Travel Update on the Caribbean Islands

In August and late September, Hurricanes Irma and Maria tore through the Caribbean. In some of the harder-hit islands, like Dominica, Saint Martin and Puerto Rico, the deadly storms caused a humanitarian crisis, leaving residents without electricity or running water for several months, which in many places still has not been restored. As damage varied among the Caribbean’s more than 7,000 islands, rebuilding and recovery does also—some are safe and open to visitors, while others still need time. Here’s a status update on of some of the Caribbean’s most popular islands. Each country varies, so travel plans should be double-checked and could change at any time.

Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao

The “ABC” Islands, to which the three Dutch islands are sometimes referred, were unaffected by hurricanes Irma and Maria since they are located near the coast of Venezuela. Aruba is usually the typical Caribbean getaway, Bonaire is slightly less developed, but has a strong water sports presence and Curaçao has a mix of city life, hotels and one of the best sea aquariums in the Caribbean.

Antigua

Antigua, part of the two-island nation Antigua and Barbuda, was spared the worst of Hurricane Irma. The V.C. Bird International Airport remained open and most of the island’s hotels, such as Carlisle Bay and Cocos Hotel welcomed visitors. Several restaurants and businesses are still open and ready to receive guests and some of the island’s most popular beaches, including Coconut Grove and Sheer Rocks, were among the first to receive tourists after the hurricane.

Bahamas

The Bahamas were struck by hurricane weather but sustained minimal damage. All major services like running water and electricity are functioning normally, and the damage that did reach the islands has undergone repairs to restore sites back to normal—or even better.

Cuba

Parts of Cuba still lack clean water and electricity, and the U.S. embassy suffered severe flood damage during Hurricane Irma, according to a travel warning from the State Department. Cuba, which recently reopened tourism opportunities to U.S. citizens, saw a 189 percent increase in American visitors in 2017, though recent restrictions will likely curb 2018 numbers. Cuba is still dealing with some major restoration efforts, especially in the northern region where Irma hit hardest.

Dominica

Dominica was slammed by Hurricane Maria and is still working on the largest of repairs. The nation’s tourism industry launched an awareness campaign last week to encourage people to start booking trips for 2018, for January’s Carnival events DominicaUpdate.com tells potential travelers that the entire island should have power by April 2018, and that 80 percent of the island currently has pipe-borne water accessibility.

Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic suffered some damage during the hurricanes over the late summer and early fall. But it was not hit nearly as hard as other islands in the Caribbean and is ready to receive travelers. In fact, according to the website Caribbean Tourism Organization, travelers are welcomed in order to help restore the region’s economy.

Haiti

Haiti emerged relatively unscathed, though the State Department still warns against travel due to limited medical care infrastructure, ambulances and other emergency services.

Jamaica

Also mostly unaffected, Jamaica’s doors (and airports and ports) are open to tourists this winter. In fact, airlines added 200,000 seats on flights to nations like Jamaica as safe alternatives for travelers looking to change their itineraries, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Saint Martin/Sint Maarten

Saint Martin/Sint Maarten was among the hardest hit of the islands. After one month of rebuilding, the island was ready to welcome visitors. Princess Juliana Airport reopened and commenced commercial service on Oct. 10. Although many larger resorts are not equipped to host visitors, a good amount of smaller hotels can accommodate tourists. The island is unique because Saint Martin, the northern half, is French, while Sint Maarten, the southern half, is Dutch. Both halves of the island boast excellent ship ports, nature views and food.

St. Kitts

St. Kitts was one of the first islands to announce it was open for tourism after the hurricanes hit the Caribbean. After Hurricane Irma, the tourism authority announced the island was unaffected. The official account of the St. Kitts Tourism Authority tweeted Nov. 15 that the best way to help the Caribbean is to visit. Fun things to do in St. Kitts include hiking, going to the beach and visiting historic areas.

St. Lucia

Like many other islands in the southern Caribbean, St. Lucia was not impacted by either of the two hurricanes. JetBlue Airlines offers nonstop flights from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport to the island. St. Lucia includes several activities for the lover of travel, including nature hikes and great opportunities for swimming and other water activities like snorkeling.

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico remained relatively unscathed after Hurricane Irma hit, but was hit hard by Hurricane Maria. The hurricane knocked out 90 percent of the island’s power, and some areas are still waiting on restorations that may not arrive until May. Months after the devastation first struck, San Juan is open to tourism and is operating many of its most popular restaurants and hotels. Some traffic lights are still not working, and residents are still lacking basic needs, but major ports are open to visitors, and the island is slowly getting back on its feet.

Turks and Caicos

Much like the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos has restored nearly all hotel and restaurants, and minimal damage has been repaired.

U.S. Virgin Islands

Hit by both hurricanes, the U.S. Virgin Islands faced some of the most severe damage. The timeline for recovery is long, and though basic needs will likely be vastly improved by the end of the year, many hotels and restaurants are nowhere near ready for tourists. Some hotels and resorts are waiving cancellation fees, though a few have opened along with the major port for cruise ships to pass through. St John and St Thomas, major tourism hotspots, will require around $200 million to repair, according to NPR.

Sources: Newsweek and Daniela Cobos / ibtimes.com