You will likely have a chance to try out your bargaining skills at some point in the Caribbean, mostly with beach vendors and at tourist markets. Most shops and produce markets have fixed prices.
Dangers & Annoyances
In terms of individual safety and crime, the situation is quite varied in the Caribbean. Employ common sense.
- In big cities and tourist areas, take taxis at night.
- Avoid flashing your wealth, whether jewelry or blindly following your smartphone.
- Exercise extra caution in urban areas such as Pointe-à-Pitre (Guadeloupe), Fort-de-France (Martinique), some areas of Kingston (Jamaica), Port-au-Prince (Haiti) and downtown Port of Spain (Trinidad).
Feature: Manchineel Trees
Manchineel trees grow on beaches throughout the Caribbean. The fruit of the manchineel, which looks like a small green apple, is poisonous. The milky sap given off by the fruit and leaves can cause severe skin blisters, similar to the reaction caused by poison oak. If the sap gets in your eyes, it can result in temporary blindness. Never take shelter under the trees during a rainstorm, as the sap can be washed off the tree and onto anyone sitting below.
Manchineel trees can grow as high as 40ft (12m), with branches that spread widely. The leaves are green, shiny and elliptical in shape. On some of the more visited beaches, trees will be marked with warning signs or bands of red paint. Manchineel is called mancenillier on the French islands.
Embassies & Consulates
Nations such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US have embassies and consulates in the largest Caribbean countries. Check your government’s foreign affairs website for locations.
Emergency & Important Numbers
Emergency numbers vary from island to island.
Entry & Exit Formalities
Passport requirements vary from island to island, but visas aren't required for most nationalities.
All the Caribbean islands allow a reasonable amount of personal items to be brought in duty free, as well as an allowance of liquor and tobacco. Determining what you can take home depends on where you’re vacationing and your country of origin. Check with your country’s customs agency for clarification.
Requirements vary from island to island. Citizens of Canada, the EU and the US don’t need visas for visits of under 90 days throughout the region.
The Caribbean is famously laid-back, but it's also a place that insists on good manners.
- Greetings Always greet people properly, and treat elders with extra respect. That said, don't be surprised at the directness of many conversations.
- Dress Caribbean people dress smartly when they can (even more so when heading to a party or social event), and many government offices and banks have written dress codes on the door – beachwear should be confined to the beach.
- Island time Even though locals may be relaxed about the clock, it's always wise to turn up to appointments at the stated hour (but be prepared to wait).
Parts of the Caribbean are not particularly gay-friendly destinations and on many of the islands overt homophobia and machismo is prevalent.
Gay men and lesbians generally keep a low profile, and public hand-holding, kissing and other outward signs of affection are not commonplace. Homosexuality remains illegal in some countries, most notably Jamaica and Barbados.
Still, there are several niches for gay travelers. Particularly friendly islands include Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, Dominican Republic, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Puerto Rico, Saba, St-Martin/Sint Maarten and the US Virgin Islands.
Useful links include the following:
Damron (www.damron.com) The USA’s leading gay publisher offers guides to world cities.
Spartacus International Gay Guide (www.spartacusworld.com) A male-only directory of gay entertainment venues and hotels.
It’s foolhardy to travel without insurance to cover theft, loss and medical problems. Check that your policy includes emergency medical evacuation costs, and any activities deemed risky by insurers, such as scuba diving or other adventure sports.
Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel_services. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.
Checking insurance quotes…
Internet access and wi-fi is generally easily found throughout most of the Caribbean.
Due to the stereotype that pot-smoking is widespread in the Caribbean (it isn’t), some visitors take a casual attitude about sampling island drugs.
Be forewarned that drug trafficking is a serious problem throughout the Caribbean and officials in most countries have little to no tolerance of visitors caught using. Penalties vary throughout the islands, but getting caught smoking or possessing marijuana (or any illegal drug for that matter) can result in stiff jail sentences. The notable exception is Jamaica, which has decriminalized possession of up to 2oz (56.7g; a fine still applies), though the sale of marijuana is not legal.
