There are several regional gateways that connect the Caribbean; there is Jamaica and Puerto Rico to the West, St. Maarten and Antigua to the East, while Barbados and Trinidad provide an entry to the islands in the South. Caribbean Airlines has several flights connecting the region with flights originating in Trinidad, Jamaica and Barbados. American Eagle via San Juan, Winair for flights departing St. Maarten and Liat out of Antigua.
There are several car rental companies throughout each island if you’re looking for carhire, and most people rent cars for at least some of the time they are on the islands. The smaller sized compact cars run around $25 dollars a day.
Ferries are also a common and relatively cheaper way of traveling between the islands. Travelers should arrive well before departure and pay close attention as the ferries do not linger long in any port. So whether they arrive late or early, if you are not right on the pier ready to go, you could find yourself spending another day or more in the same location. Travelers should note that we are in the Caribbean, and while ferries do offer another way of seeing and experiencing the islands, seas can get rough.
There are several currencies used throughout the Caribbean, each independent Caribbean nations has their own. Similarly, islands that are territories or collectivities of larger countries use the currency of their mother nation, for example, The French islands uses Euros, while the US Virgin Islands & Puerto Rico use the US Dollar.
The smaller islands use the Eastern Caribbean Dollar which is directly linked to the US Dollar keeping a fixed rate. The US Dollar is widely accepted throughout the islands, even in Jamaica and Trinidad where the national currency is the Jamaican Dollar and the Trinidad & Tobago Dollar respectively.
Currency can be exchanged at all banks at many Caribbean airports and at change points located throughout the islands. Check for the latest exchange rate. It’s a good idea to determine the local banking hours when you arrive as they may vary from branch to branch and island to island.
Most major credit cards are accepted throughout the islands. Traveler’s cheques are widely accepted but do ask the vendor what their policy is regarding them. ATM machines are widely available; though do ensure with your local bank that your debit/ credit card is ready for use abroad. It’s also a good idea to carry some cash for emergencies; plus, bargaining with vendors at Caribbean street markets is a large part of the local culture and an experience you may find enjoyable. Don’t forget to notify your bank and credit card providers that you will be traveling out of the country. This will prevent them from suspecting fraud and putting your card on hold when they see international charges tied to your account.
English, French, Spanish & Dutch are among the official languages of the islands but English is spoken by the locals on every island (especially in shops and hotels). There are public phones everywhere that operate with phone cards, which can be purchased in many shops or at a boot inside your hotel lobby. Internet services are available in many cafes, hotels, and tourist offices.
The most prevalent tourist illness in the Caribbean is sunburn, so appropriate precautions against burns should be taken, especially during the peak sun hours of 11am – 3pm. Exercising caution can greatly reduce any onset of short-term discomfort. Almost everyone carries around a cold bottle of water. During the hot Caribbean summers, it can be easy to develop sun sickness, dehydration, or sun stroke relatively quickly but using minor precautions such as sunscreens, drinking fluids or wearing light clothing and hats can prevent most of it. The most common pest is the mosquito, so pack insect repellent. There are pharmacies everywhere that can provide medications and other first aid items that you may not have brought with you.
Theft is a traveler’s concern that requires utilizing common sense. Theft among tourist is not found to be a major problem in the Caribbean. Most hotels provide safe deposit boxes which should be used for valuables. You can reduce risks by keeping the display of valuables to a minimum when on the streets. Also, it is always a good travel idea to take photocopies of your passport, tickets, credit cards, etc. that you store away separate from the main place where you store or carry these items. Keep a sharp eye on your things while relaxing on the beaches or use a water proof pouch.
No matter which island you travel to in the Caribbean, you’ll finds many sidewalk stores and booths crammed full of goodies to take back home. The range of goods includes pottery, clothing, jewelry, post cards, local soaps, etc. Like many places these days, there seems to be a decreasing variety of items to buy, but the price and designs remain too attractive to resist.
There is a wide range of resorts, hotels, apartments and villa rentals available throughout the islands. High season is November – March which is always more expensive and crowded. Reservations are highly recommended.