Weather can make or break your Caribbean vacation. Hurricanes and other storms aren't entirely predictable, but there are steps you can take to ensure that your trip is spent basking in the sun, not dodging raindrops!
Time Required: 1 hour for researching islands; a few minutes checking weather reports.
- Avoid the peak hurricane season. The Atlantic hurricane season, which includes the Caribbean, officially runs from June to November. But three-quarters or more of hurricanes and tropical storms occur between August and October, with storm activity peaking in early to mid September. For the best odds for a sunny trip, avoid traveling to the Caribbean during peak storm periods.
- Pick an island outside the storm zone. The islands of the southern Caribbean are rarely hit by hurricanes or tropical storms. The Netherlands Antilles islands – Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao – are outside the path of most storms, as are Trinidad & Tobago and the southern Windward Islands, like Grenada and Barbados.
- Track those tropical storms. Everyone worries about hurricanes, which tend to grab the headlines. But tropical storms are far more numerous, and much more likely to throw cold water (not to mention wind) on your vacation. As with hurricanes, the danger season for tropical storms is June-November, with most storms between August and October.
- Trace the trade winds. The trade winds, which blow east to west across the Atlantic, bring steady breezes (and fast-moving rain showers) to the Netherlands Antilles and help moderate temperatures in the Windward Islands (Martinique, Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines). The winds give islands like Aruba steady and stable weather, but also create an arid, desert-like climate.
- Don't overlook the "tropical wave." Weather-watchers tend to focus on big events like hurricanes and tropical storms, but tropical waves can also bring significant rainfall to the Caribbean even if they don't spawn full-blown tropical storms or hurricanes.
- Look leeward. The windward side of Caribbean islands tend to have more rain and wind, especially on those with high mountains. Prevailing winds typically blow across the Caribbean from the northeast, so you'll find the driest, hottest weather on the western and southwestern (leeward) sides of most islands.
- Think high and low. On islands like Jamaica, Cuba and St. Lucia, resorts at higher elevation can be significantly cooler than those at sea level. The Blue Mountains in Jamaica, which have a few resorts, can get downright chilly at times. If you want the most sun and warm temperatures, stick to the shore.
- Check weather reports frequently. The Caribbean is a huge place, with thousands of islands. Even at the height of hurricane season, there's little chance of a major storm disrupting your trip. Don't assume that a "Caribbean" storm will hit your island – if the local forecast is clear, pack your bags and go! The U.S. National Hurricane Center is your best resource for current storm information.
- If you don't mind the rain, and love tropical rain forests, plan a trip to Dominica: it gets more rain than almost anywhere in the world, more than 300 inches annually. In fact, hiking the rain forests on islands like Puerto Rico can be fun even on a cloudy day.
- Bermuda is the exception to many rules about Caribbean weather: it is located at the same latitude as North Carolina, meaning winters are chilly, and you'll want to travel between May-September if your plans include ocean swimming and sunbathing.
- Hedge against rainy-day boredom by selecting a full-service resort that provides organized indoor activities for adults and kids, or one with a casino or indoor pool.
What You Need:
- Caribbean map
- Map of the islands you are planning to visit
- Access to Internet weather sites or other weather-reporting resources