US dollars are often accepted in lieu of local currency (and in some cases are the local currency).
|Aruban florin (Afl)||1.79||1.33||1.91||2.18|
|Barbadian dollar (B$)||2.00||1.49||2.13||2.44|
|Cayman Islands dollar (CI$)||0.82||0.61||0.87||1.00|
|Dominican Republic peso (RD$)||47.08||35.01||50.16||57.45|
|Eastern Caribbean dollar (EC$)||2.70||2.01||2.88||3.29|
|Jamaican dollar (J$)||128.65||95.69||137.06||157.00|
|Haitian gourde (HTG)||64.82||48.29||69.05||78.10|
|Trinidad & Tobago dollar (TT$)||6.74||5.01||7.18||8.23|
|US dollar (US$)||-||0.74||1.07||1.22|
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
ATMs & Credit Cards
ATMs are generally common on all but small islands (and increasingly available in Cuba). Many give out US dollars in addition to the local currency. Credit cards are widely accepted but watch for surcharges.
The US dollar is accepted almost everywhere, so it’s not necessary to have local currency before you arrive. Carry smaller denominations to pay for taxis, street snacks or tips.
- Restaurants Varies in the region although 15% is average. Watch for service charges added to bills.
- Taxis Not usually tipped.
Traveler’s checks are now uncommon and are inconvenient across the region.
Opening hours vary across the region, although Sunday remains sacrosanct, with businesses and offices firmly shut throughout the Caribbean. Note that small and family-run businesses may close for a period between August and November.
Feature: Island Time
In the Caribbean life moves at a slow, loosely regimented pace. You’ll often see signs in front of shops, bars and restaurants that say ‘open all day, every day’ and this can mean several things; the place could truly be open all day every day of the week, but don’t count on it. If business is slow, a restaurant, shop or attraction might simply close. If a bar is hopping and the owner’s having fun, it could stay open until the wee hours. If the rainy season is lasting too long, a hotel or restaurant might close for a month. In other words, hard and fast rules about opening times are hard to come by.
The only consistent rule is that Sundays are sacred and ‘open every day’ generally translates to ‘open every day except Sunday.’
Postal systems vary greatly in the Caribbean.
Regionwide public holidays:
New Year’s Day January 1
Good Friday Late March/early April
Easter Monday Late March/early April
Whit Monday Eighth Monday after Easter
Christmas Day December 25
Boxing Day December 26
- Smoking Banned in public places and hotels and restaurants in many Caribbean destinations.
Taxes & Refunds
Value Added Tax is added on goods and services across the region. Rates vary from island to island. In some countries VAT is not included in menu prices, leading to unexpectedly inflated bills. Check whether quoted hotel rates include tax when booking.
It's sometimes possible for visitors to obtain VAT refunds on goods bought during a trip.
Antigua & Barbuda
British Virgin Islands
+809 or +829
St Kitts & Nevis
St Vincent & the Grenadines
Trinidad & Tobago
Turks & Caicos
US Virgin Islands
Most cell phones work in the Caribbean; avoid roaming charges with easily bought local SIM cards. The biggest operators in the Caribbean are Digicel and Flow. Puerto Rico and US Virgin Islands are included in US plans.
- Eastern Standard Time (EST; five hours behind GMT/UTC) Turks and Caicos, Jamaica, the Cayman Islands, the Dominican Republic
- Atlantic Standard Time (AST; four hours behind GMT/UTC) All other islands
Only the Turks and Caicos observe daylight saving time.
Except in major tourist areas there are usually few public toilets, and those that do exist are often best avoided. Most restaurants have restrooms, but may require you to make a purchase before you can use them.
Travel information is often available by the kilo. Many free publications found in hotel lobbies are excellent and most islands have a tourist information center in the main town and offices at the airport.
Travel With Children
Taking the kids on their first-ever boat ride, building sandcastles, wandering rainforest trails or meeting local children – it’s simple adventures like these that make the Caribbean such a great region for families, with islands offering attractions and facilities to cater from tinies to teenagers.
Best Regions for Kids
Plenty of family-friendly resorts with great beaches and soft waves, with lots of organised activities and water sports.
Head to the south and west for the best beaches and resorts; the east-coast surf is too powerful for novice swimmers of any age.
