Making the most of your Caribbean vacation means knowing where to find the hidden gems. It also means knowing what to skip and why. So we asked the Caribbean travel specialists on Wendy’s WOW List to share their tips for avoiding mistakes—what’s overrated, overpriced, or just not a smart move—in the Caribbean.
Hitting the beach? Don’t choose the wrong islands.
If beach bliss is your No. 1 goal, steer clear of Dominica, Saba, and Montserrat. They have plenty of charms, but are not known for their beaches.
Instead: While you can find inviting stretches of sand just about anywhere, the islands most famous for their beaches are what some call the coral islands: the Turks and Caicos, the Bahamas (Eleuthera, Harbour Island, and the Exumas are among the favorites), and Anguilla. These are all basically flat and scrubby with the quintessential powdery white sand and crystal-clear water that the Caribbean is famed for. —Lindsey Epperly, Trusted Travel Expert for the Caribbean
Planning to scuba dive? Don’t get stuck with the cruise crowds.
Cozumel and Grand Cayman can get overrun with passengers from the giant cruise ships that call there. The only way to avoid the cruise crowds is to dive at off-peak times or to go with a dive operator who knows the secret spots.
Instead: In Cozumel, Palancar Reef is about an hour’s boat ride from town, each way. If you stay at the Iberostar Cozumel you will be able to sleep in, then have a cup of coffee while others are “commuting,” saving you two hours per two tank! — Meg Austin, Wendy’s Trusted Travel Expert for Scuba Diving in the Caribbean
Renting on St. Barts? Don’t book a cook.
St. Barts has some of the best rental villas in the Caribbean, as well as some of the best restaurants. So don’t spend your money on a private chef the way you might if you’re renting on, say, Jamaica or Barbados.
Instead: Splurge on an in-villa massage. A number of villas have rooms or nooks designated specifically for spa treatments. In the late afternoon, getting a rubdown in a shady poolside cabana is the ultimate indulgence. —Peg Walsh, Wendy’s Trusted Travel Expert for St. Barts Villas
Shopping in Bermuda? Don’t waste time in Hamilton’s generic shops.
Shopping in Hamilton, once a highlight, is no more. Although the storefronts nicely reflect the architecture of Bermuda, their merchandise decidedly does not; most is what you’ll find in the United States.
Instead: One exception is the Island Shop, with its colorfully hand-painted housewares. Owner Barbara Finsness has even brought back the “Bermuda bag”—a small purse with wooden handles that’s a relic of the past.
Looking to experience the best of the Riviera Maya? Skip the famous Xel-Ha.
Xel-Ha bills itself as a “natural aquarium” for ecotourists to swim and snorkel in, but it has nothing to do with the appreciation of nature. All of the coral in the lagoon is dead, and there are virtually no fish; it’s basically now a giant swimming pool stuffed with tourists and surrounded by tacky gift shops, restaurants, and bars.
Instead: Take the ferry to Cozumel on a day when no cruise ships are in port (have your concierge call the “Capitania de Puerto” to check: 52-987-872-2409). The boat trip—about $15 for adults, $10 for kids—gives you incredible views of the coast, the Caribbean, and the reefs around Cozumel. Once ashore, head to Pescadería San Carlos for some tasty ceviche. —Zach Rabinor, Wendy’s Trusted Travel Expert for Mexico
Planning to do activities on a Sunday? Don’t be surprised when things are closed.
Many Caribbean islands are deeply rooted in the Christian faith, which means Sunday sees closures of attractions, shops, and even restaurants.
Instead: Pack your own pool float (because while some resorts might have a couple of floats for the pool, most don’t supply them for the ocean) and hit the beach. Depending on the island, consider venturing from your resort to a public beach to hang with the locals: On St. Barts, for instance, the public beaches (especially Gouverneur and Saline Beach) are postcard-perfect.
Thinking of doing Cuba on your own? Think again.
Cuba really isn’t ready to be an unguided destination, and independent travelers do themselves a disservice.
Instead: Work with a reliable, well informed travel planner. The country is bursting at the seams at its current annual visitor level, and the best hotels are sold out months in advance. Overbooking by guides, restaurants, and other services is commonplace, and the lack of reliable phone and Internet service makes coping with such problems a real challenge. Factor in flight delays, mechanical issues with cars and buses, and hotel cancellations or “rerouting” and you can see why expert planning is crucial. —David Lee, Trusted Travel Expert for Cuba
Don’t forget to take your passport—and check it
Check the expiration date on your passport—it gets risky when you get to the six-month mark. Most countries now require you to have a passport that will be valid for at least three to six months from the time you travel or they won’t admit you—not a nice surprise at the check-in counter!