character and flavor, from tiny Terre-de-Haut to beach paradise Marie Galante. From Guadeloupe, you can easily access the islands Dominica , Martinique and St Lucia below and Montserrat , St Kitts and Nevis , and Antigua and Barbuda.

The so-called ‘ABC’ islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao , at the western edge of the Leeward Antilles chain, are also a popular island-hopping loop. Aruba is a popular tourist destination with several big-name beach resorts; Bonaire is best known in scuba-diving circles for its spectacular undersea life; Curacao charms with its Dutch-influenced architecture.

Mano Juan, a picturesque fishing village on Saona Island in the Parque Nacional del Este in the Dominican Republic

Must-visits on your multi-island trip

St Martin is famed for its white-sand beaches but there’s one that stands out from the rest. Maho Beach, which lies near the airport, is where tourists come to photograph planes passing just feet above their heads as they swoop in to land. If you prefer natural wonders, catch the ferry to Pinel Island in St Martin’s Nature Reserve, where you’ll find palm-fringed sands and shallow waters ideal for snorkeling . To learn about the island’s Dutch heritage, take a trip to Fort Amsterdam near Philipsburg. Here, you can explore the ruins of this former military base and take in sweeping hilltop views.

There’s no shortage of historic sites in Puerto Rico . Start by touring grand La Fortaleza, the governor’s official residence, which was built between 1533 and 1540 to defend the harbor. Continue to the island’s longest-serving settlement, Old San Juan, a National Historic Site filled with 16th-century fortresses, cathedrals and cobbled streets. For a change of pace, you can hike rainforest trails to crashing waterfalls in El Yunque National Forest or relax in hillside thermal hot springs in Coamo. When the sun goes down, marvel at Puerto Rico’s bioluminescent waters in Mosquito Bay, which light up when touched.

If you’re visiting Guadeloupe , don’t miss Jardin Botanique. This seven-acre haven, in the heart of the islands, showcases exotic Caribbean flora and birdlife. Think bamboo forests and pink bougainvillea, flamingos and arboretums. If you can drag yourself away from Guadeloupe’s pristine beaches, spend a day at Carbet Falls in the National Park. These three waterfalls cascade down a mountain surrounded by tropical rainforests and hiking trails. Looking for the perfect sunset? Then head to Pointe des Châteaux, a clifftop peninsula on the eastern end of Grande-Terre where you can watch waves crash onto the rocks.

Divers flock to Aruba to explore its famous Antilla Shipwreck, a German war ship blanketed in coral and tube sponges. Aruba’s other key attraction is swanky Renaissance Island where pink flamingos tip-toe through the shallows. Hop over to Bonaire for more unspoilt Caribbean sands, including 1,000 Steps Beach and Klein Bonaire, a tiny uninhabited islet set in a marine park where turtles nest. Nearby Curacao is the perfect place to get a glimpse into the Caribbean’s Dutch past in its capital Willemstad, Unesco-listed for its colorful colonial architecture. Don’t miss Curacao’s Hato Caves either, which were formed over 300,000 years ago from marine coral limestone and contain Amerindian Arawak cave drawings.

How to travel

There are a few options for island-hopping in the Caribbean. The most popular is booking a cruise, but you can easily go it alone and create your own island-hopping loop by taking advantage of the numerous ferries that go back and forth between all of the islands.

Alternatively, charter a boat – it’s not as expensive as you might think. You don’t even need to know how to sail as many come with skippers included in the price.

Catching a flight should be your last resort. Though traveling by air to the smaller islands in the Caribbean is relatively inexpensive, it’s not environmentally friendly. This option makes sense only in cases where the islands have a significance distance between them.

Safety tips

If you are wondering when is the best time to visit Caribbean, this is what we recommend – it’s best to plan your island-hopping loop in either spring or at the beginning of summer, when the weather is calm. The Atlantic hurricane season starts in early June and runs until the end of November, while most of the storms hit during peak hurricane season between August and October.

Meanwhile, all major Caribbean islands have excellent mobile coverage. But for those islands with a very small population, such as Culebra and Vieques near Puerto Rico, a portable radio might come in handy. Sunscreen, mosquito repellant and bottled water should too always be in your luggage.

San Juan, Puerto Rico s capital and largest city, on the island’s Atlantic coast

Amy Blyth contributed additional reporting to this article.

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Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

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50 Essentials for your Caribbean Vacation Packing List

Are you stressing over creating a Caribbean vacation packing list? 

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos

There are many things to consider when planning a trip to the Caribbean. Is the weather always warm? Will there be rain? Are there any bugs? Should I pack anything specific for the Caribbean?

You've come to the right place!

I've been to the Caribbean multiple times- from resort stays to cruises- and I can tell you what your checklist should include and what you don't need to worry about bringing.

From the perfect beach day to exploring islands and resorts to cruises, this ultimate Caribbean vacation packing list will help you get organized. You'll need the proper clothes for the Caribbean weather. I also like to pack accessories to assist with your adventures, like hiking boots or snorkeling gear. Typical travel essentials like bug spray and sunscreen are a must.

Packing for your vacation should be the least of your worries. Instead, focus on where you want to stay or what activities you want to do. 

Use this packing list to help when planning your trip, and take note of everything you might want to bring.

1. Suitcase with Packing Cubes

Packing cubes are lifesavers!

You need to travel with a packing cube to organize your suitcase. These cubes are helpful for separating the clothes for your family in a shared suitcase or keeping your clothing organized.

In addition to organizing your outfits, packing cubes save a lot of space in your suitcase.

2. Carry-on

Bring a carry-on for your flight to the Caribbean, especially if you're going on a cruise. Many cruise lines will not let you into your stateroom until a few hours after boarding the ship.

Instead of lugging your whole suitcase around with you, pack essentials and a bathing suit in your carry-on so you can start exploring and enjoying the ship's amenities right away.

Many flights allow you to have a personal item and a carry-on bag. Pack things you'll need on your flight in a purse, like snacks, electronics, or a book. 

A large purse lets you stow your extra bag in the overhead bin and only worry about it once you land.

3. Passport

Do. Not. Forget. Your. Passport.

Seriously, it's a hassle to board flights and cruise ships without your passport.

Some islands in the Caribbean don't require a US passport , but for the most part, you will need one.

Luckily, I've always remembered my passport for a cruise or trip to another country, but I've heard of people who have, and it's always a huge issue to get it figured out.

Always double-check your passport is in your bag before you leave the house.

4. Drivers License/Photo ID

It seems simple, but it's essential to pack and remember your ID.

You need your ID for airport security and your license for car rentals. It's also a secondary form of identification with your passport. 

If you're changing to a travel bag, double-check that your license is in it.

5. Cash and Credit Card

Bring US Dollars (USD) with you when you travel to the Caribbean, but only use USD if you have to. The exchange rate is usually not in your favor if you pay in USD instead of the local currency.

Consider how much you will want to pay in tips, taxis, and possible cash-only places for food and shopping. Exchange that amount into the local currency, have some USD as backup, and bring your credit card.

Remember to call your credit card company or bank to let them know you'll travel outside the country. You don't want to worry about your card declining while on an island vacation.

6. Tickets & Reservation Confirmations

I know everything is on your phone now, but what happens if your phone runs out of battery or you don't have a signal?

I like to print a hard copy of the essential reservations and tickets. At the very least, take a screenshot of the tickets and confirmation numbers. 

That way, you have the info on your phone and don't have to rely on a good network connection to log onto an account or load your e-mail for a copy.

7. Global Entry Card

Global Entry is fantastic! I traveled with friends to Canada once. They had Global Entry , and I didn't. 

My friends spent 5 minutes walking through customs, and I was stuck in line for an hour.

I got Global Entry before our next international trip.

Many Caribbean cruises leave from a city in the US, like Ft Lauderdale, Florida, but some leave out of another country.

If you like to travel, Global Entry is a good thing to add to your list for your next trip. Make your appointment beforehand; booking can take a while, and then you can get your card.

Don't laugh, but when I was catching a ride to the airport for my 7-day Eastern Caribbean Cruise, we got halfway to the airport when I realized I had left my phone at home.

You need to add a phone to your Caribbean checklist. Use it as a camera, a way to communicate with others on your trip, and to call home. 

Friendly tip: upload photos and videos to a computer or external hard drive before your Caribbean vacation. Otherwise, your phone could run out of memory space.

9. Headphones

Sometimes, the airline offers headphones, but it's good to bring your own just in case. 

Invest in a headphone adaptor for planes that have movies to watch- the plug is only sometimes a match for the typical headphone connector, and Bluetooth may not work.

Download movies, music, or shows on your phone before your island vacation. You will only sometimes have Wi-Fi on the plane or at your Caribbean destination.

10. Water Bottle

We always bring a reusable water bottle when we travel, and traveling to the Caribbean is no exception.

You can bring an empty water bottle through airport security and refill it for your flight. 

On cruise ships , the dining halls aren't always open, so it's convenient to refill your water bottle during the day and have it in the evenings.

Bringing an insulated water bottle keeps your water cold and refreshing while you relax on Caribbean beaches or lounge poolside at the resort.

11. Reusable Straw

Paper straws or no straws at all are becoming increasingly popular eco-friendly options for restaurants. If you like using a straw, bring your own.

There are lightweight, collapsible travel straws perfect for traveling. You can get some with fun colors or patterns and a carrying case.

We go on vacation to disconnect, but sometimes we need access to some work or use a tablet for movie downloads or games.

Try to keep electronics to a minimum, but a tablet can be a compact way to have a computer with you. 

I like to bring my tablet so I can keep writing in Google Docs offline, but that's a writer's life.

13. Portable Charger and Adapter

A portable charger has become mandatory whenever anyone leaves their house. We live off chargeable electronics like phones, Bluetooth headsets, and smartwatches.

Get a solar-powered charger to ensure you never run out of battery and have a secondary way to re-power your portable charger.

Some islands have different outlet types, so pack a universal adapter. Just remember the charging cord!

14. Waterproof Watch

I like leaving my smartwatch at home as a travel safety precaution, but I recommend you bring a waterproof watch. 

You will want to spend time in the water, and it's easy to lose track of time when on vacation. I've had friends almost miss dinner reservations because they didn't have their phones on them and had no watch. 

Missing a tour departure or running late to return to the cruise ship are other time-sensitive things that would ruin your vacation. 

A basic waterproof watch will help you stay on schedule!

15. Book/Kindle 

Books are a must if you like to relax by reading. 

I like reading on a plane, in a resort's lounge, and sunbathing on a tropical beach.

Kindles or electronic books are a great way to save space and reduce luggage weight, but if you prefer a physical book, don't hesitate to pack one or two.

16. Pen & Notebook

A pen and notebook are essential for your Caribbean packing list, but it's something often overlooked. 

Phones sometimes work better to write directions or local recommendations.

Drawing or writing is a great way to pass the time while waiting for a tour or plane. If you have kids, it's the perfect portable entertainment package. They can play classic games like tic-tac-toe or have fun coloring on the page.

17. Deck of Cards

I take a deck of cards with me on every trip. Like pen and paper, it's a great way to pass the time or have fun playing a game while on vacation.

If you're traveling solo, there are many solitaire games. When traveling with a group, you can relax in resort common areas while enjoying snacks and beverages.

18. Sandals

Pack pool sandals in the same bag as your bathing suit. If you can't get into your luggage on a cruise ship yet but want to enjoy the pool, you don't like to do so in your travel tennis shoes.

It would help if you had sandals for the perfect Caribbean vacation. There are pools at resorts and on cruise ships, cenotes to dive into, and beaches to lounge on. 

Don't pack new sandals that might give you blisters, but don't pack sandals that are so old the strap will break easily.

I hobbled around Chichen Itza in Cancun in sandals with a broken strap. It wasn't easy.

19. Walking Shoes

Caribbean islands tend to be warm, but I don't recommend walking everywhere in sandals, especially if you are going on any walking tours.

Give your feet the proper arch support and comfort during your time in the Caribbean. There will be plenty of time for poolside or beach sandals and fancier night-out shoes.

20. Dress Shoes

You want to pack dress shoes for your vacation in the Caribbean for multiple reasons.

Cruise ships have formal nights, and the Caribbean has plenty of nightlife. Some restaurants have dress codes and won't let you in if you're too casual.

Pack flats instead of heels if you will be walking around cobblestone streets.

21. Hiking Shoes

Hiking shoes are not necessary if you're packing light, but they are essential if you want to hike on your Caribbean Trip. 

There are so many beautiful places to explore. 

Many trails are easy to access and don't require extra hiking footwear, but if you're planning on hiking moderate trails with amazing views, your feet will thank you.

22. Swimsuits (2-3)

When you visit the Caribbean, you are likely to swim or lounge in a pool or the ocean. 

If you've ever had to wear a wet bathing suit, you know why I say bring at least two. The main idea is to wear one bathing suit one day, then let it dry while you wear the other the next day. 

I like to have one pool bathing suit and one ocean bathing suit since salt water can be harsh on the fabric over time.

23. Swimsuit Cover-up (1)

Your ultimate packing list needs to include a swimsuit cover-up. Wear a quick-dry dress, a T-shirt and shorts, or a sarong to get to the beach or pool from your room in appropriate attire.

Some restaurants require clothing over your swimsuit for you to eat there.

The poolside bar and grill would only allow us in with proper clothes at an all-inclusive resort in Cancun. 

The rule was silly since it was outdoor dining right by the pool. Why not let people eat in their bathing suits? But it was a fancier venue with dress codes.

24. Sundresses (2-3)

A maxi dress or sundress is the perfect cute and casual outfit for a tropical vacation in the Caribbean.

Plus, you can dress it up with some lovely jewelry and wear it out for the evening.

Sundresses are light and only take up a little space in your suitcase.

25. Shorts (2-3)

Pack a few pairs of shorts that you can mix and match with different tops to help prevent overpacking. You don't need different shorts for every day.

Having dresses to swap outfit styles can also stretch how long your clothes last before needing a wash.

The shorts style is entirely up to you, but there are many things to do in the Caribbean where a dress or skirt may need to be more practical, like kayaking, hiking, or walking around on a windy day.

26. Tank Tops or t-Shirts (3-5)

Shirts and tank tops are a staple for any essential Caribbean packing list.

Quick, dry, breathable material is best for comfort in the Caribbean heat, humidity, and rain.

Packing a few options lets you mix and match to make different outfits. Again, a mix of casual and nice tops is a good idea.

27. Hiking Pants (1)

Wear lightweight hiking pants if you're exploring alone or on a tour. These will help protect you from the sun and any brush on your hike.

