Travelers should absolutely make plans to visit this region — with adjusted expectations on certain islands.
Hurricane season has finally come to an end, after a series of devastating storms swept across the Atlantic and the Caribbean this year. A quick look at the National Hurricane Center’s forecast shows calm seas in the Atlantic — and severe weather is not expected to churn the waters again until next summer.
By November 30, the official close of the year’s historic hurricane season, there were 13 named storms and five major hurricanes across the Caribbean. According to Weather.com, September was the most active month for tropical storms in recorded history.
The recovery has been ongoing. What travelers may not realize, as they consider whether to travel to the Caribbean or not, is that these destinations want visitors to return — and they're working as quickly as they can to restore what everyone loves about them.
“[It’s] been slow but steady,” Dan Marmontello, the Caribbean product manager of CheapCaribbean.com, told Travel + Leisure. Marmontello said that clients are still avoiding St. Martin, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. “Puerto Rico is getting some business in San Juan, but little outside of the city.”
What travelers should know when booking trips to the Caribbean:
“Travelers [don’t] need to specifically avoid any destination,” Marmontello added, “but they should do their homework.” He explained that while many restaurants have reopened and hotels may be running, certain land excursions may not be available for quite some time.
If you plan to visit an island that endured a direct encounter with a hurricane, be aware that not everything will look exactly like it does in the pictures. “To hurricane-impacted islands, clients will notice some construction and repairs are still being done,” said Marmontello. “Also, many of the palm trees will be stripped of leaves or missing from the beach.”
Margie Hand, a T+L A-List travel advisor specializing in the Caribbean, has been directing travelers to St. Lucia, Grand Cayman, Barbados, Aruba, Turks and Caicos, Antigua, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, St. Kitts, Nevis, and Curaçao.
She said that heavy damage and re-building in the Virgin Islands, St. Martin, and Puerto Rico continues to be a concern for her and her clients.
“I have been hesitant to book Anguilla and St. Barths, also,” she said, “due to there still being a lot of clean-up and work to be done.”
As Hurricane Irma barreled toward the Florida Keys in early September, it pummeled a number of Caribbean islands, including St. Martin and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Irma damaged or destroyed 95 percent of buildings on Barbuda, leaving the island “barely habitable.” The Turks and Caicos Islands and Antigua were also impacted by the Category 5 storm.
“For the most part, the main island, Grand Turks, suffered more damage than Providenciales,” Arik Kislin, co-owner of the Gansevoort Hotel Group, told Travel + Leisure. “Overall, both withstood the storm considering the damage to other areas of the Caribbean.”
Kislin reported that now, in the months following Hurricane Irma, “the island is just about back to normal."
“As an island, we’re excited to welcome tourists who are eager to visit the Caribbean, but can’t visit other islands in the wake of the devastation,” he said.
And despite severe destruction on the U.S. Virgin Islands — including major infrastructure damage to King Airport on St. Thomas — both Delta Air Lines and JetBlue announced plans to consider increasing service to the islands. In the meantime, the Port Authority hopes to finish repairs by mid-December.
After Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico with 155 mile per hour winds, millions of residents were left without access to electricity, food, or clean water. Much of the grid has been restored, but there are still thousands of Puerto Ricans without vital resources.
However, Carnival and Royal Caribbean cruise lines began calling on San Juan on Thursday, for the first time since the storm, according to Cruise Critic. Back in September, Travel + Leisure spoke with José Izquierdo, the executive director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company. Even them, he noted that “with the San Juan Harbor and Luis Muñiz Marín International Airport fully operational, we are confident that the progress we have shown ... is a sign of the resiliency and strength of our people.”