The islands of the Caribbean are a long, expansive archipelago defining the border between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.
The indigenous Arawak Indians were the original inhabitants, supplanted by the more aggressive, Caribs, the tribe in place when the first Spanish explorers discovered the islands for westerners. As each island was in turn colonized by a different European country, British, Spanish, Dutch, French or Portuguese, and slavery introduced to farm, original and highly diverse cultures arose. Today, the colorful legacy of that history is alive in the music, art, architecture and language of the Caribbean Islands.
The geography of each island is unique: some are near deserts and very arid, while others boast mountainous rain forests. The sub-tropical latitudes of the Caribbean provide nearly year-round good weather. The late summer and fall months are at times interrupted by strong storm systems crossing the Atlantic from Africa bringing with them those most powerful of storms, hurricanes.
As one might expect, activities in the Caribbean are largely water oriented – scuba and snorkeling, swimming, boating and fishing. Golf has a strong foothold as does everyone’s favorite pastime at some point – lying on the beach, staring at the ocean and just sitting still.
Best Time to Go
Mid-December through mid-April
A valid passport is required to enter the Dominican Republic. No visa is required for U.S., Canadian, U.K. or Australian citizens. A tourist card valid for 60 days may be purchased in advance at a Dominican consulate or—much more conveniently—issued upon arrival at any airport. Carry US$10 in cash to buy the card (payment is accepted in U.S. dollars only). Buy the card in an airport booth before waiting in the immigration line, and keep it to present upon departure from the country.
Travelers may be asked to present proof of onward passage and sufficient funds for their stay. A US$20 departure tax is also charged upon leaving the country, although this is often included in the price of a plane ticket (charter flights may also include the price of the tourist card). The Dominican Embassy Web site (http://www.domrep.org) lists the latest requirements.
Trinidad and Tobago / Puerto Rico / Bahamas / Turks & Caicos / St. Martin/St Maarten / Dominican Republic
All U.S. citizens must now have a passport for re-entry to the U.S. when traveling by air or by sea to or from Bermuda, Canada, the Caribbean (except for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands), Central and South America and Mexico. Citizens of Canada, Mexico and the British Overseas Territory of Bermuda also must have a passport or other designated secure document to enter the U.S.
Same as above with a couple of extra stipulations. Visas are not required for citizens of the U.S. or certain Commonwealth countries. Visitors who are unsure of their country’s agreement with St. Lucia may contact the Visa Office of the Immigration Department. Phone 456-3825. http://www.stlucia.gov.lc/faq.
Proof of onward passage is required by all. A departure tax of US$26 is added to the price of all tickets for passengers older than age 12 at the time of purchase. (Children younger than 12 are exempt.) Reconfirm travel document requirements with your carrier before departure.
There are many currencies used in multiple territories; the most used is the East Caribbean dollar, the United States dollar, and the Euro.
Do’s & Don’ts
St. Martin/St Maarten
Do pick up a fish identification guide so that you know what you’re looking at when you’re diving or snorkeling.
Don’t be surprised by nudity on some beaches, especially in St. Martin—although on our last trip to Orient Beach, the gapers and oglers outnumbered the total tanners. There are even clothing-optional hotels there. No cameras are allowed on the nude beaches.
Don’t try to mail anything on the French side if you are using a Dutch stamp, and vice versa.
Don’t use your cell phone while driving; it’s illegal.
Trinidad and Tobago
Do expect a lot of attention if you’re white or a single woman, especially on the beach. This is a macho culture, and local men love to show their appreciation for the opposite sex. If this kind of cultural interchange is not welcome, a firm “no” will do the trick.
Don’t be surprised to hear men making a sucking sound to catch a woman’s attention. It’s known as being sooted.
Don’t expect anything to run on time—Trinis are too laid-back to be hampered by the restrictions of a clock.
Do get familiar with the term “lime,” which means to hang out.
Do say “good morning” or “good afternoon” before starting a conversation with someone in the street or in a shop.
Don’t wear beach attire away from the shore or pool—it is not appreciated on the streets.
Don’t remove coral—doing so is illegal.
Don’t expect good restaurant service or any hotel-room service during Carnival (your waiters will be out partying in the streets).
Do expect hotel prices to shoot up during Carnival.
Don’t be surprised if you’re called “Darlin’,” “Honey” or “Sweetie” in the Bahamas. It’s as common a greeting in the Bahamas as “Mon” is in the Caribbean. Women use it in conversation with men, and vice versa, and it rarely if ever implies a flirtatious come-on.
Don’t worry about changing money if you’re a U.S. citizen. The U.S. dollar is on par and accepted along with the Bahamian dollar.
Do travel between islands on a mail boat if you want a true Bahamian experience. Your companions will be Bahamians (and sometimes their goats and chickens), and your passage will be a true adventure. Just be sure to take your sea-sickness pills in advance, and stock up on food and beverages for the long voyage, which can take two days to more remote isles.
Do go swimming with dolphins, which you can do in Nassau, Grand Bahama and Bimini. Whether you swim in the open sea or at a marine wildlife attraction, an immersion with these loveable and intelligent creatures is an experience you’ll treasure forever.
Do attend a Dominican baseball game if you visit during the professional season (late October-late February). The quality of play is excellent, and it will probably be the most raucous sporting event you’ll ever attend.
Don’t get in a taxi or hire a tour guide without agreeing on a price first, and never hire a motoconcho or hail a cab off the street because of the inherent safety risks. Call a radio dispatched cab.
Do learn some Spanish words and phrases and practice them with Dominicans. They’ll appreciate your effort.
Do ask a local resident to teach you to dance merengue. Dominicans take great pride in their music and dance—it’s a vital part of their national identity.
Don’t be in a hurry. Dominicans never are and, as a result, have a reputation of being a bit late for almost everything. Ease into the Caribbean pace.
Do expect to encounter people on the beaches eager to sell you something. A polite “no thank you” and a firm attitude will put an end to any pestering. Be aware that showing even the slightest amount of interest may encourage other vendors to close in and start trying to cut a deal.
Don’t get angry or impatient in restaurants if your bill doesn’t arrive. In the Dominican Republic, it is considered rude to present patrons with the bill until they ask for it.