They are also the more practical wardrobe option for ziplining or horseback riding. 

Ziplining through the rainforest near Cancun was one of my most exciting experiences. It's nerve-wracking but worth it!

Jeans don't dry quickly if you get caught in the tropical rain.

28. Socks & Underwear (9-10)

When you pack clothes for the Caribbean, don't be stingy with the undergarments. It's good to stay fresh throughout the trip.

Pack light on the outerwear like shirts and shorts instead of skimping on the clothing essentials. They only take up a little room and help keep you dry, clean, and comfortable.

Remember the proper undergarments for your dress clothes!

29. Pajamas (1-2)

You can wear pajamas for at least a few nights in a row. If you like fresh pj's at night, I recommend packing two sets.

The Caribbean weather is usually warm year-round, but the air conditioning in a hotel room or cruise stateroom might be chilly. 

I'm not saying to pack winter pajamas, but if you get cold quickly like me, wear pants and a short-sleeved pajama shirt.

30. Lightweight Sweater & Shawl

Nights can cool down a little. My friend doesn't get cold quickly and never needed a sweater on our 10-day Caribbean trip, but I needed a lightweight sweater.

Outside was fine, but I needed that extra layer inside the resort or the cruise ship.

Pack a shawl or dressier sweater for those formal nights and higher-end restaurants.

31. Rain Jacket 

It rains all the time in the Caribbean. Even if you're not traveling during hurricane season , expect a couple of showers during your trip. 

When I visited the Caribbean in April, it rained only once. When I traveled to the Bahamas in June, it rained multiple times.

A lightweight, waterproof rain jacket may not seem necessary, but it keeps you dry and comfortable. 

Have you ever been drenched in a sudden downpour? 

Then, you had to walk around for hours before changing into dry clothes? Not very fun. Pack the rain jacket, just in case.

32. Sun Hat & Sunglasses

A hat can help keep rain out of your face and protect you from the sun.

Vacationing in the Caribbean is the perfect opportunity to bring a cute, wide-brimmed sun hat. 

Add some UV protection sunglasses, and you're good to go!

33. Sunscreen & Chapstick

No packing list for a Caribbean vacation is complete without sunscreen and SPF chapstick.

Stay on top of your skincare and get a higher SPF, water-resistant sunscreen. Remember the sunscreen chapstick.

I've had sunburned lips before from not wearing SPF chapstick- it hurts!

34. Aloe & Lotion

Even if you reapply your sunscreen, there is still a high chance of getting sunburned. 

Pack aloe or after-sun lotion to hydrate, protect, and soothe your skin.

Get in the habit of applying after-sun lotion to your face and shoulders after each day in the sun. Aloe lotion will help your skin overnight and prepare for the next dose of sunscreen and sunshine the next day.

35. Bug Spray

Every Caribbean island can have mosquitoes year-round. The weather is warm and humid, perfect for these insects.

Pack a good bug spray to use in the evening. Wearing long sleeves and pants also protects you from mosquitoes when exploring areas with lots of plants and water.

Planning to spend your evenings indoors on a cruise ship or at a resort helps minimize the chances of mosquito bites.

36. OTC Medications 

You should bring a mini-pharmacy when vacationing in the Caribbean.

Motion sickness medication can help with any drives to beautiful forests and waterfalls or prevent seasickness on boat rides.

If you have allergies, pack your antihistamines.

Ibuprofen and Pepto Bismol are essential to have on hand in case you need pain relief or your stomach gets upset.

My friend broke her foot on the uneven cobblestone streets when we were in Sint Maarten. The cruise ship had a medical station and gave her a wheelchair, but having her own Tylenol for when they were closed was good.

37. Travel Size Toiletries

Packing travel-size toiletries helps save space in your luggage.

Take the essentials, such as shampoo and conditioner, body wash, toothpaste, toothbrush, and deodorant. I've forgotten a hairbrush before; it wasn't fun.

Other extras are feminine products, dental floss, lotion, face wash, makeup, and anything else you need to stay clean and fresh.

38. Travel First Aid Kit

A compact first aid kit is important to bring anywhere. With it, you can easily handle small cuts, scrapes, or blisters if you're not near a medical station. 

Stock your kit with band-aids, antiseptic wipes, and some bandages. 

39. Travel Sewing Kit

A travel sewing kit is easy to pack and can help if your clothing snags on something and tears. 

Many people overlook this when traveling, but I've had to use my sewing kit multiple times on the go.

I had a pair of ripped pants that I could stitch up and keep using on my trip.

You might think you'll buy a new clothing item, but it may not be available now. A quick patch with a needle and thread can tide you over until you get to a store or home.

40. Travel Laundry Detergent 

Travel laundry detergent is great for long vacations where you don't want to spend extra money on laundry services.

By washing some clothes in the bathroom sink and hanging them to dry in the shower, I packed fewer clothes for my 10-day Eastern Caribbean cruise.

41. Beach Tote 

Every time I go to the beach, I bring a beach tote. That way, I can double-check that I have everything needed for a proper beach day packed in a bag that won't get ruined in the sand.

When packing, I add my swimsuit and beach sandals to my beach bag so I don't forget them on the trip. Other items to stash in your beach tote are a water bottle, snack, quick-dry towel, and sunscreen.

Pack your reading book or snorkeling gear and enjoy relaxation or fun in the sun!

If you'll be on a boat or SCUBA diving in the Caribbean, a dry bag is the best option so nothing gets soaked.

42. Day Use Purse/Night Out Clutch

If you're like me, you travel with a large enough purse to avoid paying for an extra suitcase or overstuffing your carry-on. But that large purse only works well when you're trying to relax on vacation.

You can pack light on tours or when wandering around a resort. When you pack for the Caribbean, bring a small crossover bag or belt bag during the day.

There is a lot of nightlife in the Caribbean, especially in cities like San Juan . Cruise ships have formal nights where a small clutch is better than a day bag.

43. Snorkeling Gear 

Instead of renting gear for snorkeling in the Caribbean, bring your snorkel and mask. 

If you have room in your luggage, snorkeling fins are also helpful but optional for casual swimming with a mask through the clear waters of the Caribbean Ocean.

Bringing your snorkel and mask lets you explore the Caribbean's underwater world without spending more money on a snorkeling tour or shore excursion.

44. Hiking Poles

Hiking poles seem like an extra item, but they are helpful for moderate and challenging trails.  

My friend has foot injuries from soccer that never healed right, so he also uses the hiking poles on some easy hikes. 

The pokes add extra stability and support on uneven terrain.

45. Waterproof Camera with Extra Memory Cards

You are going to crystal clear ocean water. Bring a waterproof camera.

You don't have to worry about your camera getting splashed when you take pictures or videos of your vacation memories. It's so fun taking pictures of underwater flips and silly faces. 

Remember, extra memory cards so you don't run out of space.

GPS is on the list for a Caribbean vacation if you want to go hiking or exploring. 

Only some spots on Caribbean islands have good internet or network connections, so you'll want to use a more reliable method to navigate.

47. Quick Dry Towel

If you're staying in a resort, they will have towels for you to use at the pool and on the beach, but I recommend having a quick dry towel. 

Something like a Sand Cloud towel that doesn't let the sand stick to it is perfect and multifunctional. You can lay the towel out to sit on or use it as a cute cover-up. 

I like to use mine as a blanket on the plane and as a beach towel instead of the one provided by the hotel.

48. Waterproof Speaker (download playlist)

The perfect Caribbean vacation includes epic beach days. Listening to music adds to the excitement of your vacation.

You don't want your phone getting wet or losing battery, so bring a waterproof speaker.

Download your favorite playlists beforehand, so you're all set for music without needing Wi-Fi. 

49. Travel Snacks

Even if you don't want to eat snacks, you should still bring some.

Many restaurants and cruise ship food places close at certain times. You don't want to be stuck without food.

Snacks also help during travel time or for longer excursions that don't provide food.

50. Electrolyte Mix

The heat and the sun can dehydrate you even if you're not hiking. 

Electrolytes are a great addition to your water to help keep you hydrated.

Ultima is a great brand with many flavor options and 0 sugar, 0 calories, and 0 carbs. Liquid IV is also a popular option but has a higher sugar count.

Summary of Caribbean Vacation Packing List

Are you ready for your Caribbean vacation? Start packing and have a fantastic time!

Use this as your ultimate guide to creating a Caribbean vacation packing list. Make a note of everything you will need based on the activities and length of time of your trip.

Some unique items to pack that depend on what you'll be doing include snorkeling gear, hiking boots, and a waterproof speaker.

Essentials on your ultimate Caribbean packing list include casual and formal mix-and-match clothing for warm weather. Proper toiletries, sandals, and sunscreen are a must!

The most important things to remember are passports, identification cards, credit cards, and cash. Pack your phone and a portable charger, but download copies of anything you might need if you don't have Wi-Fi.

50 Essentials for your Caribbean Vacation Packing List

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travelling to caribbean

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Puerto Rico’s southern coast is the island’s best-kept secret

Take it from a guayama native: the caribbean coast is worth exploring from end to end.

The scenery starts to change when you leave the tall hotels and tapón (traffic jam) of San Juan behind.

Head south on Route 52, and you will start seeing the lush green mountains of Cordillera Central. As you approach the southern coast, the dense vegetation transforms into clusters of cactuses and shrubs, painting an arid landscape against the distant view of the Caribbean Sea.

Ranging east to west from the town of Yabucoa to Cabo Rojo, the southern coast of Puerto Rico is rich in culture, food, beaches and nature. But beyond all the tangible attractions, locals say the spirit of hospitality makes the place unique. “Our greatest asset is the people, who make people feel at home,” says Milexys Rosado Romero, the owner of Hacienda Tres Casitas , a farm stay in Cabo Rojo.

I learned this growing up in Guayama, where neighbors traded mangoes for papayas. My parents were always inviting people for coffee, or my dad might arrive home with a bagful of fresh seafood he got from a friend he ran into at the beach.

Unfortunately, no reliable public transport options exist, so renting a car is the best bet to reach the smaller towns and unspoiled beaches. Highway 52 traverses the island from north to south, taking you from San Juan to Guayama in around 90 minutes, depending on traffic, and to Ponce in two hours or less. Highway 2 takes you west to Cabo Rojo and up the western coast, and Route 3 takes you along the eastern coast with scenic ocean views of Patillas and Maunabo.

If traveling during the fall, you may catch surfers in Guardarraya Beach in Patillas. It’s hard to get lost as you can easily find lesser-known beaches via Google Maps, with good cell coverage throughout the region.

Many of the lodgings offered on the southern coast, from the luxury Copamarina Beach Resort to the kid-friendly Combate Beach Resort , have been owned by local families for generations. Farm stays, small inns known as paradors and vacation rentals dominate the accommodations, making for a relaxed scene.

I recommend visiting from Wednesdays to Sundays for a livelier scene and more dining options; earlier in the week is perfect for having the beaches all to yourself.

Low-key beaches in Cabo Rojo

Even the Caribbean Sea beaches on the southern coast of Puerto Rico are in chill mode, more relaxed than their choppy Atlantic Ocean counterparts in the north.

With small waves and shallow waters, Combate Beach, on the southwest corner, is ideal for families. Make it a day-long affair with a passion fruit mojito at Annie’s Place with picturesque sunset views.

For a more rustic beach experience, go to Playa Sucia, one of Puerto Rico’s southernmost beaches. While there, hike the trails leading to El Faro de Cabo Rojo and Puente de Piedra for 360-degree views of a colorful mix of Caribbean blues, sandy-colored rocky enclaves and green mangroves along the coast. Walk a mile and a half north of Playa Sucia, and you will encounter the Salinas de Cabo Rojo, with colorful yellow-shouldered blackbirds flying over the pink salt flats.

Boquerón is a neighborhood known for its stands of local fish, oysters and clams. You can also take a dip at its small sandy strip. The neighborhood is vibrant, with music blaring throughout the many kiosks and beachside restaurants, most specializing in seafood. You don’t have to go far inland to find roasted pork at Camino Los Charros. Rosado also recommends La Catumba Lechonera among the many restaurants that specialize in pork.

Restaurants on the rise in Guayama

“Guayama esta pegao” — in style, according to what I’ve heard from many friends across the island.

A coastal city on the southeastern side, it is known for having a charming plaza (town square) with homes and buildings dating from the 1800s. One of these historical homes houses Gallo Pinto , a restaurant by chef Ángel David Moreno Zayas that has become a destination with dishes like grilled oysters, bone marrow with beef tartare, and fried red snapper.

“I’ve worked in many kitchens in San Juan and the mainland United States, but I wanted to open my restaurant in Guayama,” says Moreno Zayas of his hometown. “It started as a casual place because we were recovering from the pandemic, but now we’ve incorporated more fine-dining elements, and the reception has been spectacular.”

After a feast at Gallo Pinto, one must save room for ice cream at one of Guayama’s classic spots, Rex Cream. Owned by Chinese-Cuban immigrants, the Louke Chang family, it’s a mandatory stop. A scoop of salty-sweet corn ice cream with a generous sprinkle of cinnamon is perfect for a walk along the plaza.

At Pozuelo, a fishermen’s neighborhood beyond the city center, go to El Arcoiris for one of my childhood favorites, the octopus salad with a side of tostones. Or bite into a crispy alcapurria — a fritter made of banana and root vegetables — at El Fogón de Susa as you stroll along the beach.

You can find one of the most impressive wine lists in the south at Prime Market , where local couple Laury Cordero Sabater and Antonio Palau transformed an old home along Route 3 into an ample outdoor patio with a menu specializing in steaks.

Art and culture in Ponce

It’s hard to find Puerto Ricans prouder of their hometown than Ponceños. I’m not disputing their pride, because the city has so much to offer, especially in terms of arts and culture.

“Start with a walking tour of the city center of Ponce to learn about the history of Ponce and gain an orientation of the city,” says Melina Aguilar Colón, the founder of Isla Caribe tours. “One of the sights not to be missed is the Parque de Bombas de Ponce,” she said. Initially built in 1882 for the Exhibition Trade Fair, the Ponce firehouse is a symbol of the city; the distinct red-and-black-striped facade was an inspiration for the Ponce flag.

After walking through the city center, go for cocktails along Paseo de la Salsa Cheo Feliciano, named after the pioneering salsa singer José Feliciano. At El Marlin 107, William Collazo, a big name in Puerto Rico’s cocktail community, mixes drinks with tropical infusions like coconut water, guava and mangoes. On the weekends, expect live music along the street where you can test your salsa skills. For dinner, head to Chef’s Creations, where you catch chef Jorge Rivera cooking over a wood-fired grill in his restaurant’s patio.

