Arguably the single most important aspect of traveling is the issue of what to pack, and by no means do we dare propose a comprehensive packing list that works for everyone – but here are some essentials and suggestions:
During the daytime in the Caribbean, you will most likely want to be in shorts and a loose comfortable t-shirt or tank top. A wide-brimmed or long-billed hat and a pair of sunglasses are essentials for protecting your face from the sun. For the evenings, depending on the restaurant of choice, dinner can be a bit more formal, so a dress shirt or a simple sun dress might be a good idea. Casual wear is fine for most restaurants. Consider bringing only one or two pairs of long pants to the Caribbean, the islands will be too warm usually, but you might want them for your flight to the Caribbean and perhaps to wear at night to enjoy the party scene.
Bring along a light rain coat as well, especially is visiting during the hurricane season: June – November. Rains tend to be brief unless a tropical depression is moving through.
Without a doubt, flip flops and sandals are the most useful footwear you can bring to the islands. Some people may prefer the protection and support of tennis shoes or sneakers which is fine as well.
We recommend SPF 45 waterproof sunscreen, strong sunburn can be a debilitating condition, especially for those with lighter skin. You just have to be able to tolerate strong sun if you’re considering coming in the summer.
For the Water
A swimsuit or two is perfect for the water, the sun will dry them quickly and they are great for lounging around on the pool side. If you have your own snorkeling equipment and you feel like bringing it with you, do so by all means. Often it is better to have your own equipment with which you are comfortable with, rather than renting from a dive shop.
Of course you will bring your camera! The Caribbean islands are the ideal photo opportunity, and you will return with many photos that can never be repeated. For this reason, we suggest that think about how many photos you will want to take and then bring twice as much memory! Your memory will quickly fill with all the rarities, wildlife, beaches and landscapes you can dream of. But if you run out of memory, and do not have your laptop, most islands have a large range of electronic stores where you can purchase more memory or a disposable camera! For those that have quality cameras, bringing a wide-angle/macro lens and a zoom lens is advisable. The zoom lens will let you frame animals at any variety of distances, and reduce the amount of camera equipment you lug with you to the islands. A polarizing filter helps to reduce the glare of the sunlight on the water and make the dolphins & whales more visible as well as helping with sunset shots. And if you do not have an underwater camera (as most of us don’t), Kodak, Konica, and Fujifilm all make disposable ones; they work surprisingly well and let you take photos of the sharks that make you look twice!
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.
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.