The sun, sand and sea that draw visitors to Caribbean travel hasn't changed due to the COVID-19 virus. What is different, like the rest of the world during this pandemic, is a new normal way of going about life for residents and visitors alike, such as mandatory face masks, social distancing and requirements for testing before, upon and in some cases after arrival.
What makes the Caribbean wonderfully diverse is its British, Dutch, French, Spanish and American vibe among 25 island nations and dependent territories. That's why no one-size-fits-all regulations work when it comes to COVID-19.
Plus, no major island has been spared from cases of this virus, although some islands have outbreaks better contained than others. Traveling to the region this winter means not only researching flights and accommodations but also COVID entry prerequisites whether entering by air or sea, as well as everyday rules for when ashore.
Many Caribbean destinations have begun welcoming visitors, and others will resume tourism activity in the coming weeks and months, says Neil Walters, acting secretary general of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), headquartered in Barbados. Across the Caribbean protocols have been/or are being put in place to reassure the traveling public, and residents that their health and well-being remain a primary concern.
In advance of a visit, check the list of COVID-19 protocols in place for that island. These protocols are widely available on the island's official government and tourism websites, social media platforms, and in many cases, the CTO's website.
Travel insurance is a must in case of a surge-related lockdown. For high-risk folks, check medical insurance to see if air ambulance options are available. Many islands have only one hospital, and bed capacity is easily overwhelmed.
In October, the CTO kicked off two programs that help visitors plan where to stay and what to do safely. The Caribbean Travelers Health Assurance Stamp for Healthier Safer Tourism (HST) is an award scheme for destinations and tourism-related businesses such as hotels, guesthouses, and tour and transport operators that comply with all necessary COVID precautions.
The Caribbean Traveler's Health Mobile App provides a real-time island-specific update on travel health information and lists businesses with the HST stamp as preferred. The app is available through the Apple App Store and Google Play.
Some major cruise lines, such as Royal Caribbean, hope to resume Caribbean cruises by the end of 2020. However, private cruisers, either individually or in groups such as the Salty Dawg Cruising Association's Fall Rally, started their annual winter migration south in November.
Like visitors arriving by air, each island has its COVID-safe customs and immigrations protocols for yachts. Noonsite.com, owned by the UK-based World Cruising Club, has an in-depth listing of these protocols that are constantly updated by the organization's staff and members in the region.
Lastly, consider your itinerary. Crowded events like calypso concerts, food fairs and booze cruise catamaran sails either won't happen this season or will occur in a totally different way such as on a much smaller scale or virtually. Instead, enjoy what the Caribbean best offers take a hike in the sun, build castles in sand, and swim, snorkel, scuba, sail or sportfish on the sea.
Here's a quick list of places that can help answer your questions about traveling to the Caribbean this season.
Find travel protocols and guidelines for Barbados, Belize, Cayman Islands, Curaçao, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, St. Maarten, St. Vincent and The Grenadines, The Bahamas, and Turks and Caicos.
Noonsite COVID-19 Cruising Resourcesnoonsite.com/cruising-resources/covid-19
Select Countries & Dependent Territory Protocols
U.S. Virgin Islands: covid19usvi.com/covid-19/travelers
British Virgin Islands: bvi.gov.vg/covid-19
St. Barths: stbarth.com/covid-19
Dominican Republic: godominicanrepublic.com/newsroom/coronavirus
Puerto Rico: discoverpuertorico.com/info/travel-guidelines
*For islands not listed above, visit the destination's official government or tourism websites.