Although the city has suffered structural damage during Hurricane Maria in 2017, followed by an earthquake in 2020, Ponce has focused on reconstruction and updates to many of its cultural institutions. The Teatro La Perla, a cultural hub for performance art, is set to reopen in 2025 with plays and musical performances. The Art Museum of Ponce , home of the iconic “Flaming June” by Sir Frederic Leighton (which is currently on loan to the Royal Academy of Arts in London), recently reopened its doors after extensive repairs.

Ponce is also considered the birthplace of plena music, one of the traditional sounds of Puerto Rico. Deeply infused with African beats, plena tells the story of the Puerto Rican people from the early 1900s. You can learn more about plena and other Puerto Rican music like bomba and danza at the Museo de la Música Puertorriqueña, a small museum in the city center.

El Bosque dry forest and bioluminescent bays

According to Aguilar Colón, “everybody knows about El Yunque rainforest, but nobody talks about El Bosque Seco de Guánica, the dry forest on the island’s southwest coast.” I agree.

One of the things that makes Puerto Rico unique is the contrast of ecosystems in a relatively small island. Walking along the trails, you will notice the different varieties of cactuses, Guayacán trees and mangroves as you get closer to the shoreline. Birdwatchers will rejoice with the sights of sparrow hawks, hummingbirds and brown pelicans. The dry forest is one of the island’s hottest places, so ensure you bring plenty of water and sun protection.

Next to Guánica, in the neighboring town of Lajas, there’s another natural phenomenon. La Parguera is home to one of the three bioluminescent bays of Puerto Rico. Because of overpopulation, it’s not as bright as in Vieques, but it’s still worth a trip if you’re in the area.

The local dock offers boat rides, and you can also find kayak tours taking you deeper into the bay for better views. Beyond the bay, the Parguera is known for its bustling scene on the weekends with plenty of bars, restaurants and bands.

Jessica van Dop DeJesus is a travel and food writer, digital content creator and the author of “ The Dining Traveler Guide to Puerto Rico .” She divides her time between Brussels, D.C. and western New York. Follow her on Instagram @diningtraveler .

Where to go

Our favorite destinations: These 12 destinations are at the top of our wish list for where to go this year, without crowds. In 2023, we explored an Alaskan bear paradise, Brooklyn’s famous pizzerias and a hidden gem in Italy, among other highlights ..

Travel like a local: Residents share their favorite places in our top city guides: New Orleans , Rome , Tokyo and Mexico City .

National parks: This comprehensive guide has details on all 63 U.S. national parks. For a deep dive into five of the most well-known, you can listen to the Field Trip podcast . Then explore tips from locals for visiting Yosemite , Glacier and Everglades .

Tales from the road: Dolly Parton has opened a new resort at her theme park complex in Tennessee, while “Fixer Upper” stars Chip and Joanna Gaines have a new hotel in Waco . Road-trippers may be just as excited to see the cartoon beaver at Buc-ee’s , and bargain-hunters should consider a stop at the Unclaimed Baggage store in Scottsboro, Ala.

travelling to caribbean

36 Hours in San Juan, Puerto Rico

By Luisita Lopez Torregrosa April 4, 2024

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People stand on a pile of rocks by a seashore. The sky is orange and many palm trees are visible at a distant shore.

By Luisita Lopez Torregrosa Photographs by Scott McIntyre

Luisita Lopez Torregrosa was born in Puerto Rico and has written a memoir recalling her childhood on the island.

There’s new optimism in this Caribbean capital. Tourists are coming in record numbers, and the city is recovering the energy it lost after the devastation of hurricanes Maria and Irma in 2017; the emigration of tens of thousands to the mainland; a bankrupt economy; and the pandemic. In Old San Juan, the 500-year-old colonial enclave of pastel-colored architecture and ancient forts, and beyond, eclectic restaurants, experimental art and celebrated gritty bars like La Factoría are firing up the Puerto Rican spirit. Calle Cerra, a street in the former working-class barrio of Santurce, is now the epicenter of the island’s public art movement, featuring giant murals alongside a lively nightlife scene where you can join in on the chinchorreo, a local term for bar hopping and street dancing.


  • Galería Botello , housed in a 350-year-old mansion in Old San Juan, shows paintings, prints, ceramics and a collection of Puerto Rican santos, hand-carved wooden figures, by the Galician artist Ángel Botello.
  • Cocina al Fondo , with a James Beard Award-winning chef, reconstructs Puerto Rican cuisine, but remains loyal to the traditions of the island.
  • Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico has the island’s most important collection of paintings, sculptures and carvings by Puerto Rican and Caribbean artists.
  • Calle Cerra is the street that is the epicenter of Puerto Rican urban public art and a hot nightlife destination. It is also the site of the annual street art festival Santurce Es Ley (Santurce Is Law) in May.
  • Paseo de la Princesa is a bayside promenade in Old San Juan with fountains and sculptures like Fuente Raices (Roots Fountain), which represents the ancestral roots of Puerto Rican identity: Spanish, African and Taino.
  • Castillo San Felipe del Morro , one of the largest fortifications built by Spain in the Caribbean, has six levels of barracks, dungeons and storerooms. Kite-flying on the fort’s lawn is free.
  • Parque del Indio , off Ashford Avenue in the Condado neighborhood, is a refuge from the crowds with a pristine beach, kitesurfing and games of pickleball and volleyball.
  • Marmalade , arguably the best restaurant in San Juan, is reinventing local dishes, injecting Japanese, French and Moroccan accents.
  • Bodegas Compostela is a classic Spanish restaurant with outstanding wines, lamb chops, crisp suckling pig and chocolate soufflé.
  • Primitivo , an intimate tapas bar, specializes in nigiri and crudo appetizers and specialty cocktails like silky Negronis.
  • Pio Pio , a chic wine bar across Plaza de Armas in Old San Juan, offers quiet sophistication, luxurious bites and special wines and cocktails.
  • La Casita Blanca , a local favorite, is rooted in traditional Puerto Rican dishes served in a homey and friendly atmosphere.
  • La Factoría is a popular nightspot in Old San Juan that houses six bars connected by dark passageways.
  • Botánico is a bar and restaurant with Central American dishes and an open-air dance floor.
  • Esquina Watusi is an iconic dive bar that often hosts the crazy chinchorreo, a street dancing-and-drinking scene.
  • Puerto Rican Art and Crafts stocks acrylic paintings, ceramics and vejigantes, folkloric masks that resemble the faces of colorful demons.
  • Avenida Ashford , in Condado, is San Juan’s shopping and tourist gold coast, from Cartier to boutiques like Wild Side , in the hotel Condado Vanderbilt, where you may find exclusive handmade gold and silver jewelry by the local artist María Blondet.
  • Calle Loiza , in Santurce, is lined with shops carrying locally made accessories, bags and clothing. Don’t miss the free sidewalk used-book library.
  • The Condado Vanderbilt sweeps you in with an open view of the ocean from its opulent pink marble Art Deco lobby. Opened in 1919, the hotel was renovated and reopened in 2014. It is still San Juan’s premier hotel. Rooms in April start at $651.
  • O :LV Fifty-Five , a design marvel with a black-and-white marble Art Deco lobby, features a romantic rooftop with a plunge pool and soaring views of the Condado Lagoon and the skylines of Condado and Miramar. Adults only. Rooms start at $449.
  • El Convento , a bright yellow Spanish colonial landmark in Old San Juan, has a serene courtyard and beautiful 17th-century arched doorways and beamed ceilings. Rooms start at $278.
  • For short-term rentals , search in the neighborhoods of Old San Juan, Condado, Santurce and Miramar.
  • Old San Juan, Condado, Miramar and Santurce are clustered within 15 minutes of one another by car, depending on traffic. Taxis prefer cash. Many won’t take credit cards. The car ride from Old San Juan to Santurce runs $18 to $25. Ride-hailing apps like Uber and rental cars are easily available. Public transportation is subpar .

People stand in the narrow entrance of a turret in an old-looking stone wall that overlooks ocean.

Castillo San Felipe del Morro

Old San Juan is easily walkable. Start at the Paseo de la Princesa , a promenade with fountains and sculptures that runs along San Juan Bay and the city’s fortress walls. It goes by La Fortaleza , the 16th-century governor’s mansion, and comes close to the Catedral de San Juan Bautista , where it is said the bones of Juan Ponce de León, the Spanish conquistador who became Puerto Rico’s first governor, are buried. The stroll ends on Punta del Morro, a waterfront path that culminates at the bottom of the Castillo San Felipe del Morro , also known as El Morro, a 16th-century fortress. It still has some original cannons facing the Atlantic. Entry, $10; two-and-a-half-hour tours , $49. Or just relax on the expansive green lawn where kite-flying is popular.

From El Morro, descend the single-file sidewalks on Calle del Cristo, with its galleries, bars and outdoor cafes. Take a brief break inside El Convento hotel’s serene courtyard, or on a tree-shaded bench at the intersecting Calle Caleta. Continue down Cristo to Galería Botello , a free museum in a 350-year-old house dedicated to Ángel Botello, the Galician artist who came to San Juan in the 1950s and was known as the “Caribbean Gauguin” for his paintings of Haitian women. Botello prints run $50 to $125, and his santos, carved wooden figures, sell for $500 to $3,000. Nearby, the Puerto Rican Art and Crafts stocks acrylic paintings, ceramics and vejigantes, folkloric masks that resemble the faces of colorful demons, sporting horns. Masks from $15 to $44.

People drink at a bar that is illuminated by a pink neon side that reads "Pio Pio."

Across Plaza de Armas, the chic wine bar Pio Pio , a secluded space that declares its name with a Barbie-pink sign over the bar, has luxury plates like lobster rolls with sturgeon caviar ($32), unusual wines (including Llopart Corpinnat Rose, an organic sparkling rose from Catalunya, Spain, $14 a glass), and cocktails like a vodka martini that hits the spot with a dash of orange bitters ($17).

A dish served in a white tagine that is garnished with leaves and pomegranate seeds.

By this time, the celebrated bar La Factoría , inside a century-old building, already has a line down the sidewalk. It’s worth waiting to enjoy the signature Lavender Mule (ginger tea, vodka, lavender and citrus; $12.80) in the bar’s standing-room-only scruffy main room or one of its smaller drinking dens, reached via dark passageways. Then stroll downhill to Marmalade , whose pale rooms of arches and alcoves evoke Moorish Andalusia. The ahi tuna tartare, seasoned with harissa (North African chile paste), and the bite-size pieces of paella served like sushi rolls are memorable. Leave room for the Choco-L8, eight flavors of local organic chocolate with hazelnut accents. Five courses (each course has eight to 10 choices), $135. Wine pairings, $79 per person. Reservations recommended.

A couple dances under red lights at a bar while other people drink or watch.

People dance to salsa music at La Factoría.

A person wearing a black bathing suit sits on a deck chair overlooking the ocean.

The sun deck at the Condado Vanderbilt hotel

Enjoy an espresso ($1.50) with a fresh mallorca pastry (a spiral sweet bun; $3.50) at Sobao , an indoor-outdoor cafe at the AC Hotel by Marriott, then walk along Avenida Ashford until you reach a small park called Ventanas al Mar (Windows to the Sea), which has a path that leads to the beach. It is packed, mainly with hotel guests, but anyone may rent a chair for $5 and an umbrella for $10. (All beaches in Puerto Rico are public, even those claimed by hotels.) In the lobby of the Condado Vanderbilt hotel next door check out Wild Side , a boutique that carries fine beachwear and sculptural jewelry in gold and silver by the Puerto Rican artist María Blondet .

The Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico , in a neo-Classical building in Santurce, a center of the arts and nightlife, exhibits the major works of artists from different generations, periods and media (entry, $12). Absorb the haunting self-portrait “Azabache,” by the Puerto Rican painter Arnaldo Roche Rabell. Walk to another hall to find “No Crying in the Barber Shop,” a room-size installation depicting a Bronx barbershop, by the Puerto Rican artist Pepon Osorio, exploring the Latino culture’s machismo. Before leaving the museum, visit the quiet sculpture garden and stop by La Tienda, the museum shop, which stocks locally made works like the brightly colored tiles depicting a still life of red flowers, by Susana López Castells ($40).

The exterior of a building with a gold front door. A sign that is decorated with a glass of red wine reads "Bodegas Compostela."

Bodegas Compostela , in the Condado neighborhood, is a fixture among San Juan’s high-end restaurants, with a classic, understated dining room favored for family gatherings, birthdays and business lunches. Start with the Galician-style octopus, cooked with olive oil, paprika and potatoes ($23.95), and follow it with the roast suckling pig, with crackling skin and juicy meat ($74.95), and a rich chocolate soufflé ($15.95) for dessert. If all that seems too much, order the fresh and light lobster salad ($42.95). Compostela is also known for its fine wines. Try Attis, an albariño from Spain, $51.95 a bottle. Reservations recommended.

Calle Cerra , not long ago a street of rundown buildings and abandoned shops, is now a hotbed of nightlife and the center of the island’s urban art movement. Stroll to take in the street art, much of it exploring political and social issues. An imposing mural painted on a water tower shows a boy carrying a glacier on his back while the ice melts around him. A building-wide mural of three skeletons sinking in the sea symbolizes colonialism and slavery. At the end of one block, a pinkish high-rise, covered from ground to roof with graffiti, murals, swirls and scrawls, looks abandoned. People live in it. At the top of the strip, take a break at Café con Cé with an iced latte ($4.50) and a vegan pastry ($4).

A white plate that holds meat, rice molded into a half-sphere and slices of yellow plantain.

Dine in the open patio at Cocina al Fondo , a restaurant in Santurce, whose chef, Natalia Vallejo, last year became the first Puerto Rican to win a 2023 James Beard Award for Best Chef: South. Try traditional favorites like pastelillos de calabaza (pumpkin fritters, $15) and jarrete de cerdo al caldero (ham hock with rice and beans and ripe plantain; $42), familiar dishes made with a local, farm-to-table ethos. Reservations recommended.

A person stands behind a bar peeling an orange. Glassware is suspended upside-down above the bar.