- Cayman Islands
Seven Mile Beach is ideal for families, as it's lined with resorts offering child-friendly activities, and the water is calm.
- Puerto Rico
An island hosting brilliant resorts, while its old colonial forts and historic parks bring out the inner pirate.
- US Virgin Islands
The islands offer a mix of kid-friendly beaches, shallow water, minimal waves and water-sports centres, plus a host of old cannon-clad forts.
Caribbean Islands for Kids
The Caribbean isn’t just a huge playground for adults, it’s one for kids too. Like any playground some parts are more fun than others. Islands dedicated to adult pursuits, such as diving or hiking, might leave little ones out of the action, but plenty more islands have myriad activities for children. Islands with large beach resorts may seem positively designed for kids – at least to the younger mind.
Best Islands for Kids
The following islands all offer something for children. Kids will never want to leave islands rated 1, while those rated 2 have some interesting diversions.
|Antigua & Barbuda||2||Good beaches for playing plus several fun activities: Antigua Rainforest Zip Line Tours, Antigua Donkey Sanctuary|
|Aruba||1||Large resorts with kids activities, excellent beaches, mostly calm seas & lots of adventure activities, including water sports|
|The Bahamas||1||Grand Bahama is clean & easy to get around, but the Abacos is laid-back, with endless beaches, reefs & activities by the bucketload|
|Barbados||2||Lots of family-friendly beaches in the south & west, & popular surfing lessons for kids, but few large resorts with kids programs|
|Bonaire||2||Good for older kids who want to learn how to dive & windsurf, but limited beaches|
|British Virgin Islands||2||Many islands have no special kiddie allure but at the Bitter End Yacht Club & Resort, on Virgin Gorda, youngsters learn to sail, windsurf, kayak & more|
|Cayman Islands||1||Seven Mile Beach is great for families; large resorts have kids programs; Stingray City is always a hit, as is spotting sea stars at Starfish Point, snorkeling with sea turtles at Spotts Beach & exploring Crystal Caves|
|Dominican Republic||2||The resorts of Punta Cana & Bávaro cater to kids, who can make friends with other young holidaymakers from around the world|
|Jamaica||2||Montego Bay & Ocho Rios have resorts good for families, but some resorts are aimed at adults-only partying. Dunn's River Falls is the stand-out family-friendly attraction|
|Puerto Rico||1||Old San Juan has resorts nearby that are good for kids; top attractions include the Museo del Niño de Carolina, amazing forts with pirate history & the Observatorio de Arecibo; Playa Flamenco in Culebra is one of the world’s best beaches & has lifeguards|
|St Lucia||2||Many resorts cater to families, plus there are lots of kid-friendly activities, such as zip-lining, hiking & horseback riding|
|St-Barthélemy||2||Water sports galore & gourmet children's menus|
|US Virgin Islands||1||One of the best destinations for kids; Highlights are abundant & include resort fun, tourist towns with child-friendly allure on all three islands, lifeguard-patrolled Magens Bay beach, & Maho Bay’s sea turtles|
- Antigua Rainforest Zip Line Tours Make like mini Tarzans and Janes while roaring on a wire through the treetops.
- Dunn's River Falls, Jamaica Popular child-friendly attraction that has you swimming and climbing up a series of beautiful waterfalls.
- Tanamá River Adventures, Puerto Rico Tubing and rapelling through caves on family-designed tours.
- Faro y Parque Histórico de Arecibo, Puerto Rico Capture young imaginations at this pirate-themed historical amusement park.
- Pirates of Nassau museum, Bahamas Explore a full-scale replica pirate ship at this brilliant interactive museum.
- Pirates Week, Grand Cayman Mock pirate invasions and more keep scurvy dogs entertained in this popular festival.
Where to Stay
Resorts offer scores of kid-friendly amenities, but some families prefer staying in simpler places closer to island life. Before booking any lodging, ask for details to assess its appropriateness. For example:
- Does it welcome kids or accept them grudgingly?
- If it’s a resort, what sort of kids activities does it offer?
- Does the room have a DVD player and wi-fi?
- Is there a kitchen or at least a refrigerator, so you can avoid the expense of always eating out?
