Which Caribbean islands are safest to visit right now?

The COVID-19 crisis is not letting go. In fact, as you likely know the number of infections is growing rapidly across the globe. This is a terrible situation for the tourism industry of the Caribbean, for which 2020 has already been the most difficult year in decades. While 2021 is not looking promising either, there are islands in the Caribbean, which have been less impacted than others and their travel industry has been doing relatively ok.

In this post, we will take a closer look at each of the islands in the region to see to what extend they currently welcome visitors and on what conditions. This will hopefully give you a good idea whether it makes sense to book a trip to the Caribbean in the current months and what risks you may face. I will break down the posts into three sections – green (where travel is considered most safe and least burdensome), yellow (where you can still travel to, but need to consider local rules and precautions) and red (travel is advised against and you will face many hurdles while visiting).

Quiet time on Magen’s Bay in St. Thomas

Green – St. Kitts and Nevis,  Anguilla, St. Vincent and Grenadines, Antigua, Turks and Caicos

The Islands mentioned above are generally small and the number of COVID cases on these islands has been low with some of them only recording single digit cases in the last several weeks. The CDC considers most of these islands as low risk (Level 1) for travellers with standard guidance for wearing a mask in public spaces and keeping social distancing. Still, expect to fill out an online travel form and submitting a negative COVID test 3-5 days before traveling.

It is worth noting that even though travel is generally ok for these and also most places listed in the yellow and red categories, many Caribbean islands have introduced special fees that cover the costs of entry procedures including applications to entry, verification of test results, management of quarantines when necessecary and etc. In Anguilla, for example, this fee amounts to $300 per individual for stays shorter than 6 days and $400 for stays that are longer. The prices are lower for couples and families, but this is an important consideration if you are planning a Caribbean vacation in the next couple months. 

Yellow – St. Barth, St. Lucia, St. Martin, Aruba, US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Barbados, Cuba, Haiti

All of the islands listed in yellow are actually open for US travellers (and to most others as well). Hovewer, you do need to consider that many of them has also recently experienced spikes in COVID-19 cases and you may not be able to enjoy all of the attractions and travel around as freely as you would have before the pandemic. For example, St. Barth and Barbados will require you to take and show negative results for two COVID-19 tests, one before and one after arrival onto the islands. In Aruba, you you will need to purchase special travel insurance applicable for your stay there and costing $30 per person.

In St.Lucia and in majority of cities in Cuba, mask wearing and social distancing are mandatory so be sure to bring a bunch of masks with you. As far as USVI and Puerto Rico, the official restrictions are not really greater than those on islands in the green category, but these islands are getting lots of travellers who live in the mainland US, and that visit often due to family connections or simply because they have a second home here. Possibly because of it, these islands have experienced an increase in virus cases recently so precautions are advised.

Red – Curacao, Bahamas, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Dominica, Trinidad and Tobago, British Virgin Islands, St. Martin, Cayman Islands, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Bonaire, Montserrat

Although you may still be able to get to these islands, places in the red category have an increasing trend in new COVID cases and have put many restrictions on travelers. For example the Bahamas have a 14-day quarantine and have restricted travel to Grand Bahama. This is similar for BVI and Cayman Islands, which also have a nightly curfew and limited opening hours for its beaches. Whereas restrictions in the Dominican Republic and Jamaica are actually not as strict as in other places, both countries are recording thousands or new cases every day and because of their large sizes, local spreading of the virus is a significant problem.

St. Martin actually closed it borders tourists for many months and only re-opnened its hotels as of December 1st. In Dominica, even when you show a negative test, you will still have to quarantine for 5 days and then take a 2nd test at your own expense. Only after you are shown negative for the second test, you can truly enjoy your vacation. This is similar on British Virgin Islands, where you will have to quarantine for 4 days after landing and then pay as much as $175 to take a COVID test, which you may have to repeat before leaving the islands for another $70

Curacao, Cayman Islands, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Bonaire and Montserrat are the most restrictred to travel and in fact, remain mostly inaccessible for US travelers. Although you can still visit Cayman Islands, it is difficult to book travel there and you must remain in strict quantine for 14-days, which makes most vacations impractical. Martinique, Bonaire and Guadeloupe accept very limited number of toursists from several approved countries, but the count limits mean you have to get on a shortlist, which makes it difficult to plan a short term stay. Overall, trying to come to these seven islands will be more stress than fun so I recommend against considering them for your travel plans at the moment.

Informational sign about COVID-19 at an airport in the Dominican Republic

Overall, while Caribbean vacations are much more complicated nowadays than they were just a year ago, there is still many places you can visit relatively safely and have a great time! Couple tips that may be useful:

  1. Plan a longer stay if you can – this way you can make sure to enjoy your vacation, even if you have to quarantine for your first week or even two. If you have a possibility to work remotely, consider a 1-3 month visit, which could be perfect this time of year to avoid much of the winter cold
  2. Pack accordingly – pandemic era travel means you should bring with you many masks so that you don’t use the same one throughout your stay. Also take a thermometer (ideally a non-contact one, good amount of hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes
  3. Once there, avoid busy spaces – stay safe by avoid gatherings and if you do congregate, do so outdoors, which is always easy in this climate. Whenever you are around others indoors, be sure windows are open and there is good air-flow

The Caribbean remains an amazing place to visit despite COVID-19. With the right preparations and precautions you are sure to have an awesome time and remain safe while doing so!

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