The idea of off-season travel in the Caribbean can be attractive. Between June and October or November, tourists will find lower prices, less-crowded beaches, warmer weather and cheaper airfares. However, if you're traveling to this region during this time of year, an asterisk will appear next to your itinerary. Why? Because it’s hurricane season.
A number of tropical storms cross the region each year, and though few reach hurricane strength, violent weather is an annual occurrence in the Caribbean. If Murphy's Law prevails and a storm mars your travel plans, your vacation will be a washout at best. At worst, you could have to evacuate your chosen island ahead of a major hurricane. Most often, however, you will end up uneasily watching the Weather Channel as a tropical storm moves west across the Atlantic, its final path unclear as your departure date approaches.
Even during hurricane season, the odds of a storm-free Caribbean vacation are in your favor. That said, some of the most popular islands in the region actually lie well outside Hurricane Alley. In these places, the danger of encountering a storm is low.
Where to go to avoid the bad weather
Flamingos hang out near the beach in Bonaire. (Photo: Shutterstock)
The so-called ABC Islands are the ideal destinations for summer and fall Caribbean vacations. Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao sit only a few miles from the coast of Venezuela and more than 500 miles from the islands of the Lesser Antilles chain. Aruba and Curacao are self-governing countries that are part of the kingdom of the Netherlands, while Bonaire, the least populated of the three landmasses, remains a special municipality under Dutch control.
Because the wet season does not start until September or October here, most summertime vacations will stay relatively dry. Like the rest of the Caribbean, the tourist high season on Aruba and its neighbors takes place during the Northern Hemisphere's winter. However, there is a fair amount of traffic year-round because plugged-in travelers are aware of the favorable summertime weather patterns.
Hooiberg, a volcanic formation, rises behind Aruba’s capital, Oranjestad. (Photo: Roger Wollstadt/flickr)
Aruba is a tourist haven, but it's not overrun with tourists once you get out of the downtown district. Its Dutch-style buildings, seen in the capital Oranjestad, create a unique atmosphere, but this is unmistakably the Caribbean. Beaches, water sports, resorts and casinos dominate the landscape. The climate is drier here than elsewhere in the region, so the interior of Aruba is characterized by a desertlike landscape rather than a tropical forest. Four-wheeler and jeep tours into these areas are popular, as are horseback rides.
Dutch-style buildings line the harbor at Willemstad, the capital city of Curacao. (Photo: Jessica Bee/flickr)
Curacao is similarly dry and has the same vaguely Dutch flavor as Aruba. Both these islands have a population of about 150,000. A local Portuguese/Spanish creole called Papiamento is spoken as the native language, though Spanish, Dutch and English also are understood by virtually everyone.
A fence made of cacti surrounds an old farmhouse on Bonaire. (Photo: Boris Kasimov/flickr)
Bonaire is the ABCs’ most natural island. It is a popular honeymoon destination because of the lack of crowds. A national park covers much of the island, and rental condos and villas are the accommodation of choice. There are only a few major resorts are here. Like the other member of the ABCs, the temp doesn't fluctuate much on Bonaire, remaining in the 80 to 85 degree range throughout the year.
Tropical storms rarely slam these islands, but they can bring significant rainfall as they pass to the north. In 2010, rain bands from Hurricane Tomas dumped more than 10 inches of rain on Curacao. That was a rare event, however.
Maracas Beach, on the north side of Trinidad, lies along a deep bay. (Photo: neiljs/flickr)
The island nation of Trinidad and Tobago lies to the east of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao. It hugs the Venezuelan coast and is well outside Hurricane Alley. Unlike the rest of the Anglophone Caribbean, which is almost completely focused on tourism, T and T has a large industrial sector. Oil and natural gas are a major part of the economy. Though there is less focus on tourism, this is still a great place to visit at any time of the year.
Tobago, the less populated of the twin islands, has begun to develop its beach tourism, while Trinidad's unique blend of African, Indian and creole cultures makes it an interesting place to eat and play. There is plenty to do away from the beaches — including bars and restaurants, of course. For example, the Asa Wright Nature Center on Trinidad is considered one of the finest bird-watching destinations in all of the Americas.
If you can't go the Caribbean, bring the Caribbean to you. A participant celebrates at the Caribana festival in Toronto, Canada. (Photo: A. daSilva Photography/flickr)
Of course, one way to make sure that you avoid tropical storms is to stay away from the Caribbean altogether during that window. A unique celebration in Canada makes it possible to still get some West Indies flavor by heading north instead of south. Caribana is a massive Caribbean cultural festival that takes place in Toronto during the summertime. Visitors can immerse themselves in the food and music of the West Indies and watch or participate in Carnival-style street parades.
But if you have your heart set on a Caribbean outing, the ABC Islands and Trinidad and Tobago all have a low risk of being affected by hurricanes during the summer and fall, and they have never been hit directly by major storms. Either way, a good travel insurance policy will cover the cost of a canceled trip or early departure caused by storms.
Related on MNN:
- 7 must-see places to visit in the off-season
- 9 of the world's most multilingual countries
- 10 things you didn't know about hurricanes