After dinner at Cocina al Fondo, wander back to Calle Cerra, which draws bar-hoppers to its cocktail clubs and salons until the wee hours. Young crowds gather at Botánico , where a giant mural of a face overlooks an open-air dance floor. Farther down the street, where chickens roam free and an old church stands on a corner, are several more bars, including Machete , Graziani and Galeria , and the crazy chinchorreo — what locals call the street dancing-and-drinking scene — is often centered on Esquina Watusi , an iconic dive bar. After the hubbub of Cerra, walk or take a taxi to the secluded tapas bar Primitivo , in the Miramar neighborhood nearby. Sample the nigiri, a slice of tuna set over a tiny alcapurria fritter, a Puerto Rican favorite ($14), and sip a silky Negroni ($15).

People walk down the sidewalks of a cobblestone street that is illuminated in red and purple at night.

People walk down a street in Old San Juan, the colonial enclave of pastel-colored architecture and ancient forts.

A person sits on a beach chair under a wide orange umbrella on a sandy shore. Small waves crash in the ocean in front of them, and two people in bathing suits walk by.

A beach near Parque del Indio

Parque del Indio , in Condado, is a refuge, a neighborhood beach park on Avenida Ashford in Condado at Calle C.F. Krug. It’s a favorite of children, dog walkers, pickleball and volleyball players. Rent a chair ($5) and an umbrella ($10) and watch the waves, read a book, or take a long walk on a beach that goes on for miles, along seafront homes, informal grills and beachside guesthouses.

Three people sit at a restaurant table with a floral patterned table cloth. There is a display cabinet in the restaurant with many knick-knacks.

Everyone in San Juan knows La Casita Blanca , one of the city’s most popular home-style restaurants. It is so popular that it won’t take reservations. Guests wait chatting in line on the sidewalk along the restaurant, which is in a modest white house with a facade draped in flowers, on a busy corner of the densely congested Santurce, where traffic is bumper to bumper. Every day the restaurant posts 10 to 12 dishes on a blackboard. The biftec encebollado (well-done filet cooked with onions, $18.95) is a favorite. Another standby, mofongo (mashed plantains, $5.95) and the arepas con bacalao (cod fritters, $12.95) seem unchanged over the decades. And the friendly staff waves goodbye with smiles and hugs, like family.

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Will this new Frontier flight from Cleveland to the Caribbean last? Enjoy it while you can

  • Updated: Apr. 11, 2024, 10:21 a.m. |
  • Published: Apr. 10, 2024, 9:58 a.m.

Frontier Airlines

Frontier Airlines recently launched service between Cleveland and Montego Bay, Jamaica. Photo by Matt Nager

  • Susan Glaser, cleveland.com

CLEVELAND, Ohio – There was no complaining about cramped seating on this Frontier Airlines flight. Every passenger en route from Cleveland to Montego Bay, Jamaica, had a full row to stretch out.

The return trip too, was less than half full, which could not have pleased airline executives, but sure made the four-hour flight home very comfortable for the 35 or so of us who flew back to Cleveland from Jamaica on a Monday afternoon last month.

Frontier Airlines in March launched new nonstop service between Cleveland Hopkins International Airport and Montego Bay, Jamaica, the first of more than a dozen new routes that the carrier is adding in Cleveland this spring and summer.

I’m guessing that not all will succeed. So if you’ve been eager to see Jamaica and prefer not to connect in Charlotte (or Atlanta or Washington, D.C.), don’t delay.

The new flight operates three times per week – Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, departing Cleveland at 9 a.m., arriving in Montego Bay at 11:56 a.m. (note – you lose an hour during travel). The return flight departs from MBJ at 1:16 p.m., landing in Cleveland at 6:08 p.m.

Prices start at about $400 roundtrip, with luggage fees and advanced seat assignments extra.

The route is currently scheduled to run through mid-August, although a spokesperson for Frontier couldn’t guarantee that the flight would last until then.

“We are currently evaluating consumer demand for the route and potential impact of the travel advisory,” said Jennifer De La Cruz, senior director of corporate communications.

In late January, about two months before the flight started, the State Department updated its travel advisory for Jamaica , urging Americans to “reconsider travel” to the Caribbean nation due to crime and medical services.

The advisory is causing some travelers to rethink travel to the island, according to travel experts.

A flight attendant on my plane said the carrier’s flights from St. Louis to Montego Bay were also running less than half full. (Note: I did talk to a couple of Cleveland travelers in Jamaica, who said their Saturday flight in late March to the island was full, so maybe it would work as a weekly route?)

Frontier’s expansion in Cleveland is partly the result of the opening of a new Frontier crew base at Cleveland Hopkins in March, which has brought hundreds of new jobs to town, including 250 flight attendants, 110 pilots and 50 maintenance workers.

Other new Frontier destinations set to debut from Cleveland this spring include Salt Lake City, Austin, Charleston, New Orleans, Pensacola and New York City LaGuardia, among many others.

Montego Bay, however, is the only new international destination on the roster.

Frontier also flies internationally from Cleveland to Cancun and Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic.

Apart from my flight from Ireland last spring, this was my first international arrival into Cleveland Hopkins since early 2019, when I flew Frontier to Punta Cana. I had forgotten how cumbersome the customs process at Cleveland Hopkins can be.

Reminder: Travelers landing in Cleveland on international flights have to go through TSA screening before exiting the airport because the international arrivals gate is at the far end of the A Concourse, forcing passengers to walk through the “secure” side of the airport before leaving.

It wasn’t a big hassle for those of us on the Jamaica flight because it wasn’t full. But the additional TSA screening can add considerable time to the process if you’re on a full flight or seated in the back of the plane. (Note: International flights to Cleveland from Toronto and Dublin, Ireland, are exempt from the extra screening because passengers go through customs in those departure cities, part of the U.S. government’s Preclearance program.)

Another reminder: If you’re bringing home alcohol from duty-free shops abroad, you’ll need to place the bottles in your checked bag after customs and before security screening. I had to do this with the couple of bottles of rum I bought in Jamaica – even though the cashier wrapped them tight before departure. Security agents in Cleveland said the wrapping job wasn’t good enough, and instructed me to add the bottles to my checked bag.

Finally, a word about Sangster International Airport: I had heard horror stories about the customs and immigration process at Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, but the place was a breeze. The airport recently installed facial recognition software in its arrivals hall, which made the process fast and easy. My husband and I were in and out of the terminal in about 15 minutes.

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photo of Icon of the Seas, taken on a long railed path approaching the stern of the ship, with people walking along dock

Crying Myself to Sleep on the Biggest Cruise Ship Ever

Seven agonizing nights aboard the Icon of the Seas

photo of Icon of the Seas, taken on a long railed path approaching the stern of the ship, with people walking along dock

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Updated at 2:44 p.m. ET on April 6, 2024.

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MY FIRST GLIMPSE of Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas, from the window of an approaching Miami cab, brings on a feeling of vertigo, nausea, amazement, and distress. I shut my eyes in defense, as my brain tells my optic nerve to try again.

The ship makes no sense, vertically or horizontally. It makes no sense on sea, or on land, or in outer space. It looks like a hodgepodge of domes and minarets, tubes and canopies, like Istanbul had it been designed by idiots. Vibrant, oversignifying colors are stacked upon other such colors, decks perched over still more decks; the only comfort is a row of lifeboats ringing its perimeter. There is no imposed order, no cogent thought, and, for those who do not harbor a totalitarian sense of gigantomania, no visual mercy. This is the biggest cruise ship ever built, and I have been tasked with witnessing its inaugural voyage.

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“Author embarks on their first cruise-ship voyage” has been a staple of American essay writing for almost three decades, beginning with David Foster Wallace’s “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” which was first published in 1996 under the title “Shipping Out.” Since then, many admirable writers have widened and diversified the genre. Usually the essayist commissioned to take to the sea is in their first or second flush of youth and is ready to sharpen their wit against the hull of the offending vessel. I am 51, old and tired, having seen much of the world as a former travel journalist, and mostly what I do in both life and prose is shrug while muttering to my imaginary dachshund, “This too shall pass.” But the Icon of the Seas will not countenance a shrug. The Icon of the Seas is the Linda Loman of cruise ships, exclaiming that attention must be paid. And here I am in late January with my one piece of luggage and useless gray winter jacket and passport, zipping through the Port of Miami en route to the gangway that will separate me from the bulk of North America for more than seven days, ready to pay it in full.

The aforementioned gangway opens up directly onto a thriving mall (I will soon learn it is imperiously called the “Royal Promenade”), presently filled with yapping passengers beneath a ceiling studded with balloons ready to drop. Crew members from every part of the global South, as well as a few Balkans, are shepherding us along while pressing flutes of champagne into our hands. By a humming Starbucks, I drink as many of these as I can and prepare to find my cabin. I show my blue Suite Sky SeaPass Card (more on this later, much more) to a smiling woman from the Philippines, and she tells me to go “aft.” Which is where, now? As someone who has rarely sailed on a vessel grander than the Staten Island Ferry, I am confused. It turns out that the aft is the stern of the ship, or, for those of us who don’t know what a stern or an aft are, its ass. The nose of the ship, responsible for separating the waves before it, is also called a bow, and is marked for passengers as the FWD , or forward. The part of the contemporary sailing vessel where the malls are clustered is called the midship. I trust that you have enjoyed this nautical lesson.

I ascend via elevator to my suite on Deck 11. This is where I encounter my first terrible surprise. My suite windows and balcony do not face the ocean. Instead, they look out onto another shopping mall. This mall is the one that’s called Central Park, perhaps in homage to the Olmsted-designed bit of greenery in the middle of my hometown. Although on land I would be delighted to own a suite with Central Park views, here I am deeply depressed. To sail on a ship and not wake up to a vast blue carpet of ocean? Unthinkable.

Allow me a brief preamble here. The story you are reading was commissioned at a moment when most staterooms on the Icon were sold out. In fact, so enthralled by the prospect of this voyage were hard-core mariners that the ship’s entire inventory of guest rooms (the Icon can accommodate up to 7,600 passengers, but its inaugural journey was reduced to 5,000 or so for a less crowded experience) was almost immediately sold out. Hence, this publication was faced with the shocking prospect of paying nearly $19,000 to procure for this solitary passenger an entire suite—not including drinking expenses—all for the privilege of bringing you this article. But the suite in question doesn’t even have a view of the ocean! I sit down hard on my soft bed. Nineteen thousand dollars for this .

selfie photo of man with glasses, in background is swim-up bar with two women facing away

The viewless suite does have its pluses. In addition to all the Malin+Goetz products in my dual bathrooms, I am granted use of a dedicated Suite Deck lounge; access to Coastal Kitchen, a superior restaurant for Suites passengers; complimentary VOOM SM Surf & Stream (“the fastest Internet at Sea”) “for one device per person for the whole cruise duration”; a pair of bathrobes (one of which comes prestained with what looks like a large expectoration by the greenest lizard on Earth); and use of the Grove Suite Sun, an area on Decks 18 and 19 with food and deck chairs reserved exclusively for Suite passengers. I also get reserved seating for a performance of The Wizard of Oz , an ice-skating tribute to the periodic table, and similar provocations. The very color of my Suite Sky SeaPass Card, an oceanic blue as opposed to the cloying royal purple of the standard non-Suite passenger, will soon provoke envy and admiration. But as high as my status may be, there are those on board who have much higher status still, and I will soon learn to bow before them.

In preparation for sailing, I have “priced in,” as they say on Wall Street, the possibility that I may come from a somewhat different monde than many of the other cruisers. Without falling into stereotypes or preconceptions, I prepare myself for a friendly outspokenness on the part of my fellow seafarers that may not comply with modern DEI standards. I believe in meeting people halfway, and so the day before flying down to Miami, I visited what remains of Little Italy to purchase a popular T-shirt that reads DADDY’S LITTLE MEATBALL across the breast in the colors of the Italian flag. My wife recommended that I bring one of my many T-shirts featuring Snoopy and the Peanuts gang, as all Americans love the beagle and his friends. But I naively thought that my meatball T-shirt would be more suitable for conversation-starting. “Oh, and who is your ‘daddy’?” some might ask upon seeing it. “And how long have you been his ‘little meatball’?” And so on.

I put on my meatball T-shirt and head for one of the dining rooms to get a late lunch. In the elevator, I stick out my chest for all to read the funny legend upon it, but soon I realize that despite its burnished tricolor letters, no one takes note. More to the point, no one takes note of me. Despite my attempts at bridge building, the very sight of me (small, ethnic, without a cap bearing the name of a football team) elicits no reaction from other passengers. Most often, they will small-talk over me as if I don’t exist. This brings to mind the travails of David Foster Wallace , who felt so ostracized by his fellow passengers that he retreated to his cabin for much of his voyage. And Wallace was raised primarily in the Midwest and was a much larger, more American-looking meatball than I am. If he couldn’t talk to these people, how will I? What if I leave this ship without making any friends at all, despite my T-shirt? I am a social creature, and the prospect of seven days alone and apart is saddening. Wallace’s stateroom, at least, had a view of the ocean, a kind of cheap eternity.

Worse awaits me in the dining room. This is a large, multichandeliered room where I attended my safety training (I was shown how to put on a flotation vest; it is a very simple procedure). But the maître d’ politely refuses me entry in an English that seems to verge on another language. “I’m sorry, this is only for pendejos ,” he seems to be saying. I push back politely and he repeats himself. Pendejos ? Piranhas? There’s some kind of P-word to which I am not attuned. Meanwhile elderly passengers stream right past, powered by their limbs, walkers, and electric wheelchairs. “It is only pendejo dining today, sir.” “But I have a suite!” I say, already starting to catch on to the ship’s class system. He examines my card again. “But you are not a pendejo ,” he confirms. I am wearing a DADDY’S LITTLE MEATBALL T-shirt, I want to say to him. I am the essence of pendejo .

Eventually, I give up and head to the plebeian buffet on Deck 15, which has an aquatic-styled name I have now forgotten. Before gaining entry to this endless cornucopia of reheated food, one passes a washing station of many sinks and soap dispensers, and perhaps the most intriguing character on the entire ship. He is Mr. Washy Washy—or, according to his name tag, Nielbert of the Philippines—and he is dressed as a taco (on other occasions, I’ll see him dressed as a burger). Mr. Washy Washy performs an eponymous song in spirited, indeed flamboyant English: “Washy, washy, wash your hands, WASHY WASHY!” The dangers of norovirus and COVID on a cruise ship this size (a giant fellow ship was stricken with the former right after my voyage) makes Mr. Washy Washy an essential member of the crew. The problem lies with the food at the end of Washy’s rainbow. The buffet is groaning with what sounds like sophisticated dishes—marinated octopus, boiled egg with anchovy, chorizo, lobster claws—but every animal tastes tragically the same, as if there was only one creature available at the market, a “cruisipus” bred specifically for Royal Caribbean dining. The “vegetables” are no better. I pick up a tomato slice and look right through it. It tastes like cellophane. I sit alone, apart from the couples and parents with gaggles of children, as “We Are Family” echoes across the buffet space.

