The how, where and when of travelling to the Caribbean in 2021
by Riselle Celestina
Confession: I am writing this before actual January 2021 when this issue of Caribbean Mélange is scheduled to hit your inbox. So, two things can happen, either you are reading this right now and all is fine, or we did not survive 2020 in which case you will obviously not be receiving this issue anyways.
Proceeding . . .
By the time you read this we will most certainly still be feeling the impact of this pandemic. Unless of course by some miracle on December 31st 2020 we all woke up immune to COVID-19.
I don’t know abut you, but even though I believe in the impossible, I am old enough to know that the fairy godmother cannot possibly work that fast to grant this ginormous miracle. Fact is, the pandemic is still raging and very much affecting travel.
My whole writing career is based on the fact that I am honest with what I put down on paper or rather type on the screen. In keeping with my promise to always tell the truth, I will tell you this: The Caribbean needs you. Simple.
Yes, I know this is a very touchy subject and many have been very vocal about their feelings concerning traveling to the Caribbean or anywhere for that matter, during this pandemic. I mean, the judging and pointing fingers is very fierce online. I was even scolded during lock down for posting a photo of me “traveling” to my front yard. This person called me irresponsible and un-followed me after, not taking the time to read the caption and get the joke. True story. If there is one thing we all can do without in this new year, is all this online negativity from know-it-all Betties. I’m sorry, by the way, if your name happens to be Betty.
Travel has slowly started back and more and more people are taking the chance to explore again. For this, I sure am grateful. Not only as a travel writer but also as an islander.
So, let me tell you about the why. Why should you travel to the Caribbean now?
The answer to that question is rather simple. And mind you, there will be many that will disagree with me. Like I said, this is a very touchy subject. I’m about to go into controversy-land and I’m taking you with me. So, buckle up, dolls. This will get bumpy.
Why should you travel to the Caribbean now? The answer: We need you.
Most Caribbean islands (including Sint Maarten, the one I call home), as you know, depend solely on tourism. Think taxis, restaurants, hotels, villas, down to the little old lady on the corner selling handmade souvenirs. If you don’t visit, most of us are out of a job. We have already seen the devastating effects from a dead tourism industry. Stores that have been there for ages are now closed forever, hotel workers out of a job without any idea when and if they might resume their positions, taxi drivers evicted onto the streets with their families. The situation is more dire than social media paints it to be.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, “But Riselle tourists can spread the virus to islanders and we all know most islands do not have the hospital beds necessary for a breakout”. Yes, this is unfortunately very true. Most of us in the Caribbean find ourselves in a real catch 22 situation. Get Covid and most probably survive, or go hungry and homeless because of zero income. I know this sounds dramatic, but for some, this is a reality. People who catch the virus have a high percentage of survival. No tourist-income can have a devastating impact on many low-income families and the economy of the islands in general. See what I mean?
Now, let’s talk about the when.
When is it safe to visit the Caribbean?
In all seriousness, who knows? All I know is that we need you and we need you now. Escape the cold, and come spend your winter with us . . . RESPONSIBLY. In layman’s terms: Come spend your money here. There is really no right time. You can keep your eyes on the number of infections. You can check the WHO website to see what they say about traveling to the Caribbean, or you can simply check the travel updates for the Caribbean destination you wish to visit and see what they advise you to do. For a quick check of list of travel requirements per island, see page 125.
Which brings me to the how.
How can you travel to the Caribbean safely and with minimum risk for you and the island’s population?
Ah, now we’re getting somewhere. If you are still reading this column chances are you have made up your mind and you are now actually seriously considering visiting us. “Yay” for us and definitely “Yay” for you.
1. Check your island destination’s website for the updated entry requirements and read then re-read everything. Make sure you are able to check every box before you hop on Expedia and book your ticket and accommodation.
2. Some Caribbean destinations will ask for health insurance to be able to enter. I advise you to also purchase travel insurance in case things change last minute and you find yourself suddenly having to cancel. The island might decide to go on lock down or God forbid, you might test positive. If you have to cancel your trip last minute, travel insurance will make sure you don’t lose all the money you spent on your vacation so far, even though most hotels and airlines are quite understanding because of the current situation.
3. Check the requirements and protocols in place at your destination and accommodation and, comply at all times.
4. Don’t nag about having to wear a mask. You are no longer in your country, and as a visitor you must wear a mask. No ifs or buts about it. Sanitizing and keeping a physical distance from others are also mandatory on most islands. Even if you see the locals disrespecting these rules, you just make sure that you do what is expected from you, as a visitor.
5. Book activities that guarantee social distancing. Activities such as the beach (note that most beaches are busy on Sundays), boat rentals, snorkel trips, hikes, private cooking classes or painting classes, etc.
6. If you drink, try not to do so in public places. We all know how much we just love our fellow humans once we’ve had a few.
At the end of the day, no matter how we turn it or twist it, this virus is not going anywhere. It is up to each one of us to do our part. Wear your mask, wash your hands often and maintain physical distance from one another. The vaccine is here but it could be a while before each one of us has had the chance to get it. I have a feeling the Caribbean is amongst the last on the list.
So, get out there if you’re up to it, but do so responsibly.
You can read my column Ramblings of an Island Girl in every issue of Mélange Travel & Lifestyle magazine.
Should you have a question for me about the Caribbean, drop me an email and I might just share that enquiry in the next issue.