Hurricanes Irma, Jose and Maria ravaged the Caribbean last year, rendering Turks & Caicos, Saint Martin, Barbuda and several other islands practically inoperable, from power outages to property damage to limited access to food and water.
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The countries, however, are working to rebuild cities with stronger infrastructure, thanks to local and international relief efforts.
But people can still visit places like Belize and Barbados that were not devastated by hurricanes. Visitors can enjoy snorkeling; scuba diving; catching conch; hitting the beach; dining on authentic island food; and enjoying sugar and rum festivals.
“Though Belize does have a hurricane season like other Central American and Caribbean countries, it has, fortunately, avoided many direct hits making it safe to visit,” a representative from the Belize Tourism Board told NewsOne. “Furthermore, it was not affected by recent hurricanes.”
Travelers who still have concerns should know this: hurricane season for most Caribbean islands and nearby countries run from June to November. With that in mind, give yourself a break and jet to one of the following four places:
Barbados: If you hear Barbados and think Rihanna, you’re right. The country is her birthplace. Like Riri, almost 300,000 residents on this small island enjoy celebrating the county’s African, British and West Indian roots, so there are an abundance of festivals and sporting events.
“[Visitors can] drive at Bushy Park Racing Circuit, surf on the east coast of the island or get married 120 feet under water in a submarine,” Petra Roach, United States director of Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc., told NewsOne.
And for those who missed the Barbados Food and Rum Festival in November, a mashup of international chefs, mixologists and entertainers will be in attendance at the Sugar and Rum Season in Bridgetown, which begins Jan. 15 and runs until April 15. Visitors can take cooking classes; visit cane factories, rum distilleries and relax in specialized sugar and rum spa treatments.
Besides the festivals, foodies are in luck. Barbados was recently names one of the top seven Caribbean foodies destinations by U.S. News & World Report, making it a great place to visit year-round. Still have hurricane concerns? Don’t fret. Hurricane Irma passed 200 miles north of Barbados, which is approximately the distance between New York City and Washington, D.C.
Belize: Located in Central America, the small country has an average yearly temperature of 84 degrees Fahrenheit. It is completely bordered by the Caribbean Sea on its eastern shore. Best known for its marine life, particularly its barrier reef which is the largest in the northern hemisphere according the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, makes it ideal for scuba divers and snorkelers alike.
“Serious divers can head to the Great Blue Hole, while snorkelers can see a variety of marine life at the Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark Ray Alley,” a representative from the Belize Tourism Board said.
While it’s a relatively small country with a population of almost 380,000 people, Belize is incredibly diverse. The population is composed of Maya; Mestizo; Belize Kriol; and Garifuna, natives of Belize, Honduras and Nicaragua’s Mosquito Coast. It is also made of East Indians, Mennonites, Arabs and Chinese. These distinct ethnicities signal a diversity of food.
“Visitors can dine like a local anywhere in Belize because there are no chain restaurants. Instead, there is a variety of restaurants that use local ingredients in new and inventive ways,” the representative indicated. “Belizean food is a distinctive mix of Latin American and Creole-style Caribbean, which features fresh seafood, rice and beans, ceviche, tamales, fry jacks and Johnny cakes.”
The latter two food items are native to Belize. Fry jacks are thick pieces of dough (think: thicker than a pancake) fried either in a circle or half circle shape, whereas Johnny cakes are circular and baked. Johnny cakes are not biscuits; they’re much denser. Nonetheless, both are great for breakfast or any time of day, though hot, buttered Johnny cakes with Dutch cheese and a cup of tea with milk is great way to start a morning. For local dishes like tamales, a seasoned chicken and vegetable medley wrapped in a corn tortilla (masa) and a banana or plantain leaf, head to Bertha’s Tamales in Stann Creek.
In February, travelers can sample local food, dress in costume, get covered in paint and dance the day away during the annual San Pedro Carnival/Carnaval.
Belize is a member of the Caribbean Community, better known as CARICOM, and its currency is set at two Belizean dollars to one U.S. dollar.
Saint Lucia: This beautiful island has everything from twin mountains with volcanic spires known as Gros Piton and Petit Piton to a drive-in volcano with a Sulphur mud bath. While there is lots to do, plan to simply relax. Make reservations at Sugar Beach, a luxury resort located at the base of the Petit Piton Mountain, which offers stays in private villas. On top of a sitting area; living room; full-size patio with a pool; a claw-foot bathtub perfect for soaking; and an outdoor shower surrounded by an abundance of trees that keep your goodies naturally covered from prying eyes, villa guests can call for a personal butler. Yes, like Benson DuBois of Benson and Geoffrey Butler of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but friendlier Butlers are available to do everything from setting the table, ironing clothes to packing luggage when it’s time to leave.
Sitcom jokes aside, St. Lucia is made up of beautiful beaches. For visitors interested in exploring the island, transportation is readily available. “The best way to get around the island is to either rent a car or use the mini-buses and taxis as ground transportation to get from the north to the south,” Dominic Fedee, Minister of Tourism for Saint Lucia told NewsOne.com. Saint Lucia Jazz, a four-day long concert series throughout the island, will feature local Saint Lucian performers as well as international artists Lalah Hathaway, Carolyn Malachi and Robert Glasper, will take place May 6 – 13.
Jamaica: Visitors already know Jamaica is warm year-round; offers exceptional restaurants with local flare; has beautiful beaches; and reggae bands that inspire more than a two-step. Whether visitors are planning their first or fifth trip, they can see the country like a local. Since the island was spared by recent hurricanes, guests can freely travel around on what locals describe as country buses—vans filled with a colorful assortment of locals looking to get from one destination to another (think: Uber pool, but in a van). While catching a cool breeze from open windows (tip: try to get a window seat), travelers can see more of the countryside sans fanfare. From Montego Bay, take the country bus to Trelawny, a much less tourist-y area with local shops and street vendors selling everything from t-shirts to fresh coconut water—the kind that you drink directly from a coconut with a straw. Most Montego Bay-based hotels have modest private beaches, but if you’re looking to catch (or makes) waves, plan to spend a day at Seven-Mile Beach in Negril, which stretches the distance like its name. Additionally, roots reggae lovers will be ecstatic about Rebel Salute, an outdoor show that celebrates singer Tony Rebel and other artists from Jan. 12 – 13, 2018 on Plantation Cove in St. Ann. This weekend concert only serves vegetarian food and is alcohol-free.
Carolyn Desalu is an essayist and travel and lifestyle writer whose work has appeared in Ebony, Essence, Catapult and The Globe and Mail. Aside from writing a book of essays, she enjoys finding the best doughnut shops in every city she visits. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @bycarolyndee