I may have failed to mention that all this time, the Icon of the Seas has not left port. As the fiery mango of the subtropical setting sun makes Miami’s condo skyline even more apocalyptic, the ship shoves off beneath a perfunctory display of fireworks. After the sun sets, in the far, dark distance, another circus-lit cruise ship ruptures the waves before us. We glance at it with pity, because it is by definition a smaller ship than our own. I am on Deck 15, outside the buffet and overlooking a bunch of pools (the Icon has seven of them), drinking a frilly drink that I got from one of the bars (the Icon has 15 of them), still too shy to speak to anyone, despite Sister Sledge’s assertion that all on the ship are somehow related.

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The ship’s passage away from Ron DeSantis’s Florida provides no frisson, no sense of developing “sea legs,” as the ship is too large to register the presence of waves unless a mighty wind adds significant chop. It is time for me to register the presence of the 5,000 passengers around me, even if they refuse to register mine. My fellow travelers have prepared for this trip with personally decorated T-shirts celebrating the importance of this voyage. The simplest ones say ICON INAUGURAL ’24 on the back and the family name on the front. Others attest to an over-the-top love of cruise ships: WARNING! MAY START TALKING ABOUT CRUISING . Still others are artisanally designed and celebrate lifetimes spent married while cruising (on ships, of course). A couple possibly in their 90s are wearing shirts whose backs feature a drawing of a cruise liner, two flamingos with ostensibly male and female characteristics, and the legend “ HUSBAND AND WIFE Cruising Partners FOR LIFE WE MAY NOT HAVE IT All Together BUT TOGETHER WE HAVE IT ALL .” (The words not in all caps have been written in cursive.) A real journalist or a more intrepid conversationalist would have gone up to the couple and asked them to explain the longevity of their marriage vis-à-vis their love of cruising. But instead I head to my mall suite, take off my meatball T-shirt, and allow the first tears of the cruise to roll down my cheeks slowly enough that I briefly fall asleep amid the moisture and salt.

photo of elaborate twisting multicolored waterslides with long stairwell to platform

I WAKE UP with a hangover. Oh God. Right. I cannot believe all of that happened last night. A name floats into my cobwebbed, nauseated brain: “Ayn Rand.” Jesus Christ.

I breakfast alone at the Coastal Kitchen. The coffee tastes fine and the eggs came out of a bird. The ship rolls slightly this morning; I can feel it in my thighs and my schlong, the parts of me that are most receptive to danger.

I had a dangerous conversation last night. After the sun set and we were at least 50 miles from shore (most modern cruise ships sail at about 23 miles an hour), I lay in bed softly hiccupping, my arms stretched out exactly like Jesus on the cross, the sound of the distant waves missing from my mall-facing suite, replaced by the hum of air-conditioning and children shouting in Spanish through the vents of my two bathrooms. I decided this passivity was unacceptable. As an immigrant, I feel duty-bound to complete the tasks I am paid for, which means reaching out and trying to understand my fellow cruisers. So I put on a normal James Perse T-shirt and headed for one of the bars on the Royal Promenade—the Schooner Bar, it was called, if memory serves correctly.

I sat at the bar for a martini and two Negronis. An old man with thick, hairy forearms drank next to me, very silent and Hemingwaylike, while a dreadlocked piano player tinkled out a series of excellent Elton John covers. To my right, a young white couple—he in floral shorts, she in a light, summery miniskirt with a fearsome diamond ring, neither of them in football regalia—chatted with an elderly couple. Do it , I commanded myself. Open your mouth. Speak! Speak without being spoken to. Initiate. A sentence fragment caught my ear from the young woman, “Cherry Hill.” This is a suburb of Philadelphia in New Jersey, and I had once been there for a reading at a synagogue. “Excuse me,” I said gently to her. “Did you just mention Cherry Hill? It’s a lovely place.”

As it turned out, the couple now lived in Fort Lauderdale (the number of Floridians on the cruise surprised me, given that Southern Florida is itself a kind of cruise ship, albeit one slowly sinking), but soon they were talking with me exclusively—the man potbellied, with a chin like a hard-boiled egg; the woman as svelte as if she were one of the many Ukrainian members of the crew—the elderly couple next to them forgotten. This felt as groundbreaking as the first time I dared to address an American in his native tongue, as a child on a bus in Queens (“On my foot you are standing, Mister”).

“I don’t want to talk politics,” the man said. “But they’re going to eighty-six Biden and put Michelle in.”

I considered the contradictions of his opening conversational gambit, but decided to play along. “People like Michelle,” I said, testing the waters. The husband sneered, but the wife charitably put forward that the former first lady was “more personable” than Joe Biden. “They’re gonna eighty-six Biden,” the husband repeated. “He can’t put a sentence together.”

After I mentioned that I was a writer—though I presented myself as a writer of teleplays instead of novels and articles such as this one—the husband told me his favorite writer was Ayn Rand. “Ayn Rand, she came here with nothing,” the husband said. “I work with a lot of Cubans, so …” I wondered if I should mention what I usually do to ingratiate myself with Republicans or libertarians: the fact that my finances improved after pass-through corporations were taxed differently under Donald Trump. Instead, I ordered another drink and the couple did the same, and I told him that Rand and I were born in the same city, St. Petersburg/Leningrad, and that my family also came here with nothing. Now the bonding and drinking began in earnest, and several more rounds appeared. Until it all fell apart.

Read: Gary Shteyngart on watching Russian television for five days straight

My new friend, whom I will refer to as Ayn, called out to a buddy of his across the bar, and suddenly a young couple, both covered in tattoos, appeared next to us. “He fucking punked me,” Ayn’s frat-boy-like friend called out as he put his arm around Ayn, while his sizable partner sizzled up to Mrs. Rand. Both of them had a look I have never seen on land—their eyes projecting absence and enmity in equal measure. In the ’90s, I drank with Russian soldiers fresh from Chechnya and wandered the streets of wartime Zagreb, but I have never seen such undisguised hostility toward both me and perhaps the universe at large. I was briefly introduced to this psychopathic pair, but neither of them wanted to have anything to do with me, and the tattooed woman would not even reveal her Christian name to me (she pretended to have the same first name as Mrs. Rand). To impress his tattooed friends, Ayn made fun of the fact that as a television writer, I’d worked on the series Succession (which, it would turn out, practically nobody on the ship had watched), instead of the far more palatable, in his eyes, zombie drama of last year. And then my new friends drifted away from me into an angry private conversation—“He punked me!”—as I ordered another drink for myself, scared of the dead-eyed arrivals whose gaze never registered in the dim wattage of the Schooner Bar, whose terrifying voices and hollow laughs grated like unoiled gears against the crooning of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.”

But today is a new day for me and my hangover. After breakfast, I explore the ship’s so-called neighborhoods . There’s the AquaDome, where one can find a food hall and an acrobatic sound-and-light aquatic show. Central Park has a premium steak house, a sushi joint, and a used Rolex that can be bought for $8,000 on land here proudly offered at $17,000. There’s the aforementioned Royal Promenade, where I had drunk with the Rands, and where a pair of dueling pianos duel well into the night. There’s Surfside, a kids’ neighborhood full of sugary garbage, which looks out onto the frothy trail that the behemoth leaves behind itself. Thrill Island refers to the collection of tubes that clutter the ass of the ship and offer passengers six waterslides and a surfing simulation. There’s the Hideaway, an adult zone that plays music from a vomit-slathered, Brit-filled Alicante nightclub circa 1996 and proves a big favorite with groups of young Latin American customers. And, most hurtfully, there’s the Suite Neighborhood.

2 photos: a ship's foamy white wake stretches to the horizon; a man at reailing with water and two large ships docked behind

I say hurtfully because as a Suite passenger I should be here, though my particular suite is far from the others. Whereas I am stuck amid the riffraff of Deck 11, this section is on the highborn Decks 16 and 17, and in passing, I peek into the spacious, tall-ceilinged staterooms from the hallway, dazzled by the glint of the waves and sun. For $75,000, one multifloor suite even comes with its own slide between floors, so that a family may enjoy this particular terror in private. There is a quiet splendor to the Suite Neighborhood. I see fewer stickers and signs and drawings than in my own neighborhood—for example, MIKE AND DIANA PROUDLY SERVED U.S. MARINE CORPS RETIRED . No one here needs to announce their branch of service or rank; they are simply Suites, and this is where they belong. Once again, despite my hard work and perseverance, I have been disallowed from the true American elite. Once again, I am “Not our class, dear.” I am reminded of watching The Love Boat on my grandmother’s Zenith, which either was given to her or we found in the trash (I get our many malfunctioning Zeniths confused) and whose tube got so hot, I would put little chunks of government cheese on a thin tissue atop it to give our welfare treat a pleasant, Reagan-era gooeyness. I could not understand English well enough then to catch the nuances of that seafaring program, but I knew that there were differences in the status of the passengers, and that sometimes those differences made them sad. Still, this ship, this plenty—every few steps, there are complimentary nachos or milkshakes or gyros on offer—was the fatty fuel of my childhood dreams. If only I had remained a child.

I walk around the outdoor decks looking for company. There is a middle-aged African American couple who always seem to be asleep in each other’s arms, probably exhausted from the late capitalism they regularly encounter on land. There is far more diversity on this ship than I expected. Many couples are a testament to Loving v. Virginia , and there is a large group of folks whose T-shirts read MELANIN AT SEA / IT’S THE MELANIN FOR ME . I smile when I see them, but then some young kids from the group makes Mr. Washy Washy do a cruel, caricatured “Burger Dance” (today he is in his burger getup), and I think, Well, so much for intersectionality .

At the infinity pool on Deck 17, I spot some elderly women who could be ethnic and from my part of the world, and so I jump in. I am proved correct! Many of them seem to be originally from Queens (“Corona was still great when it was all Italian”), though they are now spread across the tristate area. We bond over the way “Ron-kon-koma” sounds when announced in Penn Station.

“Everyone is here for a different reason,” one of them tells me. She and her ex-husband last sailed together four years ago to prove to themselves that their marriage was truly over. Her 15-year-old son lost his virginity to “an Irish young lady” while their ship was moored in Ravenna, Italy. The gaggle of old-timers competes to tell me their favorite cruising stories and tips. “A guy proposed in Central Park a couple of years ago”—many Royal Caribbean ships apparently have this ridiculous communal area—“and she ran away screaming!” “If you’re diamond-class, you get four drinks for free.” “A different kind of passenger sails out of Bayonne.” (This, perhaps, is racially coded.) “Sometimes, if you tip the bartender $5, your next drink will be free.”

“Everyone’s here for a different reason,” the woman whose marriage ended on a cruise tells me again. “Some people are here for bad reasons—the drinkers and the gamblers. Some people are here for medical reasons.” I have seen more than a few oxygen tanks and at least one woman clearly undergoing very serious chemo. Some T-shirts celebrate good news about a cancer diagnosis. This might be someone’s last cruise or week on Earth. For these women, who have spent months, if not years, at sea, cruising is a ritual as well as a life cycle: first love, last love, marriage, divorce, death.

Read: The last place on Earth any tourist should go

I have talked with these women for so long, tonight I promise myself that after a sad solitary dinner I will not try to seek out company at the bars in the mall or the adult-themed Hideaway. I have enough material to fulfill my duties to this publication. As I approach my orphaned suite, I run into the aggro young people who stole Mr. and Mrs. Rand away from me the night before. The tattooed apparitions pass me without a glance. She is singing something violent about “Stuttering Stanley” (a character in a popular horror movie, as I discover with my complimentary VOOM SM Surf & Stream Internet at Sea) and he’s loudly shouting about “all the money I’ve lost,” presumably at the casino in the bowels of the ship.

So these bent psychos out of a Cormac McCarthy novel are angrily inhabiting my deck. As I mewl myself to sleep, I envision a limited series for HBO or some other streamer, a kind of low-rent White Lotus , where several aggressive couples conspire to throw a shy intellectual interloper overboard. I type the scenario into my phone. As I fall asleep, I think of what the woman who recently divorced her husband and whose son became a man through the good offices of the Irish Republic told me while I was hoisting myself out of the infinity pool. “I’m here because I’m an explorer. I’m here because I’m trying something new.” What if I allowed myself to believe in her fantasy?

2 photos: 2 slices of pizza on plate; man in "Daddy's Little Meatball" shirt and shorts standing in outdoor dining area with ship's exhaust stacks in background

“YOU REALLY STARTED AT THE TOP,” they tell me. I’m at the Coastal Kitchen for my eggs and corned-beef hash, and the maître d’ has slotted me in between two couples. Fueled by coffee or perhaps intrigued by my relative youth, they strike up a conversation with me. As always, people are shocked that this is my first cruise. They contrast the Icon favorably with all the preceding liners in the Royal Caribbean fleet, usually commenting on the efficiency of the elevators that hurl us from deck to deck (as in many large corporate buildings, the elevators ask you to choose a floor and then direct you to one of many lifts). The couple to my right, from Palo Alto—he refers to his “porn mustache” and calls his wife “my cougar” because she is two years older—tell me they are “Pandemic Pinnacles.”

This is the day that my eyes will be opened. Pinnacles , it is explained to me over translucent cantaloupe, have sailed with Royal Caribbean for 700 ungodly nights. Pandemic Pinnacles took advantage of the two-for-one accrual rate of Pinnacle points during the pandemic, when sailing on a cruise ship was even more ill-advised, to catapult themselves into Pinnacle status.

Because of the importance of the inaugural voyage of the world’s largest cruise liner, more than 200 Pinnacles are on this ship, a startling number, it seems. Mrs. Palo Alto takes out a golden badge that I have seen affixed over many a breast, which reads CROWN AND ANCHOR SOCIETY along with her name. This is the coveted badge of the Pinnacle. “You should hear all the whining in Guest Services,” her husband tells me. Apparently, the Pinnacles who are not also Suites like us are all trying to use their status to get into Coastal Kitchen, our elite restaurant. Even a Pinnacle needs to be a Suite to access this level of corned-beef hash.

“We’re just baby Pinnacles,” Mrs. Palo Alto tells me, describing a kind of internal class struggle among the Pinnacle elite for ever higher status.

