Sunshine, soft sands, and sultry Latin music lured me in and I left wanting more of the strawberry daiquiris and exhilarating zip lines. With only a few islands under my belt, I’ve learned some tips from travelling to the Caribbean that can save you some hassle on your next Caribbean vacation:
1. Pack appropriately
You don’t need to pack too many clothes when visiting an all-inclusive resort, though there are some items – like a swim suit and formal dinner wear – that you shouldn’t forget. No matter how many you own, you do not need to bring five swim suits (in fact, the more consistent you are, the less conflicting the tan lines). You do not need that hair straightener (you won’t use it with the humidity – and what for? You’ll be getting your hair wet every day). Men, make sure you have long pants and a collared shirt for the a la carte restaurants. Always bring carry-on luggage with the necessities and a couple of outfits in case your checked luggage is lost or delayed. Cross packing with your travel partner is one way to lessen the impact if this happens. Divide your clothes between two suitcases, so if one goes missing, you each have something to work with.
2. Wear sunscreen
This one is so important. A sunburn can seriously ruin your vacation, considering you paid to lay on the beach in the sun, not to mention be extremely painful and harm your skin, and last weeks after you return. The peak of the sun’s strength is between 11a.m. to 4p.m., so try and choose indoor activities or take that relaxing siesta during this period. Apply sunscreen every two hours you are outdoors and again after swimming. Don’t overlook the top of your feet and ears. Those prone to burns may want to wear sun-protective clothing and swim suits. Look for a sunscreen with both UVA and UVB ray protection (called broad spectrum) and bring it from home rather than splurging at the resort.
3. Take an excursion
There is so much to see off of the resort – I would strongly recommend you take an excursion to explore the city or natural wonders like the rainforest, waterfalls, and jungles. There is something for everyone, from scuba diving to horseback riding to jeep safaris to simply eating at a local restaurant or with a local family. Arrange an excursion from home or at the resort and take off on an adventure. My favourite part of my trip to Puerto Vallarta was the canopy river excursion where we went into the jungle for zip lining, repelling, river rafting, and camel riding, followed by tequila tasting. It is so much fun to experience the local culture and natural geography!
4. Accept that the food may not be gourmet
I bet you didn’t go to the Caribbean for the food. You went for the sun, sand, beach, palms, relaxation, sunsets… This is not to say that the entire region doesn’t boast fantastic restaurants. In fact, if you ask the locals or do some research, you may find mouth-watering cuisine not too far from the resorts. You shouldn’t have any concerns with the food at a 4+ or 5-star resorts unless you’re extremely picky. Certain chains like Karisma, Palace Resorts, and Sandals pride themselves on serving gourmet food. But, don’t be surprised if the resort food isn’t up to par. It’s not an excuse to dislike the destination, especially Cuba. While food may not be gourmet, you’ll have access to mouth-watering fresh fruit like coconut and pineapple, so take advantage of the region’s locally grown foods.
5. Bring small bills for tipping
If you’re going to a resort, it’s easier if you bring small bills with you for tipping so you aren’t trying to find change while you’re there. Tips are greatly appreciated in the Caribbean and a way of saying thank you to the locals who work hard to make your stay comfortable and enjoyable. Tips are accepted in the local currency (and most beneficial to the workers) but also American dollars in Mexico and Canadian dollars in the Dominican Republic. You may even want to bring small gifts for the locals when visiting Cuba. Remember, Cuba’s currency cannot be exchanged internationally, so you’ll have to convert your Canadian money into CUC (the Cuban Convertible Peso) at the airport or your hotel and remember to convert it back to Canadian dollars before you board the plane back home.
What are your lessons learned from Caribbean vacations?