Is there ever a bad time for a Caribbean vacation?
Aside from the threat of heavy rains during hurricane season, the region is generally blessed with consistently tropical temperatures, clear yet impossibly blue seas, infinite stretches of white sand, verdant rain forests and flavorful cuisine.
While weather conditions vary slightly between destinations, vacationers looking for a respite from the winter months almost universally head to the islands during high season, between December and April, when humidity is low and breezes are cool. (The influx of visitors does bring higher prices and more crowds, however.) Luckily, the region’s calendar is packed year-round, so there’s always something to do. The low and shoulder seasons are also the perfect time to snag a travel deal.
Here’s what to expect throughout the year.
Visit between December and mid-April for peak whale watching
If you’re from an area that typically experiences harsh winters or a cold climate, the consistently favorable and warm Caribbean appeals between December and April. Yet you’ll find that plenty of other travelers will also be flocking to the islands, too, which means less availability on flights and accommodation, higher room rates and airfare, and more-crowded beaches and attractions.
Even so, high season is the optimal time for whale watching. Dominica is the whale-watching capital of the region and the only country in the world sperm whales call home year-round. The French island of Guadeloupe harbors 15 species of whales and hosts multiple whale-watching excursions from December to May.
Key Events: Three Kings Festival, Puerto Rico; Sugar Mas, St Kitts and Nevis; Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, St Lucia
Find the best prices from June to November
While summer ushers in the Caribbean’s hurricane season, the increase in rainfall usually yields deals on everything from flights to hotel rooms. Wet weather doesn’t dampen the spirit of the either region or its resilient people. And many islands, such as St Lucia, St Vincent, Barbados and Antigua, indulge in the revelry and splendor of carnival (vaval) between June and August.
It’s also turtle-nesting season in Barbados, Bequia, Nevis and Dominica. In St Lucia, you can both decompress and satisfy your sweet tooth with decadent cocoa-infused tours, spa treatments and classes, where August is designated as Chocolate Heritage Month.
Key Events: Portland Jerk Festival, Jamaica; McLean’s Town Conch Cracking Festival, Bahamas; Pirate Week, Cayman Islands; Tour de Yoles Rondes, Martinique; Anguilla Tranquility Jazz Festival; Spicemas Grenada
Hit the beach from mid-April to June
Not only will you save money with discounts and deals during the region’s shoulder season, you will also avoid the touristy crowds. Your most difficult decision will be which alluring slice of sand to lounge on.
The Bahamas beckons with the silky, pale-pink sands of Harbour Island. Anguilla’s pristine Shoal Bay regularly features on best-beaches lists. In Antigua and Barbuda, you’ll have your choice of 365 beaches, all with warm and tranquil waters. And the Baths in the British Virgin Islands are unmatched for sheer natural beauty. Truthfully, you will find the perfect pocket of powdery sand and pellucid waters on almost any Caribbean island.
Key Events: Oistins Fish Festival, Barbados; French Surfing Competition, Guadeloupe; Hike Fest, Dominica
January is prime time for fishing in Grenada
Grenada’s azure waters are ideal for deep-sea fishing all year long – but the prime time for a good catch falls in the high season between December and April. The Spice Island Billfish Tournament draws anglers from around the region and beyond for a week of fishing, with local cuisine and music peppered throughout the festivities. The tournament follows international catch-and-release standards, allowing only potentially record-breaking billfish to be brought to the weigh station.
Trinidad & Tobago host the best Carnival in the region in February
The Caribbean is known worldwide for its commitment to carnival celebrations, with several islands hosting their own version of the flamboyant festival throughout the year. But the largest – and arguably best – carnival event of the region is held in Trinidad and Tobago. The pre-Lenten party attracts thousands of revelers annually for a nonstop stream of fetes, limbo competitions, pulsating calypso and soca rhythms, and an exuberant costumed parade. There's even a term for that post-carnival comedown, or depression, you’re guaranteed to feel at the end: “carnival tabanca.” Expect it to hit hard.