And now I understand what the maître d’ was saying to me on the first day of my cruise. He wasn’t saying “ pendejo .” He was saying “Pinnacle.” The dining room was for Pinnacles only, all those older people rolling in like the tide on their motorized scooters.

And now I understand something else: This whole thing is a cult. And like most cults, it can’t help but mirror the endless American fight for status. Like Keith Raniere’s NXIVM, where different-colored sashes were given out to connote rank among Raniere’s branded acolytes, this is an endless competition among Pinnacles, Suites, Diamond-Plusers, and facing-the-mall, no-balcony purple SeaPass Card peasants, not to mention the many distinctions within each category. The more you cruise, the higher your status. No wonder a section of the Royal Promenade is devoted to getting passengers to book their next cruise during the one they should be enjoying now. No wonder desperate Royal Caribbean offers (“FINAL HOURS”) crowded my email account weeks before I set sail. No wonder the ship’s jewelry store, the Royal Bling, is selling a $100,000 golden chalice that will entitle its owner to drink free on Royal Caribbean cruises for life. (One passenger was already gaming out whether her 28-year-old son was young enough to “just about earn out” on the chalice or if that ship had sailed.) No wonder this ship was sold out months before departure , and we had to pay $19,000 for a horrid suite away from the Suite Neighborhood. No wonder the most mythical hero of Royal Caribbean lore is someone named Super Mario, who has cruised so often, he now has his own working desk on many ships. This whole experience is part cult, part nautical pyramid scheme.

From the June 2014 issue: Ship of wonks

“The toilets are amazing,” the Palo Altos are telling me. “One flush and you’re done.” “They don’t understand how energy-efficient these ships are,” the husband of the other couple is telling me. “They got the LNG”—liquefied natural gas, which is supposed to make the Icon a boon to the environment (a concept widely disputed and sometimes ridiculed by environmentalists).

But I’m thinking along a different line of attack as I spear my last pallid slice of melon. For my streaming limited series, a Pinnacle would have to get killed by either an outright peasant or a Suite without an ocean view. I tell my breakfast companions my idea.

“Oh, for sure a Pinnacle would have to be killed,” Mr. Palo Alto, the Pandemic Pinnacle, says, touching his porn mustache thoughtfully as his wife nods.

“THAT’S RIGHT, IT’S your time, buddy!” Hubert, my fun-loving Panamanian cabin attendant, shouts as I step out of my suite in a robe. “Take it easy, buddy!”

I have come up with a new dressing strategy. Instead of trying to impress with my choice of T-shirts, I have decided to start wearing a robe, as one does at a resort property on land, with a proper spa and hammam. The response among my fellow cruisers has been ecstatic. “Look at you in the robe!” Mr. Rand cries out as we pass each other by the Thrill Island aqua park. “You’re living the cruise life! You know, you really drank me under the table that night.” I laugh as we part ways, but my soul cries out, Please spend more time with me, Mr. and Mrs. Rand; I so need the company .

In my white robe, I am a stately presence, a refugee from a better limited series, a one-man crossover episode. (Only Suites are granted these robes to begin with.) Today, I will try many of the activities these ships have on offer to provide their clientele with a sense of never-ceasing motion. Because I am already at Thrill Island, I decide to climb the staircase to what looks like a mast on an old-fashioned ship (terrified, because I am afraid of heights) to try a ride called “Storm Chasers,” which is part of the “Category 6” water park, named in honor of one of the storms that may someday do away with the Port of Miami entirely. Storm Chasers consists of falling from the “mast” down a long, twisting neon tube filled with water, like being the camera inside your own colonoscopy, as you hold on to the handles of a mat, hoping not to die. The tube then flops you down headfirst into a trough of water, a Royal Caribbean baptism. It both knocks my breath out and makes me sad.

In keeping with the aquatic theme, I attend a show at the AquaDome. To the sound of “Live and Let Die,” a man in a harness gyrates to and fro in the sultry air. I saw something very similar in the back rooms of the famed Berghain club in early-aughts Berlin. Soon another harnessed man is gyrating next to the first. Ja , I think to myself, I know how this ends. Now will come the fisting , natürlich . But the show soon devolves into the usual Marvel-film-grade nonsense, with too much light and sound signifying nichts . If any fisting is happening, it is probably in the Suite Neighborhood, inside a cabin marked with an upside-down pineapple, which I understand means a couple are ready to swing, and I will see none of it.

I go to the ice show, which is a kind of homage—if that’s possible—to the periodic table, done with the style and pomp and masterful precision that would please the likes of Kim Jong Un, if only he could afford Royal Caribbean talent. At one point, the dancers skate to the theme song of Succession . “See that!” I want to say to my fellow Suites—at “cultural” events, we have a special section reserved for us away from the commoners—“ Succession ! It’s even better than the zombie show! Open your minds!”

Finally, I visit a comedy revue in an enormous and too brightly lit version of an “intimate,” per Royal Caribbean literature, “Manhattan comedy club.” Many of the jokes are about the cruising life. “I’ve lived on ships for 20 years,” one of the middle-aged comedians says. “I can only see so many Filipino homosexuals dressed as a taco.” He pauses while the audience laughs. “I am so fired tonight,” he says. He segues into a Trump impression and then Biden falling asleep at the microphone, which gets the most laughs. “Anyone here from Fort Leonard Wood?” another comedian asks. Half the crowd seems to cheer. As I fall asleep that night, I realize another connection I have failed to make, and one that may explain some of the diversity on this vessel—many of its passengers have served in the military.

As a coddled passenger with a suite, I feel like I am starting to understand what it means to have a rank and be constantly reminded of it. There are many espresso makers , I think as I look across the expanse of my officer-grade quarters before closing my eyes, but this one is mine .

photo of sheltered sandy beach with palms, umbrellas, and chairs with two large docked cruise ships in background

A shocking sight greets me beyond the pools of Deck 17 as I saunter over to the Coastal Kitchen for my morning intake of slightly sour Americanos. A tiny city beneath a series of perfectly pressed green mountains. Land! We have docked for a brief respite in Basseterre, the capital of St. Kitts and Nevis. I wolf down my egg scramble to be one of the first passengers off the ship. Once past the gangway, I barely refrain from kissing the ground. I rush into the sights and sounds of this scruffy island city, sampling incredible conch curry and buckets of non-Starbucks coffee. How wonderful it is to be where God intended humans to be: on land. After all, I am neither a fish nor a mall rat. This is my natural environment. Basseterre may not be Havana, but there are signs of human ingenuity and desire everywhere you look. The Black Table Grill Has been Relocated to Soho Village, Market Street, Directly Behind of, Gary’s Fruits and Flower Shop. Signed. THE PORK MAN reads a sign stuck to a wall. Now, that is how you write a sign. A real sign, not the come-ons for overpriced Rolexes that blink across the screens of the Royal Promenade.

“Hey, tie your shoestring!” a pair of laughing ladies shout to me across the street.

“Thank you!” I shout back. Shoestring! “Thank you very much.”

A man in Independence Square Park comes by and asks if I want to play with his monkey. I haven’t heard that pickup line since the Penn Station of the 1980s. But then he pulls a real monkey out of a bag. The monkey is wearing a diaper and looks insane. Wonderful , I think, just wonderful! There is so much life here. I email my editor asking if I can remain on St. Kitts and allow the Icon to sail off into the horizon without me. I have even priced a flight home at less than $300, and I have enough material from the first four days on the cruise to write the entire story. “It would be funny …” my editor replies. “Now get on the boat.”

As I slink back to the ship after my brief jailbreak, the locals stand under umbrellas to gaze at and photograph the boat that towers over their small capital city. The limousines of the prime minister and his lackeys are parked beside the gangway. St. Kitts, I’ve been told, is one of the few islands that would allow a ship of this size to dock.

“We hear about all the waterslides,” a sweet young server in one of the cafés told me. “We wish we could go on the ship, but we have to work.”

“I want to stay on your island,” I replied. “I love it here.”

But she didn’t understand how I could possibly mean that.

“WASHY, WASHY, so you don’t get stinky, stinky!” kids are singing outside the AquaDome, while their adult minders look on in disapproval, perhaps worried that Mr. Washy Washy is grooming them into a life of gayness. I heard a southern couple skip the buffet entirely out of fear of Mr. Washy Washy.

Meanwhile, I have found a new watering hole for myself, the Swim & Tonic, the biggest swim-up bar on any cruise ship in the world. Drinking next to full-size, nearly naked Americans takes away one’s own self-consciousness. The men have curvaceous mom bodies. The women are equally un-shy about their sprawling physiques.

Today I’ve befriended a bald man with many children who tells me that all of the little trinkets that Royal Caribbean has left us in our staterooms and suites are worth a fortune on eBay. “Eighty dollars for the water bottle, 60 for the lanyard,” the man says. “This is a cult.”

“Tell me about it,” I say. There is, however, a clientele for whom this cruise makes perfect sense. For a large middle-class family (he works in “supply chains”), seven days in a lower-tier cabin—which starts at $1,800 a person—allow the parents to drop off their children in Surfside, where I imagine many young Filipina crew members will take care of them, while the parents are free to get drunk at a swim-up bar and maybe even get intimate in their cabin. Cruise ships have become, for a certain kind of hardworking family, a form of subsidized child care.

There is another man I would like to befriend at the Swim & Tonic, a tall, bald fellow who is perpetually inebriated and who wears a necklace studded with little rubber duckies in sunglasses, which, I am told, is a sort of secret handshake for cruise aficionados. Tomorrow, I will spend more time with him, but first the ship docks at St. Thomas, in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Charlotte Amalie, the capital, is more charming in name than in presence, but I still all but jump off the ship to score a juicy oxtail and plantains at the well-known Petite Pump Room, overlooking the harbor. From one of the highest points in the small city, the Icon of the Seas appears bigger than the surrounding hills.

I usually tan very evenly, but something about the discombobulation of life at sea makes me forget the regular application of sunscreen. As I walk down the streets of Charlotte Amalie in my fluorescent Icon of the Seas cap, an old Rastafarian stares me down. “Redneck,” he hisses.

“No,” I want to tell him, as I bring a hand up to my red neck, “that’s not who I am at all. On my island, Mannahatta, as Whitman would have it, I am an interesting person living within an engaging artistic milieu. I do not wish to use the Caribbean as a dumping ground for the cruise-ship industry. I love the work of Derek Walcott. You don’t understand. I am not a redneck. And if I am, they did this to me.” They meaning Royal Caribbean? Its passengers? The Rands?

“They did this to me!”

Back on the Icon, some older matrons are muttering about a run-in with passengers from the Celebrity cruise ship docked next to us, the Celebrity Apex. Although Celebrity Cruises is also owned by Royal Caribbean, I am made to understand that there is a deep fratricidal beef between passengers of the two lines. “We met a woman from the Apex,” one matron says, “and she says it was a small ship and there was nothing to do. Her face was as tight as a 19-year-old’s, she had so much surgery.” With those words, and beneath a cloudy sky, humidity shrouding our weathered faces and red necks, we set sail once again, hopefully in the direction of home.

photo from inside of spacious geodesic-style glass dome facing ocean, with stairwells and seating areas

THERE ARE BARELY 48 HOURS LEFT to the cruise, and the Icon of the Seas’ passengers are salty. They know how to work the elevators. They know the Washy Washy song by heart. They understand that the chicken gyro at “Feta Mediterranean,” in the AquaDome Market, is the least problematic form of chicken on the ship.

The passengers have shed their INAUGURAL CRUISE T-shirts and are now starting to evince political opinions. There are caps pledging to make America great again and T-shirts that celebrate words sometimes attributed to Patrick Henry: “The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people; it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government.” With their preponderance of FAMILY FLAG FAITH FRIENDS FIREARMS T-shirts, the tables by the crepe station sometimes resemble the Capitol Rotunda on January 6. The Real Anthony Fauci , by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., appears to be a popular form of literature, especially among young men with very complicated versions of the American flag on their T-shirts. Other opinions blend the personal and the political. “Someone needs to kill Washy guy, right?” a well-dressed man in the elevator tells me, his gray eyes radiating nothing. “Just beat him to death. Am I right?” I overhear the male member of a young couple whisper, “There goes that freak” as I saunter by in my white spa robe, and I decide to retire it for the rest of the cruise.

I visit the Royal Bling to see up close the $100,000 golden chalice that entitles you to free drinks on Royal Caribbean forever. The pleasant Serbian saleslady explains that the chalice is actually gold-plated and covered in white zirconia instead of diamonds, as it would otherwise cost $1 million. “If you already have everything,” she explains, “this is one more thing you can get.”

I believe that anyone who works for Royal Caribbean should be entitled to immediate American citizenship. They already speak English better than most of the passengers and, per the Serbian lady’s sales pitch above, better understand what America is as well. Crew members like my Panamanian cabin attendant seem to work 24 hours a day. A waiter from New Delhi tells me that his contract is six months and three weeks long. After a cruise ends, he says, “in a few hours, we start again for the next cruise.” At the end of the half a year at sea, he is allowed a two-to-three-month stay at home with his family. As of 2019, the median income for crew members was somewhere in the vicinity of $20,000, according to a major business publication. Royal Caribbean would not share the current median salary for its crew members, but I am certain that it amounts to a fraction of the cost of a Royal Bling gold-plated, zirconia-studded chalice.

And because most of the Icon’s hyper-sanitized spaces are just a frittata away from being a Delta lounge, one forgets that there are actual sailors on this ship, charged with the herculean task of docking it in port. “Having driven 100,000-ton aircraft carriers throughout my career,” retired Admiral James G. Stavridis, the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe, writes to me, “I’m not sure I would even know where to begin with trying to control a sea monster like this one nearly three times the size.” (I first met Stavridis while touring Army bases in Germany more than a decade ago.)

Today, I decide to head to the hot tub near Swim & Tonic, where some of the ship’s drunkest reprobates seem to gather (the other tubs are filled with families and couples). The talk here, like everywhere else on the ship, concerns football, a sport about which I know nothing. It is apparent that four teams have recently competed in some kind of finals for the year, and that two of them will now face off in the championship. Often when people on the Icon speak, I will try to repeat the last thing they said with a laugh or a nod of disbelief. “Yes, 20-yard line! Ha!” “Oh my God, of course, scrimmage.”

