Have you finalized your holiday travel plans yet?
Whelp, it’s that time again to put the finishing touches on your holiday plans and start looking ahead to Spring Break. Of course, if you’re a Caribbean lover like I am, this isn’t your typical travel year.
Hurricanes Irma and Maria have devastated some parts of the Caribbean, including some of my favorite islands. Puerto Rico is in the midst of an enormous humanitarian crises, eliminating it from consideration – at least for a while. And while its world-famous airport reopened a few weeks back, many of St. Maarten’s hotels will remain closed through the end of the year.
For me, it will be important to visit these islands again once they’re ready for visitors. Injecting my tourism dollars back into their economies seems like the best way to help them recover over the long term.
Still, the chances look bleak that they’ll be ready when peak season arrives in December. Let’s hope they’ll at least have their doors open for the Spring Break rush.
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5 of My Favorite Caribbean Destinations Still Open for Business
So, where does that leave you?
If your vacation dreams still include sipping mojitos from a flamingo floatie while soaking up the warm Caribbean sun (#lifegoals), don’t worry. Plenty of destinations remain relatively (or completely) unaffected by this year’s destructive weather events. Here are 5 of my favorites! (FYI – All photos are our own.)
Not only is Barbados open for business, it’s actually my favorite island in the entire Caribbean. The mix of beautiful sandy beaches, crystal clear waters, and cultural Caribbean flair makes Barbados an absolute treat to visit. (Side note: Holly will be heading to back to the island for their “Food & Rum Festival” in November.)
To me, Barbados really feels like you’re visiting somewhere “different.” Because it’s a little tougher to get to, this island remains largely undiscovered by American tourists. While modern, clean, and seemingly safe, Barbados retains that island feel found in some less developed areas of the Caribbean – although it is a bit more expensive.
In my opinion, you’ll definitely want to stay on the island’s west side, known as the Platinum Coast. The water is ridiculously calm and clear there. We stayed at the Waves Hotel & Spa by Elegant Hotels. It’s a smaller, lovely hotel that I think is perfect for couples – although families are definitely welcome. For an all-inclusive, the food is excellent. If you’re in the mood for a boat ride, you can also ride their free ferry that runs between Elegant’s other properties on the island.
Oh, and don’t forget to check out the fish fry in Oistin that is held every Friday night! It’s a blast.
Beautiful beaches? Check. Crystal clear water? Check. Incredible nightlife? Check, check, and check.
We had the opportunity to visit Aruba this summer, and it stole our hearts. Located less than 20 miles off the coast of Venezuela, Aruba doesn’t fit my idea of a typical Caribbean island. Instead of rocky mountains and lush greenery, Aruba is actually a desert. The island is peppered with huge cacti and awesome dunes – except by the beach areas, of course. There, you’ll find towering palm trees, calm turquoise waters, and white sand beaches whose beauty rival those of any other beach on the planet.
Aruba is also famous for its nightlife. The high-rise hotels, situated on Palm Beach, are home to the main tourist strip. Across the street from the hotels, you’ll find dozens of restaurants, bars, and clubs that will entertain you well into the night. Many of the hotels also include casinos. In fact, it feels a lot like staying in Las Vegas – except Aruba is cleaner, more family friendly, and easier to walk around.
If Aruba sounds interesting to you, check out the all-inclusive Barceló Aruba Resort. The food was good, the staff was great, and the beach was incredible. It’s also located right in the middle of the strip, so it’s easy to walk wherever you want to go. You can read our full review of the Barceló Aruba Resort here.
#3) Grand Cayman
Grand Cayman is easily one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. I mean, who doesn’t love sugary white sand beaches and crystal clear water that is so still it feels like you’re sitting in a bathtub?
The island is has excellent infrastructure and is very safe. It’s also relatively small, so consider renting a car and exploring the area. (Just be sure you’re driving on the left side of the road!)
In Grand Cayman, Seven Mile Beach is the place to be. It almost always ranked as one of the top beaches in the world (if not #1) and for good reason! It is absolutely stunning. We stayed right on SMB at the Westin Grand Cayman. The facilities were very good and the beach was incredible. Along with the hotel eats, there are several restaurants located across the street and within walking distance.
With that said, don’t head to Grand Cayman expecting a thoroughly cultural experience. While it’s definitely a relaxing place to visit, it lacks the “island vibe” found elsewhere. Pretty much everywhere on the island is thoroughly modern and clean, which is great. It’s also really expensive. But if you’re looking for a place that looks and feels like South Florida – except with Caribbean waters, weather, and beaches – Grand Cayman may be for you.
When people think about the Caribbean, Jamaica is often the first place that comes to mind. And why not? For Caribbean lovers, Jamaica has a lot to offer. With great beaches, beautiful weather, and plenty of activities, Jamaica is a wonderful destination for beach goers and adventure seekers alike.
Jamaica has long been a favorite spot in our household. Out of the two dozen different countries we’ve visited, we’ve been to Jamaica the most – five times for me and six for Holly. It is the fourth largest island in the Caribbean, so you can continue coming back and never hit the same place twice.
We’re heading back to Jamaica for Spring Break 2018, and – as we have done three times before – we’ll be staying at the Holiday Inn All-Inclusive Resort in Montego Bay. This place is spectacular for families with young kids, especially if you’re on a budget. It isn’t fancy, but the food is good, the pool is nice, and the beach is beautiful. Plus, kids under 12 stay free. (You can read our review of the Holiday Inn All-Inclusive Resort – Montego Bay here.)
If you’re looking for something a bit more romantic, Sandals Montego Bay is hard to beat. We stayed here last January and loved it. (Read our Sandals Montego Bay review here.) There are also great spots in Negril, Ocho Rios, Runaway Bay, and more.
Although it isn’t an island, Mexico is home to some beautiful coastal areas located along the Caribbean Sea. Cancún, Playa del Carmen, and the rest of the Riviera Maya region are filled with beautiful beaches and that crystal clear Caribbean water we all love. Plus, generally speaking, Mexico is the most affordable spot on the list.
Unfortunately, Mexico has gotten a bit of a bad rap lately. That’s not to say that some of it hasn’t been deserved (hello, bootlegged alcohol???). Still, millions of visitors safely flock to Mexico’s beautiful beach destinations every year. In my experience, the vast majority of people are extremely welcoming and the food is simply amazing!
Playa del Carmen is easily my favorite place to visit in this area. I’ve stayed both in the main part of the city and in the resort area of Playacar. While I wouldn’t recommend the cheapest resorts in Playacar (the food was terrible), you can definitely find an all-inclusive that will fit the bill. Regardless of where you stay, be sure to ramble down 5th Avenue at least once.
While I prefer the beaches and the experience in Playa del Carmen, Cancún is another spot I’d recommend. We brought our family to the J.W. Marriott Cancún Resort & Spa over the holidays a few years back. The hotel was great, the staff was exceptional, and the pool was fantastic. My only complaint was that the sea was too rough for our young kids to get in. There are several good restaurants within walking distance, and you can stay here on points! (Ask us how to stay on points here.)
So, if you’re still set on soaking up the beautiful beaches and crystal blue waters of the Caribbean this winter, don’t fret. There are still plenty of destinations open for business. Heck, this isn’t even close to an exhaustive list!
While you’re planning your holiday trip, please keep those affected by the recent hurricanes in your thoughts and prayers. When you get the chance, I urge you to make a return visit to some of your favorite spots that were impacted. I know we will.
Thanks so much for reading, and please leave any comments or questions below. Until next time, happy traveling!
Do you have plans for the holidays or Spring Break? Where are you going? Let us know in the comments below!