Caribbean islands: Things to know before you go – Newsday

In September2017, the Caribbean Basin was ravaged by two massive Category 5 hurricanes, first Irma, and then, only two weeks later, the even larger Maria.

Two and a half years later, all but the most damaged areas on the most devastated of islands are back in full tourist mode. But that doesnt meanall is as it was before the summer of 17, or in the case of the central Bahamas, before Hurricane Dorian struck lastSeptember. Large swaths still bear ugly scars, many villages are still struggling to rebuild, and many non-government-run attractions are still closed or only open on a reduced basis.

To help those thinking about coming on down, here are updates on the five most popular (in terms of numbers) destinations amongAmericans. For the most recent updates, check your potential island destinations government tourism website, and http://www.caribbeantravel.com. One caveat:They may be more interested in highlighting progress than pointing out recovery work that still needs to be done.

The Dominican Republic

Irma passed far enough to the north of the Dominican Republic to not have had any devastating effects. Maria, on the other hand, made landfall along the northeastern coast, but only as a Category 3 hurricane after having dissipated much of her strength in passing over Puerto Rico. Torrential rains led to widespread flooding there, but the storm passed far enough away from the Punta Cana mega-destination, where gusts only reached 60 mph, to only cause minor damage.

Jamaica

Located even farther south and west than Hispaniola (home island to both the Dominican Republic and Haiti), Jamaica was even further protected from the ravages of Irma and Maria by Hispaniola and Cubas high mountains. If anything, the two hurricanes were a relative benefit to Jamaica whose non-cruise tourist arrivals grew 4.6% in 2018 as determined sun seekers steered clear of demonstrably damaged goods.

Puerto Rico

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During her traverse of the island, Maria, which assaulted Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm, caused an estimated $92 billion in damage and claimed nearly 3,000 lives. In several senses, it is accurate to say that Puerto Rico will never fully recover, and as if to prove it, nearly a quarter-million of its inhabitants have abandoned their homeland for the mainland, presumably forever. Two and a half years on, Marias effects are still omnipresent: 15% to 25% of the islands large trees were toppled (particularly devastated was El Yunque National Forest), with local-level rebuilding progressing slowly, especially in the rural interior. (Ongoing recovery efforts along the southwestern coast have been undermined by the recent spate of devastating earthquakes.)

But only a few luxury hotels remain closed, old San Juan has been scrubbed clean, and all the islands beaches are open, though access to offshore Vieques and Culebra remains spotty. As a result, tourism numbers are back up to pre-Maria levels, though some of that is attributable to the travel restrictions reimposed on rival destination Cuba by the Trump Administration. But theres another compelling reason for visiting Puerto Rico now: putting your vacation money to work in the slow, but ongoing recovery of this American territory.

Aruba

Arubas location below the Hurricane Belt in the southern Caribbean keeps it from being directly hit by anything other than errant, rogue storms. Irma and Maria were anything but that, and so Aruba, along with all the other islands off the coast of South America (Trinidad and Tobago, Curacao, and Bonaire) were completely unaffected.

The Bahamas

Despite ominous predictions, both Irma and Maria skirted the Bahamas, inflicting only minor damage on some Out Islands. But in September of last year, another Category 5 storm, Dorian, scored a direct hit on the northern Bahamas, first on Abaco, and then Grand Bahama, where it stalled out for a full day. Devastation there was nearly complete, with 60% of the island being submerged. Other than a brief power outage, the main resort island of New Providence (home to the capital Nassau) and other popular islands farther south such as Eleuthera, Cat, and Long Islands, were unaffected. Recovery on Grand Bahama is moving along, but Abaco will remain closed to tourists for the foreseeable future.

The Virgin Islands

Irma scored a direct hit on all three of the main British Virgin Islands (Virgin Gorda, Tortola, and Jost Van Dyke) and St. John and St. Thomas in the U.S.Virgin Islands. Her evil twin then came along and picked off St. Croix. While destruction there was among the worst in the Caribbean, money and material began arriving in abundance shortly afterwardfrom the two parent countries, the result of which is arguably the most thorough (in terms of quality) recovery effort in the Caribbean. Two-thirds of hotels have reopened, but it will be years before the sparse natural vegetation recovers.

Other islands sustaining serious damage where recovery is still ongoing and would-be travelers are advised to check before they book: Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Saint Martin, and St. Barthelemy.

By Marshall S. Berdan Special to Newsday

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Caribbean islands: Things to know before you go - Newsday

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