Soon we are joined in the hot tub by the late-middle-age drunk guy with the duck necklace. He is wearing a bucket hat with the legend HAWKEYES , which, I soon gather, is yet another football team. “All right, who turned me in?” Duck Necklace says as he plops into the tub beside us. “I get a call in the morning,” he says. “It’s security. Can you come down to the dining room by 10 a.m.? You need to stay away from the members of this religious family.” Apparently, the gregarious Duck Necklace had photobombed the wrong people. There are several families who present as evangelical Christians or practicing Muslims on the ship. One man, evidently, was not happy that Duck Necklace had made contact with his relatives. “It’s because of religious stuff; he was offended. I put my arm around 20 people a day.”

Everyone laughs. “They asked me three times if I needed medication,” he says of the security people who apparently interrogated him in full view of others having breakfast.

Another hot-tub denizen suggests that he should have asked for fentanyl. After a few more drinks, Duck Necklace begins to muse about what it would be like to fall off the ship. “I’m 62 and I’m ready to go,” he says. “I just don’t want a shark to eat me. I’m a huge God guy. I’m a Bible guy. There’s some Mayan theory squaring science stuff with religion. There is so much more to life on Earth.” We all nod into our Red Stripes.

“I never get off the ship when we dock,” he says. He tells us he lost $6,000 in the casino the other day. Later, I look him up, and it appears that on land, he’s a financial adviser in a crisp gray suit, probably a pillar of his North Chicago community.

photo of author smiling and holding soft-serve ice-cream cone with outdoor seating area in background

THE OCEAN IS TEEMING with fascinating life, but on the surface it has little to teach us. The waves come and go. The horizon remains ever far away.

I am constantly told by my fellow passengers that “everybody here has a story.” Yes, I want to reply, but everybody everywhere has a story. You, the reader of this essay, have a story, and yet you’re not inclined to jump on a cruise ship and, like Duck Necklace, tell your story to others at great pitch and volume. Maybe what they’re saying is that everybody on this ship wants to have a bigger, more coherent, more interesting story than the one they’ve been given. Maybe that’s why there’s so much signage on the doors around me attesting to marriages spent on the sea. Maybe that’s why the Royal Caribbean newsletter slipped under my door tells me that “this isn’t a vacation day spent—it’s bragging rights earned.” Maybe that’s why I’m so lonely.

Today is a big day for Icon passengers. Today the ship docks at Royal Caribbean’s own Bahamian island, the Perfect Day at CocoCay. (This appears to be the actual name of the island.) A comedian at the nightclub opined on what his perfect day at CocoCay would look like—receiving oral sex while learning that his ex-wife had been killed in a car crash (big laughter). But the reality of the island is far less humorous than that.

One of the ethnic tristate ladies in the infinity pool told me that she loved CocoCay because it had exactly the same things that could be found on the ship itself. This proves to be correct. It is like the Icon, but with sand. The same tired burgers, the same colorful tubes conveying children and water from Point A to B. The same swim-up bar at its Hideaway ($140 for admittance, no children allowed; Royal Caribbean must be printing money off its clientele). “There was almost a fight at The Wizard of Oz ,” I overhear an elderly woman tell her companion on a chaise lounge. Apparently one of the passengers began recording Royal Caribbean’s intellectual property and “three guys came after him.”

I walk down a pathway to the center of the island, where a sign reads DO NOT ENTER: YOU HAVE REACHED THE BOUNDARY OF ADVENTURE . I hear an animal scampering in the bushes. A Royal Caribbean worker in an enormous golf cart soon chases me down and takes me back to the Hideaway, where I run into Mrs. Rand in a bikini. She becomes livid telling me about an altercation she had the other day with a woman over a towel and a deck chair. We Suites have special towel privileges; we do not have to hand over our SeaPass Card to score a towel. But the Rands are not Suites. “People are so entitled here,” Mrs. Rand says. “It’s like the airport with all its classes.” “You see,” I want to say, “this is where your husband’s love of Ayn Rand runs into the cruelties and arbitrary indignities of unbridled capitalism.” Instead we make plans to meet for a final drink in the Schooner Bar tonight (the Rands will stand me up).

Back on the ship, I try to do laps, but the pool (the largest on any cruise ship, naturally) is fully trashed with the detritus of American life: candy wrappers, a slowly dissolving tortilla chip, napkins. I take an extra-long shower in my suite, then walk around the perimeter of the ship on a kind of exercise track, past all the alluring lifeboats in their yellow-and-white livery. Maybe there is a dystopian angle to the HBO series that I will surely end up pitching, one with shades of WALL-E or Snowpiercer . In a collapsed world, a Royal Caribbean–like cruise liner sails from port to port, collecting new shipmates and supplies in exchange for the precious energy it has on board. (The actual Icon features a new technology that converts passengers’ poop into enough energy to power the waterslides . In the series, this shitty technology would be greatly expanded.) A very young woman (18? 19?), smart and lonely, who has only known life on the ship, walks along the same track as I do now, contemplating jumping off into the surf left by its wake. I picture reusing Duck Necklace’s words in the opening shot of the pilot. The girl is walking around the track, her eyes on the horizon; maybe she’s highborn—a Suite—and we hear the voice-over: “I’m 19 and I’m ready to go. I just don’t want a shark to eat me.”

Before the cruise is finished, I talk to Mr. Washy Washy, or Nielbert of the Philippines. He is a sweet, gentle man, and I thank him for the earworm of a song he has given me and for keeping us safe from the dreaded norovirus. “This is very important to me, getting people to wash their hands,” he tells me in his burger getup. He has dreams, as an artist and a performer, but they are limited in scope. One day he wants to dress up as a piece of bacon for the morning shift.

THE MAIDEN VOYAGE OF THE TITANIC (the Icon of the Seas is five times as large as that doomed vessel) at least offered its passengers an exciting ending to their cruise, but when I wake up on the eighth day, all I see are the gray ghosts that populate Miami’s condo skyline. Throughout my voyage, my writer friends wrote in to commiserate with me. Sloane Crosley, who once covered a three-day spa mini-cruise for Vogue , tells me she felt “so very alone … I found it very untethering.” Gideon Lewis-Kraus writes in an Instagram comment: “When Gary is done I think it’s time this genre was taken out back and shot.” And he is right. To badly paraphrase Adorno: After this, no more cruise stories. It is unfair to put a thinking person on a cruise ship. Writers typically have difficult childhoods, and it is cruel to remind them of the inherent loneliness that drove them to writing in the first place. It is also unseemly to write about the kind of people who go on cruises. Our country does not provide the education and upbringing that allow its citizens an interior life. For the creative class to point fingers at the large, breasty gentlemen adrift in tortilla-chip-laden pools of water is to gather a sour harvest of low-hanging fruit.

A day or two before I got off the ship, I decided to make use of my balcony, which I had avoided because I thought the view would only depress me further. What I found shocked me. My suite did not look out on Central Park after all. This entire time, I had been living in the ship’s Disneyland, Surfside, the neighborhood full of screaming toddlers consuming milkshakes and candy. And as I leaned out over my balcony, I beheld a slight vista of the sea and surf that I thought I had been missing. It had been there all along. The sea was frothy and infinite and blue-green beneath the span of a seagull’s wing. And though it had been trod hard by the world’s largest cruise ship, it remained.

This article appears in the May 2024 print edition with the headline “A Meatball at Sea.” When you buy a book using a link on this page, we receive a commission. Thank you for supporting The Atlantic.

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Alaska Airlines' Newest Rewards Program Offers 50% Off Flights to the Maldives, Caribbean, and More in Miles

The airline's new Global Getaways program offers up to 50 percent off award flights to a list of destinations that will change quarterly.

Levente Bodo/Getty Images

Travelers dreaming of aspirational destinations like Bali and the Maldives can now get there more easily with airline miles.

Alaska Airlines has announced the launch of its new Global Getaways program, offering up to 50 percent off award flights to a list of destinations that will change quarterly. This time around, travelers can take advantage of discounted one-way fares to the following destinations:

  • Bahamas: Starting at 15,000 miles
  • Fiji and Tahiti: Starting at 20,000 miles
  • Zanzibar, Bali, and the Maldives: Starting at 30,000 miles

The current promotion is valid for economy and premium economy flights booked by April 30 for travel between September 1 and November 30. Travelers will need to pay carrier and government-imposed taxes and fees starting at $5.60 one-way but can charge at least $100 for international flights.

Travelers will also allowed to add one stopover destination for up to 14 days on international itineraries, stretching the value even further by offering two trips for the price of one. Alaska partners with a long list of international partners, so travelers can book award flights at a steeply discounted rate on Fiji Airways and Japan Airlines, among others.

“That once-in-a-lifetime trip is even closer with our quarterly Global Getaways promotion for discounted award travel to fabulous, far-flung locales,” said vice president of loyalty, alliances, and sales, Brett Catlin, at Alaska Airlines in a statement. “We’re continuing to invest in making Mileage Plan the most rewarding loyalty program with the industry’s most valuable currency.”

These award flights are automatically discounted on Alaska’s website and can be found by looking up flights to eligible destinations with the “Use Miles” function. 

Travel + Leisure tested out this deal by searching for a round-trip flight between Los Angeles and the Maldives. There were plenty of eligible travel dates, and the final cost came to 60,000 miles round-trip and roughly $650 in taxes to fly via Doha on Qatar Airways.  

Alaska Airline Mileage Plan miles can be earned by flying Alaska and its partner carriers, spending on a cobranded card, or transferring points from the Bilt Rewards program at a 1:1 ratio.

Is It Safe in Moscow?

travelling to caribbean

Stanislav Solntsev / Getty Images

When you visit Moscow , Russia, you’re seeing one of the world’s largest, and most expensive, capital cities . While there is a history of violent crime against foreign journalists and aid personnel in Russia, a trip to Moscow is usually safe for mainstream travelers. Most tourists in Moscow only face potential issues with petty crime, though terrorism is also a concern. Visitors should stick to the principal tourist areas and abide by the local security advice.

Travel Advisories

  • The U.S. Department of State urges travelers to avoid travel to Russia because of COVID-19 and to "exercise increased caution due to terrorism, harassment, and the arbitrary enforcement of local laws."  
  • Anyone exploring more of Russia should avoid "The North Caucasus, including Chechnya and Mount Elbrus, due to terrorism, kidnapping,   and   risk of civil unrest." Also, travelers should stay away from "Crimea due to Russia’s occupation of the Ukrainian territory   and   abuses by its occupying authorities."  
  • Canada states travelers should use a high degree of caution in Russia due to the threat of terrorism and crime.  

Is Moscow Dangerous?

The Moscow city center is typically safe. In general, the closer you are to the Kremlin , the better. Travelers mainly need to be aware of their surroundings and look out for petty crime. Be especially careful in tourist areas such as Arbat Street and crowded places like the Moscow Metro transit system. The suburbs are also generally fine, though it is advised to stay away from Maryino and Perovo districts.

Terrorism has occurred in the Moscow area, leading authorities to increase security measures. Be more careful at tourist and transportation hubs, places of worship, government buildings, schools, airports, crowds, open markets, and additional tourist sites.

Pickpockets and purse snatching happen often in Russia, perpetrated by groups of children and teenagers who distract tourists to get their wallets and credit cards. Beware of people asking you for help, who then trick you into their scheme. Don’t expect a backpack to be a safe bag bet; instead, invest in something that you can clutch close to your body or purchase a money belt . Always diversify, storing some money in a separate location so that if you are pickpocketed, you'll have cash elsewhere. Keep an eye out for thieves in public transportation, underground walkways, tourist spots, restaurants, hotel rooms and homes, restaurants, and markets.

Is Moscow Safe for Solo Travelers?

Large cities like Moscow in Russia are overall fairly safe if you are traveling alone, and the Moscow Metro public transit is a secure and easy way to get around. But it is still a good idea to follow basic precautions as in any destination. Avoid exploring alone at night, especially in bad areas. You may want to learn some basic Russian phrases or bring a dictionary, as many locals don't speak English. However, in case you need any help, there are tourist police that speak English. Also, exploring with other trusted travelers and locals or on professional tours is often a good way to feel safe.

Is Moscow Safe for Female Travelers?

Catcalling and street harassment are infrequent in Moscow and the rest of Russia and females traveling alone don't usually have problems. There are plenty of police officers on the streets as well. Still, it serves to stick to Moscow's well-lit, public areas, avoid solo night walks, and use your instincts. Women frequenting bars may take receive some friendly attention. Females can wear whatever they want, but those entering Orthodox churches will be required to cover up. Though women in Russia are independent, domestic violence and other inequality issues take place regularly.

Safety Tips for LGBTQ+ Travelers

Russia is not known as a gay-friendly country. However, Moscow is one of the more welcoming cities with a blooming LGBTQ+ community and many friendly restaurants, bars, clubs, and other venues. Hate crimes in Russia have increased since the 2013 anti-gay propaganda law. Openly LGBTQ+ tourists in this conservative country may experience homophobic remarks, discrimination, or even violence, especially if traveling with a partner. Also, while women hold hands or hug publicly—whether romantically involved or not—men should avoid public displays of affection to prevent being insulted or other issues.

Safety Tips for BIPOC Travelers

Moscow  and other big cities in Russia have sizable populations of various cultures, so discrimination against BIPOC travelers is rarer than in other parts of the country where it can become dangerous. Some people living in Russia who are Black, Asian, Jewish, and from other backgrounds have experienced racial discrimination and violence. Tourists won't usually experience overt racism but may be the recipients of some stares. If anyone should bother you, be polite and resist being taunted into physically defending yourself.

Safety Tips for Travelers

Travelers should consider the following general tips when visiting:

  • It's best not to drink the tap water. If you do, boil it before drinking, though showering is safe and the amount used to brush teeth is generally not harmful. Mineral water is widely drunk, especially at restaurants, and if you prefer not to have it carbonated ask for “ voda byez gaz” (water without gas).
  • If you need emergency assistance in case of fire, terrorism, medical issues, or more, dial 112 in Russia for bilingual operators.
  • Be judicious about taking photographs, especially of police or officials. This can potentially bring unwanted attention to yourself by members of law enforcement who won’t mind asking to see your passport. Also avoid snapping photos of official-looking buildings, such as embassies and government headquarters.
  • Carry your passport in as secure a manner as possible. If you get stopped for any reason by the police, they can fine or arrest you if you don't have the document with you. Also, keep photocopies of your passport, the page on which your travel visa appears, and any other documents that relate to your stay in Russia.
  • Use official taxis only and steer clear of illegal taxi companies, especially at night. Ask your hotel to call a reputable taxi company.

U.S. Department of State. " Russia Travel Advisory ." August 6, 2020.

Government of Canada. " Official Global Travel Advisories ." November 19, 2020.