- Are there safe places where kids can play?
- Even if the beach is nearby, is it across a heavily trafficked street?
- Does it provide cribs, change tables and other baby supplies?
- Does it offer on-site babysitting?
To help kids acclimatize to the Caribbean heat, take it easy at first and make sure they drink plenty of water. Children should wear a high-protection sunscreen and cover up whenever they’re outside to avoid sunburn and heatstroke.
Bring insect repellent formulated for children and whatever medication you normally use to treat insect bites.
What to Pack
Be prepared for lots of time in the sun and sea. Most lodgings provide beach towels, chairs and umbrellas. You can buy sand pails, snorkel masks and anything else you forget at beach shops in resort areas. Elsewhere you’ll need to bring what you want in the diversions department. Bring the following:
- snorkel gear (especially masks) that you’ve tested for leaks and proper fit
- water wings and other flotation devices
- pails and shovels
- sturdy reef shoes
- underwater camera
- car seat if driving a lot.
Need to Know
- Changing facilities, cots, high chairs, kids' menus and all the other niceties of family travel are best found at large international resorts. Look for ones with kids' clubs and the like.
- The larger islands will have complete health facilities. They will also have large supermarkets with diapers, familiar treats from home etc.
Feature: Best Islands for Families
- Eagle Beach, Aruba
- West Coast, Barbados
- Stingray City, Grand Cayman
- El Morro, San Juan
- Maho Bay, US Virgin Islands
Travel in the Caribbean is not particularly easy for those with physical disabilities. Overall there is little or no awareness of the need for easier access onto planes, buses or rental vehicles. One exception is Puerto Rico, where good compliance with the Americans Disabilities Act (ADA) means many sights and hotels have wheelchair accessibility.
Visitors with special needs should inquire directly with prospective hotels for information on their facilities. The larger, more modern resorts are most likely to have the greatest accessibility, with elevators, wider doorways and wheelchair-accessible bathrooms.
While land travel may present some obstacles, cruises are often a good option for travelers with disabilities in the Caribbean. Many cruise lines can coordinate shore-based excursions in tour buses equipped for special needs.
The Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality has useful information.
Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guide from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
Many volunteer programs in the Caribbean mix holiday fun with good intentions, and include themes such as ‘learn to dive while saving the reef’ (if only it were that easy). Some organizations don’t provide a lot of value beyond the interesting experience for the traveler. Always ask hard questions of organizations as to who is really benefiting – the volunteer or the actual beneficiaries of the program. Note that most volunteer organizations levy charges to take part in their programs.
Volunteer programs include the following:
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures Some Caribbean countries use the metric system, others use the imperial system, and a few use a confusing combination of both.
Although the situation varies between islands, machismo is alive and well. Men can get aggressive, especially with women traveling alone. On many islands local men have few qualms about catcalling, hissing, whistling, sucking their teeth or making kissy sounds to attract female attention. While much of this is simply annoying, it can make women feel unsafe.
Like it or not, women will generally feel much safer if traveling with a male companion. Women traveling alone need to be sensible and careful: avoid walking alone after dark, heading off into the wilderness alone, hitchhiking or picking up male hitchhikers. Generally try to avoid any situation where you’re isolated and vulnerable. Don’t wear skimpy clothing when you’re not on the beach – it will just garner you a lot of unwanted attention. Also note that ‘harmless flirtation’ at home can be misconstrued as a serious come-on in the Caribbean.
The Caribbean has high unemployment rates and low wages, as well as strict immigration policies aimed at preventing foreign visitors from taking up work.
One good bet for working is to crew with a boat or yacht. As boat hands aren’t usually working on any one island in particular, the work situation is more flexible and it’s easier to avoid hassles with immigration. Marinas are a good place to look for jobs on yachts; check the bulletin-board notices, strike up conversations with skippers or ask around at the nearest bar. Marinas in Miami and Fort Lauderdale are considered good places to find jobs, as people sailing their boats down for the season stop here looking for crew.
You can also look for jobs with a crew-placement agency such as UK-based Crew Finders (www.crewfinders.com) or US-based Crew Seekers (www.crewseekers.net).