Hurricanes are a fact of life on Caribbean islands, but last year’s hurricane season was exceptional. The one-two punch of Hurricanes Irma and Maria left some islands badly damaged. However, the Caribbean region contains over 7,000 islands spread across one million square miles. Of the 33 Caribbean island nations and territories, only a handful were significantly affected.
First, the best news. Here are the Caribbean islands that were outside the path of Irma and Maria, suffering little to no damage:
Aruba | Barbados | Belize | Bonaire | the Cayman Islands | Curacao | Jamaica | Martinique | St. Lucia | St. Vincent and the Grenadines | Trinidad and Tobago
The following Caribbean islands suffered moderate damage and have fully recovered:
Antigua | the Bahamas | Cuba | Dominican Republic | St. Kitts and Nevis | Turks and Caicos
For the handful that were hit the hardest, here are the most recent updates:
PUERTO RICO: Despite the ‘doom and gloom’ of most news reports, Puerto Rico has been welcoming back visitors since December 2017 – a mere three months after Hurricane Maria. Today, 95% of the island has electricity (the remaining 5% still without power are located in remote, mountainous areas). All airports are open and operational. The cruise port in San Juan is fully operational with 14 cruise ships using San Juan as the home base for their Caribbean itineraries.
Popular attractions such as Old San Juan, the Bacardi rum factory, the beaches and select areas of El Yunque National Forest are welcoming visitors.
More than 80% of the islands resorts and hotels and over 4000 restaurants are back in business. And, on the horizon for 2019 are an additional 3800 hotel rooms thanks to new hotel openings from JW Marriott, Aloft, Four Seasons and more.
Puerto Rico is known for its beautiful beaches, history and culture, festive music and delicious cuisine. And, best of all, its super-convenient. With its status as a U.S. territory, English is widely spoken, the U.S. dollar is the official currency and passports aren’t required!
BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS: In the span of two weeks, this chain of Caribbean islands was hit by back-to-back hurricanes. In spite of the devastation, the BVI has made a remarkable recovery. The airport at Tortola is open and ferry services between the BVI and St. Thomas, as well as within the BVI are operating. The beaches, including the Baths on Virgin Gorda, are as pristine and beautiful as ever.
The robust yachting community returned to the region quickly (you can rent your own yacht with crew there!) and the cruise port in Tortola is now accepting larger ships. Disney Cruise Line was one of the first – returning in August.
The biggest obstacle to a full recovery for the BVI is hotel inventory. Only about 16% of hotels are up and running. Most don’t expect to re-open until mid-2019.
ANGUILLA: Life on Anguilla is pretty much back to normal. The majority of hotel rooms have re-opened, 90% of restaurants are up and running and the airport and ferry services to St. Maarten are back in operation.
ST MAARTEN/ST MARTIN: The Dutch-French Island continues to recover at a steady pace. The Princess Juliana airport on St. Maarten is open – although it is still under reconstruction. Temporary arrivals and departures areas – all air-conditioned with seats, concessions, restrooms – everything an airport needs are in place. Flights to St. Maarten have increased each month since the storm and American is adding a direct flight from Charlotte in November.
There were just under 2000 bookable rooms as of late August islands-wide with more coming online in Oct/Nov. And, 87% of all on-island activities are now available.
St. Maarten/St. Martin is an important stop on Caribbean cruise itineraries and all but a few of the local tour operators and shore excursion options are available.
Progress on the French side (St. Martin) looks a bit slower, but that’s intentional. All the new construction taking place will adhere to stricter, and safer, building codes.
US VIRGIN ISLANDS: This U.S. territory comprised of the Caribbean islands of St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John continues to recover and rebuild. The airports on St. Thomas and St. Croix are open, electricity has been restored, all beaches are open and 95% of the restaurants are back in business as are most of the shops. The cruise ports on St. Thomas and St. Croix are back to normal as is most inter-island transportation.
About 60% of hotels and resorts have re-opened. They were not only hard-hit, but many are using their re-build as an opportunity to expand and improve, so accommodations are really the last to come back online.
Most major attractions on all three islands are open, including the trails and the beaches at the Virgin Islands National Park on St. John.
FALL IN LOVE WITH THE CARIBBEAN …. AGAIN: The Caribbean, in general, is largely dependent on tourism for its economic viability. The hurricanes of 2017 have been especially destructive, even for islands that were not affected. The public’s perception that the whole of the Caribbean was damaged and closed added to the physical and economic devastation. If you love white sand beaches, azure water, friendly people and natural beauty, the Caribbean is the destination for you. There are few better ways to help the area return to normalcy than by simply visiting and enjoying your time there.
Ready for an endless summer of sand and sun? Plenty of Caribbean islands are ready for you! Check out these great resorts for inspiration! Then, stop by your local AAA Travel Office or give us a call at 800-444-8691. We'll have your toes in the sand in no time!