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  • Travel Updates

Father of 20yo who went overboard cruise ship believes he’s still alive

The search for a missing 20-year-old man who went overboard a cruise ship last Thursday has been called off but his father believes he’s still alive.

Shireen Khalil

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Hostie reveals which passengers she loves

The father of a man who went overboard a Royal Caribbean cruise last week believes his son is “still alive”.

Levion Parker, from Florida in the US, was holidaying with his family aboard Liberty of the Seas when tragedy struck.

The 20-year-old former high school football player and avid hunter had reportedly gone overboard at 4am last Thursday.

At the time, the 18-storey ship was returning to Fort Lauderdale in Florida after a four-day cruise to the Amber Cover cruise port in the Dominican Republic.

The US Coast Guard has since suspended its search for the missing young man, but his father Francel Parker, who was also abroad the cruise, believes his son is “still alive”.

“As soon as he went off the side, I prayed over him. I was confident the prayers I said over my son were heard. I stand on the word of God. I believe he is alive,” Mr Parker told local Florida paper the Daily Sun on Wednesday.

Levion Parker, 20, from Florida, has been identified as the young man who went overboard a Royal Caribbean cruise last Thursday. Picture: Facebook

He described his son as being a skilled diver who works on a commercial fishing boat.

Following the incident, a Royal Caribbean spokesperson told news.com.au the ship’s crew immediately launched a search and rescue effort alongside the US Coast Guard, who took over the search.

“Our Care Team is providing support and assistance to the guest’s family during this difficult time. For the privacy of the guest and their family, we have no additional details to share,” the spokesperson said on Monday.

Francel told the Daily Sun that he threw six life rings off the ship in hopes of saving his son before the vessel was able to come to a stop about 20 minutes later.

The ship, Liberty of the Seas, was returning to Fort Lauderdale in Florida following a four day cruise to the Amber Cover cruise port in the Dominican Republic.

When passengers woke up to the news, Amy Phelps Fouse, who was on-board the ship, said it was “definitely sombre”.

She told the New York Post many people came out of their cabins to stare at the sea, hoping to be able to aid in finding the person.

“Royal Caribbean has been excellent at communicating updates throughout the day,” she said of the incident on Thursday.

Levion Parker with his family.

“They have asked that people act with compassion in light of the tragic situation.”

Another passenger who took to Reddit to post about the heartbreaking incident said they became aware of the tragedy when the captain broke the news the following morning.

“They announced it over the PA system while we were at breakfast at the entire room went silent,” they wrote. “Then the rest of the cruise felt oddly casual.”

Levion’s father believes his son is still alive.

The young man was reportedly “drunk” on the night but details around this are unclear as the minimum age to consume alcohol on Royal Caribbean ships on voyages from North America or the Caribbean is 21.

“We don’t drink,” Levion’s father Francel said. “I’d like to know how my son was served so much alcohol.”

Passengers who woke up to the news described it the mood as ‘sombre’. Picture: Bruno Vincent/Getty

According to the Daily Mail , he was thought to be staying with his family on deck 10, a flight below the whirlpools and hot tubs of deck 11 where he had spent time with his brother and another passenger the night of the incident before things took a horrifying turn.

Levion Parker was a former high school football player and avid hunter. Picture: Facebook

Francel, who owns an airconditioning business, was invited, together with his family, aboard the ship as guests of Florida-based airconditioning wholesalers Tropic Supply to mark the company’s 50th anniversary.

Francel told the Daily Mail the family is consulting lawyers and is planning to issue a statement.

Travel lawyer Jim Walker said in a blog that Royal Caribbean along with the vast majority of US cruise companies have yet to install automatic man overboard systems as required by the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2010.

“Such automatic MOB systems utilise state-of-the-art motion detection, video and infra-red technology and radar to instantly detect when someone goes over the rails of a cruise ship,” he wrote.

More Coverage

travelling to caribbean

“The system can then track the person’s movements in the water even at night-time,” adding the infra-red technology would be crucial in assisting the ship in locating and rescuing the person in the water.

“Without such a system, the chances of locating an overboard person in the water at night it like finding a needle in a haystack.”

According to the Washington Post , about 386 people were reported to have gone overboard on the major cruise lines between 2000 to 2020.

Three stranded men have been rescued from a tiny Pacific island after crafting a “crucial” message on the sand.

A teenager was fatally stabbed during a deadly water tubing brawl on a river — and now a 54-year-old man has facing 100 years in jail.

A flight attendant has lifted the lid on passenger etiquette and revealed exactly what she’s love to see everyone on a plane do.

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25 Places to Visit in Moscow you Can’t Miss

Main Church of the Armed Forces in Park Patriot

25 Places to Visit in Moscow

Do you know what the most populous city in Europe is? Most people wouldn’t guess that it is actually Moscow. There are approximately 13 million people in the Moscow metro area, which amounts to approximately 1/10th of all Russians.

This former capitol of the Soviet Union is still the political and financial center of Russia. Just because it is a current business and government city, in no way means that it is boring and not worth a visit. Assuming the political tensions get solved, Moscow is a fascinating city you need to visit.

While lots of people can’t explain the nuances of Russian architecture, most can spot and appreciate it immediately. One of the best ways to see the historic sites is by taking a boat tour down the Moskva River that meanders through the city.

Overall, navigating the city isn’t difficult as there is phenomenal and cheap public transportation (roughly 30 rubles/35 cents per ride). You can also use a cheap Uber on the three ring roads that circle the city at various distances from the center.

Still wondering why you should visit this historic masterpiece of a city? Read on to see the top 25 things you need to see in Moscow.

The House with Animals

The animal house in Moscow Russia

This former church is famous for the terracotta reliefs of animals that adorn the front of the building. It is a favorite of locals, and famous around the world. It was built in approximately 1900.

Resurrection Gate or Iberian Gate and Chapel

The resurrection gate at the entrance to Red square.

The Resurrection Gate is now one of the most common ways to enter Red Square. This gate is also the only standing part of the wall that was the entrance to to Kitai-Gorod, or Moscow’s historic central business district.

Book your tour: Moscow Kremlin Armory Chamber Entrance Ticket

St. Basils Cathedral

Saint Basil's Cathedral in Moscow Russia.

Probably the most famous of the Red Square attractions is St. Basil’s Cathedral. I don’t know if the legend is true or not, but supposedly Tsar Ivan IV poked the eyes of the architect out after completing it so nothing as pretty could be made again. What an awful boss!

Book your tour: Moscow: Saint Basil’s Cathedral and Red Square Private Tour

Book your tour: St.Basil’s Cathedral and Red Square: Private Tour and Ticket

The State Historical Museum

State Historical museum on Red Square, Moscow.

If you are like me then you can’t help but find all the twists and turns of Russian history fascinating. The State Historical Museum at Red Square is a fantastic place to learn and study the Russian Relics.

Book your tour: Kremlin, Red Square, and Metro Tour with Pick-Up

Moscow River Cruise

Moscow river cruise

The Moskva River cuts directly through the heart of Moscow. Want to see it all but rest your feet? One of the best things to do in Moscow at night is float along on a dinner cruise . The lights of the city are so beautiful. Of course, dinner in included.

Book your tour: Night lights Moscow Cruise (with Dinner option)

Museum of Soviet Arcade Games

Machines in Museum of Soviet arcade machines

This is one of the most unique things to do in Moscow. If you know that many American video games paint the Russians as the bad guys, then it’s probably not surprising to learn that you can find an entirely different variety of video games in Russia. This isn’t a recent phenomenon; even historically the video games were different. If you are a video game buff then this stop is for you!

Main Church of the Armed Forces in Park Patriot near Kubinka

Main Church of the Armed Forces in Park Patriot

This church attempts to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus Christ as well as Russian military leader. Yes, it’s an awkward amalgamation. It caused quite a controversy when there were plans to create murals of Vladimir Putin and Joseph Stalin to go along with the ones of Jesus Christ (those plans were scrapped).

Bunker 42 (Cold War Museum)

Meeting room in Bunker 42 Museum of the Cold War - military history museum.

Tunnel at Bunker-42, anti-nuclear underground facility built in 1956 as command post of strategic nuclear forces of Soviet Union.

Americans weren’t the only ones afraid during the Cold War! You can now discover the most secret and secure Bunker of the USSR, Bunker 42. Also known as the Cold War Museum . This former military communication center is now a museum. I recommend this tour that will take you on a private two hour visit of Bunker 42.

If you aren’t interested in a guided tour you can book your tickets in advance here.

Get your tickets: Bunker 42 Admission Ticket and Cold War Tour

Tank Excursion and Bazooka Shooting in Moscow

The main Soviet tank of the Second World War

For real – you can book this tour and actually ride in a tank and shoot off military grade weapons. While that’s not my cup of tea, I know tons of guys would absolutely love to shoot a bazooka!

Book your tour here .

Dormition Cathedral

Dormition Cathedral Moscow

This is another Russian Orthodox cathedral that is located inside the Moscow Kremlin. It is another famous landmark of Moscow. The inside is decorated with ancient frescoes.

The Cathedral of the icon of the Mother of God “Sign”

Cathedral of the Icon of the Mother of God of the Sign in the Moscow park Zaryadye

This cathedral is located in Zaryadye Park (adjacent to Red Square). It is also on the Moskva River. The Cathedral of the icon of the Mother of God “Sign” previously was a monastery.

Komsomolskaya Metro station 

Komsomolskaya Metro station in Moscow.

So many of the metro stations are breathtaking works of art. The idea was to create something beautiful that all the regular people could enjoy, or if you are more cynical you could say it was to attempt to show off how well they were doing.

Book your tour: Moscow: Small Group Metro Tour

The Round houses at Dovzhenko Stree t

The Round houses at Dovzhenko Street Moscow

The Round houses at Dovzhenko Street look super cool and futuristic, except like many communist projects didn’t actually work that well. They were supposed to be something new and different from the standard “Soviet Blocks.”

There are a number of problems with this design. Supposedly the acoustics are awful making the apartments perpetually noisy. The inner circle becomes a wind chamber even when it’s not that windy. My favorite weakness is that the trapezoid shape of apartments is hard to decorate and even harder to do maintenance on.

Izmailovo District and Izmailovo Kremlin

Izmailovo Kremlin In The Center Of

This area has to be one of the coolest places to visit in Moscow. It features a park in the middle of Moscow that is over 3x the size of New York City’s Central Park. The Kremlin in Izmailovo is a complex located in the Eastern Administrative District of Moscow that is known as the center of culture and entertainment. The wooden buildings are in Russian architecture of the XVI-XVII centuries (not original).

Izmailovo Kremlin on Google Maps .

Tretyakov Gallery

retyakov State Gallery In Moscow

For those that appreciate fine art this is where you have to go. The State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow Russia is the best collection of Russian fine art in the world. The museum previously hosted worldwide chess tournaments (I can’t help be think of the Queen’s Gambit).

Book your tickets in advance here. Tickets cost about $13 per person.

Kolomenskoe Estate

Kolomenskoe Estate in Moscow Russia

This reconstruction of a former royal estate is just a few miles southeast of the Moscow city center. Supposedly really detailed historical plans survived, so the reconstruction and current museum is incredibly authentic. It was completed in 2010.

Old buildings of Arbat

Old buildings of Arbat Moscow Russia

Arbat is an old street, and was previously the “nicest place to live in Moscow. Even though it fell into disrepair, it’s location, it’s historical buildings, and the fact that it is a pedestrian street are quickly making it a top place to live again.

The Melnikov House

Famous house of architect Melnikov on Arbat street in Moscow Russia

Located on Arbat street, the Famous house of architect Melnikov designed this house (and Lenin’s sarcophagus). Melnikov designed it at a time when private ownership was outlawed, but got around this restriction by saying it was an experimental design to maximize space. Even though others weren’t built, he was able to keep it.

The New Maiden Convent

The New Maiden Convent, built was built to resemble a mini-Kremlin. It stands out to me because this “convent” was the place where women who were no longer welcome in the royal court were banished to.

Monument to the Conquerors of Space at the Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics in the Cosmopark

Monument to the Conquerors of Space at the Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics in the Cosmopark.

The Americans may have made it to the moon first, but the Russian cosmonauts were first in a number of other achievements. This gigantic obelisk pays homage to their accomplishments.

Tsaritsyno Museum Reserve

travelling to caribbean

This royal estate was founded by Catherine the Great. She was Russia’s longest serving female leader. It is now a gorgeous museum!

Stalinist Skyscraper tour

Stalinist Skyscrapers called The Seven Sisters

This group of seven skyscrapers are called the Seven Sisters. They were all made in the Stalinist style, and one was previously the tallest building in Europe. If you want to tour them all while learning about their history book here .

Cathedral of Christ the Savior

The Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow

It’s ironic that a country that was so anti-religion for so long has so many great churches. The Cathedral for Christ the Savior was made to thank Jesus for saving Russia. If you are interested in visiting this and so many other cathedrals in Moscow I recommend this tour that will take you to The Cathedral of Christ the Savior many other popular churches in Moscow.

Cathedral of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God

Cathedral of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God  in Red Square Moscow

This church on Red Square is reconstruction of what was previously there but ordered to be destroy by Joseph Stalin. It is a travesty thinking of all the beautiful things that Stalin destroyed to attempt to implement his vision.

Zaryade Park

glass dome in Zaryadye Park in Moscow

Zaryadye Park is one of the main tourist attractions in Moscow. It is located directly next to the Kremlin, and offers truly amazing views. It is also famous for its “floating bridge” and the fact that there are so many unique features underneath it.

Church of Sign of Blessed Virgin in Dubrovitsy Znamenskaya

Church of Sign of Blessed Virgin in Dubrovitsy Znamenskaya church

The Church of the Theotokos of the Sign (Dubrovitsy), or The Church of the Holy Sign of the Mother of God is located in a village amed Dubrovitsy about 20 miles south of Moscow. It is another Russian Orthodox church, but what makes this one unique is that we aren’t 100% sure who made it, or why is has a style that is completely different than other churches of the time.

The Church of Nicholas The Wonderworker

The Church of Nicholas The Wonderworker on Bersenevka in Moscow.

I love the unique style of the Russian Orthodox churches in Moscow. The golden onion domes stand out across the globe. This church dates back to 1657, though it has been partially destroyed a few times since then.

Moscow University

Moscow University in Russia

Moscow University is one of the Seven Sisters that are the “Stalin Skyscrapers.” Previously it was the tallest building in Europe. Though it has lost that title, it is still the tallest “educational building” in the world.

So what do you think? Next trip to Moscow?

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