The unparalleled Bermuda International Film Festival happens in March
Since 1997, Bermuda has welcomed cinephiles for the Bermuda International Film Festival (BIFF). The nine-day extravaganza of world cinema is highly respected and features movies from the world's leading filmmakers and emerging talent. Attendees also have access to filmmaker Q&As, discussions, master classes and parties. In between panels, divers can take in Bermuda’s unparalleled views of the island’s coral and marine life, shipwrecks and underwater caves.
Head to Tobago in April for the Jazz Experience
Trinidad commands the bulk of the attention, but the smaller half of the twin-island republic, Tobago, offers an idyllic escape. The Tobago Jazz Experience is a marquee event on the island, an opportunity for visitors to soak in the easygoing yet intoxicating atmosphere of the island in between performances by world-renowned jazz, R&B, soca, calypso, reggae and Latin artists.
Antigua Sailing Week in May is one of the top regattas in the world
One of the top regattas in the world takes place in Antigua, just off the waters of English Harbour in Saint Paul Parish. Sailors from Russia to South Africa converge on the island in more than 100 yachts for equal parts competition and socializing during Antigua Sailing Week.
The St Kitts music fest in June features the best of Caribbean music
St Kitts may be tiny, yet the island’s music festival has a mighty international reputation. Besides the impressive lineup of soca, jazz, R&B, gospel and reggae performances, patrons can enjoy grabbing food from the local vendors onsite before settling in on a blanket for picnics on the expansive lawn at the Kim Collins Athletic Stadium in Basseterre.
Jamaica’s best party, Reggae Sumfest, takes place in July
Jamaica boasts myriad musical legends, with none greater than reggae icon Bob Marley. His genre is honored at Reggae Sumfest, the largest music festival in Jamaica – and the entire Caribbean. The week-long event kicks off with a beach party, followed by a free street dance, a global sound clash and an all-white party. The final two nights feature live performances from the best reggae and dancehall artists in the world. Past bills have included local superstars Ziggy Marley, Barrington Levy, Vybz Kartel, Spice and Beenie Man – and, for good measure, international powerhouses 50 Cent, Rihanna and others.
Kadooment Day on Barbados is August’s premier event
Barbados’ Crop Over tradition originated as a celebration to mark the end of the annual sugarcane harvest. Now it is the island’s premier event, combining music, arts, food and culture. The pièce de résistance of the three-month observance is the colorful, costumed carnival parade known as Kadooment Day, which takes place in early August.
Immerse yourself in Aruba’s history during Fiesta di Cunucu in September
Aruba’s Fiesta di Cunucu is an immersive experience exploring the island’s heritage through its traditional housing. During the exhibition, cunucu homes are furnished with antiquities from the community museum to provide an authentic replication of past living conditions. The program also integrates Aruban music, folkloric dances, handcrafts and a farmers market with fresh local produce.
Indulge in St Lucia’s best Creole cuisine during Jounen Kwéyòl in October
St Lucia honors its French and African cultural influences throughout October – and the main event is Jounen Kwéyòl (Creole Day), on the the last Sunday of the month. Select communities around the island host locals and visitors alike for musical and cultural performances – and, of course, serve up plenty of creole fare, such as callaloo soup, bouillon, smoked herring, coconut balls, accras (fishcakes) and green figs and saltfish, St Lucia’s national dish.
Turks & Caicos welcome the best chefs in the world in November
Foodies and wine lovers descend upon Turks & Caicos in early November for the Caribbean Food and Wine Festival. This event sees top international chefs dishing up gourmet meals and wine tastings, set against the paradisiacal backdrop of the islands’ turquoise waters and white-sand beaches.
The Bahamas celebrates Junkanoo in December
Carnival is not just a summer activity. The Bahamas celebrates both Boxing Day (the day after Christmas) and New Years Day with Junkanoo party parades in the capital of Nassau. But the vibrant pre-dawn festival vibe is also woven into celebrations in Bimini, the Exumas, Grand Bahama, Eleuthera and Harbour Island, the Abacos and all of the archipelago nation’s 16 islands.