Why It’s Worth Visiting the Caribbean in Summer
PHOTO: Offseason at Scott Beach, St. John, USVI. (photo by Mat Probasco)
The Caribbean in July? My New York friends think I'm crazy.
What they fail to grasp, however, is that not only is summer pricing more friendly, but so is the lazy, laid back, off-season atmosphere. Empty beaches, open tables, little competition for the bartender's attention, and no bulky winter coat stuffed into a corner of the room, stalking vacation time like a hungry gull over my breakfast.
Yes, I am going somewhere warm when it's warm at home. But I'm not trading a manic-paced megacity for a hectic island overrun with bumbling tourists and weary shop owners. I'm slipping into the slow lane, gliding around in neutral with the locals. Especially in mass-market islands like St. Thomas. It's July. Most folks are glad to see the season go and no one is yet cash strapped and hungry for the snowbirds to return.
No hard-sales pitches, no frowning customs officers or cocktail waitresses, no (OK, fewer) taxi drivers pestering — this is what an unplugged vacation is all about.
Here's what most people don't realize: Just as the Caribbean attitude is calmer in low season, so is the sea. Famed swimming and snorkeling spots like The Baths in Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands, can be a little dangerous when the Christmas winds kick up waves. But unless there is a tropical storm or hurricane passing through, The Baths and nearby Devils Bay are calm as bathwater over the summer. This is not only safer, but also adds to water clarity.
The sea is also noticeably warmer.
Of course, the storms are a big part of why there is a low season. Hurricanes season runs June 1 through Nov. 30. Can the storms be rough? Oh yes. But keep in mind they are infrequent. And even if you happen to get caught in one, it's an experience you won't forget. My tips for hurricane preparedness: Have playing cards, board games, an anything-goes attitude, and rum.
While most Caribbean Carnivals end just before Lent, the party comes late to Cruz Bay, St. John. The sleepy town, nicknamed Love City, wraps up its weeklong festivities July 4, usually with a soca or calypso concert. In 2015 USVI legends Cool Session Brass absolutely blasted the few hundred people gathered in the little parking-lot venue ringed with rum shacks.
Less than 24 hours later, the last wave of heavy tourism washed out to sea. The population at Caneel Bay, the posh, old-Caribbean resort where four Cool Session's musicians work, swung heavily in favor of donkeys and deer, and laughing gulls hunting my morning meal.
Some once-great restaurants had slipped and, happily, some new ones had sprouted up to take their place. St. John has a (questionable) reputation as a barefooted backpacker hangout full of red-state white kids acting like they own the place. And in parts of Cruz Bay they are a bit more prevalent with the absence of tourists. On the flip side, watching the baseball and soccer and, in June, the NBA Finals beachside is a total treat. Last year we watched the U.S. women's team win the World Cup in an open-air bar full of howling fans. What fun!
The real good news is USVI, like its British neighbor, knows how to make a proper painkiller, and for that we can rejoice. No need to freeze (as some are) or add flavored rums. Good old sandy-paper rough Pusser's does the job nicely.
There are plenty of other summer parties in the Caribbean as well. One of the best is the first Monday in August in Barbados. The Crop Over festival is literally a weeklong celebration of a successful crop harvest and culminates in Kadooment Day — a carnival-like parade. Of course, it's only fun if you are interested in wild costumes, sweaty street dancing, and eating local food with plenty of rum.
More restful times are equally available.
The smaller the island, the more intimate the off-season experience. Don't be surprised if by day two people know where you are staying, where you are from and what you like to do. It's not stalking. It's entertainment. The restaurant staff will come to know you; people on the street will say good morning; this is much closer to the old Caribbean, the Caribbean before mass tourism. Enjoy.
More by Mat Probasco
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