for National Geographic Traveler
Traveling to the Caribbean is now quicker and easier. Major United States airlines are offering more direct flights than ever before, and tour operators and hotels are slashing rates, according to a report in Traveler's November/December issue. Here Editor Keith Bellows chats about this year's "hot" islands, how to avoid crowds, and more.
Which airlines offer direct service to the Caribbean?
US Airways flies directly to St. Kitts among other islands, while American flies to the likes of the Dominican Republic and San Juan, and Continental flies to Grand Cayman and Aruba. Air Jamaica flies nonstop to Jamaica from a dozen U.S. cities, including Atlanta, Boston, and Chicago.
Why are so many airlines offering these routes?
Since 9/11 fewer Americans are willing to venture far from home. Which makes the Caribbean a great destination. It's right in our own backyard, and each island offers a taste of a different culture. Many travelers also perceive the Caribbean to be safer than major cities, for example, because it's less likely to be targeted by terrorists.
Which islands are "hot" this year?
Cuba is hot because it's been off-limits for so long. Due to a loophole, Americans can travel there on educational tours through the end of the year. General Tours and Cross Cultural Solutions, for example, are both offering eight-day trips to Cuba starting at U.S. $2,399 per person from Miami and Cancún (through December 23). Vieques, a little island seven miles (eleven kilometers) off the coast of Puerto Rico, is drawing visitors because the U.S. Navy finally shipped out last spring after running bombing exercises there for 62 years. Belize is popular because of all the hype surrounding eco-tourism right now. Grand Bahama Island is attracting mainstream American tourists for its Our Lucaya Beach and Golf Resort and other big-name hotels. Panama is also "hot" because its new tourist infrastructure offers old world colonial charm.
When should budget-minded travelers go?
You can save the most money by visiting June to November, the off-season. Jamaica, for example, is extremely inexpensive in October because it's chilly. The trade-off is that while you don't get to sunbathe you do get to experience the culture and people without the tourist crowds. Hurricane season falls at the same time, so check weather reports before making travel plans.
What are some great deals right now?
The all-inclusive Viva Tangerine in Cabarete, Dominican Republic, is offering room rates from U.S. $60 per person, per night. Virgin Vacations is offering three nights in Costa Rica, including round-trip airfare and airport transfers, from U.S. $449 per person. You can earn free nights at Avalon Grand Panama, La Cabana All-Suite Beach Resort, and Sunset Beach Resort through various dates this winter. A great website for Caribbean deals is www.gocaribbean.com.
Which islands do you recommend for special interest travelers?
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